Legally - no, not all veterans are perpetually bound by their oath.
Also, it is necessary to understand the difference in the types of oaths.
There are two distinct oaths that service members take and they are legally different for a reason. The first is the oath of ENLISTMENT. It is taken
by all members of the Army, Navy, Marines and Air force along with the reserve components of the same.
I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and
domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders
of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."
National Guard and Air National Guard take the following oath.
I, __________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the State of (STATE NAME)
against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of
the United States and the Governor of (STATE NAME) and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to law and regulations. So help me
You can see that the key portions of this oath involve the promise to "obey" the orders of the POTUS (and in some cases the Governor) and the Officers
appointed over you.
The defend the constitution part is in there of course but it is followed by the obey clause for a reason. That is because orders are generally
assumed to be legal according to the UCMJ unless you can prove otherwise. The Officer is not required to explain or justify his/her orders - the
burden of proof for disobeying an order falls on the subordinate. You will be considered guilty of disobeying a lawful order if you do not follow
them until you can prove that the order was unlawful.
Regarding the perpetuity of the oath, it is only binding for the term of service for enlisted personnel. Note that the term of service is not only
the time you are on active duty or in the active reserve but while you are in the individual ready reserve. The total commitment is for 8 years in
some combination. After that it is no longer binding unless you are still serving.
However, for Commissioned Officers that is not necessarily the case. There are two types of Commissions (three if you count State Commissions for
NG). Reserve and Regular the oath of office is:
"I, _____ (SSAN), having been appointed an officer in the Army of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of _____ do solemnly swear
(or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true
faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and
faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God."
In the Army it is a difference between being a member of the United States Army (Permanent standing Regular Army) or The Army of the United States
(Reserve Forces). If one has a Commission in the United States Army it means that unless you resign or are dismissed for cause you will remain an
Officer in perpetuity in the permanent rank of Second Lieutenant. Sure you get promoted but you can based on the needs of the Army be reduced to a
lower grade but never anything below the rank of Second Lieutenant.
Even after you retire you are still technically an Officer in the United States Army subject to recall until the age of 65. I still can administer
the oath of enlistment and am entitled to use my rank in correspondence.
Each year new Officers compete for the RA commissions because it means you will be the last to go if the Army has a Reduction in Force. Only West
Point Cadets and the top 10% of the ROTC cadets receive a RA commission each year.
As for Reserve Officers they serve for a specific term usually 8 years just like enlisted folks. Most reserve Officers are offered a Regular Army
Commission at the rank of Major.
You can see the difference in the oaths - Officers are not bound to "obey" the POTUS nor are they bound to "obey" the Officers appointed over them.
They are expected to question the legality of their orders and do - every Commander (Field Grade or higher) has either a lawyer on his staff or
unlimited access to one (at Company level).
In closing I just wanted to point out that the only permanent oath military members take is that taken when appointed as an Officer in the regular
component of service.
In no way do I mean to imply that many individuals don’t consider their oath permanently binding but simply that by law specifically it is not.
edit on 22/2/2013 by Golf66 because: (no reason given)