How to Find Someone's Military Records

by Douglas Arnold

Service in the U.S. Armed Forces is a significant part of the history and heritage of an individual, be it your father, brother or perhaps even yourself. Having proper and official military records--known as a DD214 document--is often necessary to apply for benefits or for a job. All veterans receive a DD214 upon separation, but all too often it is misplaced or lost. Replacing or obtaining a DD214 is not difficult, but it does require a specific process required by the federal government.

Determine the full name of the person you are seeking. This is critical because the sheer number of people who serve in the United States military means that hundreds of similar names are in the archive system. First and middle names (or initials) make the search more effective.

Identify the branch of service. You must know whether the individual was in the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force or Coast Guard.

Obtain the person's Social Security Number, if possible. Veterans serving in the Korean War or before will have a unique service ID number that is not their SSN. If you have this number (found on original ID "dog tags"), this will aid in your search.

Know the date of birth and place of birth. The birthday is important, as it can be used to find a service member when you do not have the Social Security Number or service ID number of the man or woman.

Apply online for the records. If you are searching for your own military record, the search for United States military records is relatively easy and normally free. If you are searching for someone's record--such as a next of kin--the search is typically free. You will have to cite a reason for obtaining the record if it someone other than yourself or a relative. Records for veterans serving prior to World War I can be more challenging, but the National Archive does provide assistance.

Requesting rush service. Emergency or rush requests will be considered. If you have an immediate need, you should note the reason for a rush search. Explain why you need a quick turnaround when you make application.

About the Author

Douglas Arnold has been writing features and articles since 1972 and published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Midwest Living and Rolling Stone Magazine. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Missouri - Columbia. Arnold's public affairs career includes working with such VIPs as John Denver, Capt. Jacques Cousteau and his royal highness, the Emperor of Japan.