Early Out Program

One topic that I have yet to see discussed at any Vietnam veteran web site is the Early Out Program. I’m not sure if the program was limited to the U.S. Army or was service wide. In any case, while many benefited from the program, it cost some everything.

The program applied to both draftees as well as enlistees and if I remember correctly, went like this:

Service personal returning from Vietnam with 150 days or less active duty time remaining on their hitch were not reassigned and were relieved from any further active duty. This system created a serious dilemma for some people, especially draftees. Draftees, as you may know, had a 2 year active duty commitment. When you take the typical 12 month Vietnam tour and add it to the typical time it takes to train a soldier, plus a couple of 30 day leaves you come up with 18 months. With 6 months of active duty time remaining, the soldier is not eligible for the early out unless he does the unthinkable; extends his tour in Vietnam another 30 days.

One of the draftees on my radar team found himself in just such a dilemma. He wanted out of the Army so much he extended the necessary 30 days. During that 30 days he came very, very close to getting killed. A good friend of mine, who is also a Vietnam veteran, had a close buddy who also faced the same dilemma. My friend’s tour ended and he went home under the early out program. His buddy, who was over the 150 day requirement, extended 30 days for the early out. They made plans to meet stateside 45 days later and celebrate their separation from the Army. His friend never showed up. He was killed during the 30 day extension when his helicopter was shot down.

In a recent conversation with my former teammate who extended, he made it quite clear that if he was again faced with the decision he wouldn’t extend. It would be far better, he said, to endure the last 6 months of active duty at some stateside Army base.

As for me, I lucked out. I had 120 days of active duty time remaining when I left Vietnam so I easily qualified for the early out. That’s why I served the odd 2 years and 8 months. It’s worth noting that I enlisted a couple of days after I was drafted. Even though I knew it would cost me an extra year, my reasoning was that at least I would have some choice in my occupational specialty. I didn’t get exactly what I bargained for, but it could’ve been worse. Draftees had no choices in this matter; the Army decided for them.