The length of a tour has varied historically, between 12-36 months depending on various factors particular to the conscript, and the political situation. Although women are accepted into the Greek army on a voluntary basis, they are not required to enlist, as men are. Soldiers receive no health insurance, but they are provided medical support during their army service, including hospitalization costs.
As of 2008, Greece has mandatory military service of 12 months for male citizens between the ages of 18 and 45. However, as the Armed forces had been gearing towards a complete professional army system, the government had promised that the mandatory military service would be cut to 6 months by 2008 or even abolished completely. However, this timetable is under reconsideration as of April 2006, due to severe manpower shortages. These were caused by a combination of (a) financial difficulties, which meant that professional soldiers could not be hired at the projected rate, and (b) widespread use of the deferement process, which meant that 66% of the draftees deferred service in 2005.
Greek males between the age of 18 and 60 who live in strategically sensitive areas may be required to serve part-time in the National Guard (Ethnofylaki Greek: Εθνοφυλακή). Service in the Guard is paid.
In 1998, the Greek Parliament voted law 2641 which mandated enrollment of Greek men and women between 18 and 60 years of age into a Civil Defence Organisation (Palaiki Amina Greek: Παλλαϊκή Άμυνα, ΠΑΜ). It was envisaged that the Civil Defence Organisation would respond to enemy action, natural disasters and all sorts of emergencies, but the law was never enforced.
Reserve Officers (ROs) are selected among draftees with sufficient educational and physical qualifications. Educational qualifications include possessing a secondary education Lykeion diploma, while physical qualifications are determined in a series of standardized athletic tests. In practice, almost all draftees in possession of a Lykeion diploma will have an YEA (Υποψήφιος Έφεδρος Αξιωματικός, YEA, Reserve Officer Cadet) indication on their conscription invitation, although serving as a reserve officer is not mandatory, and a draftee can decline the offer, albeit in practice most prefer not to decline if asked and instead try not to pass the physical tests. Those who finally choose and pass all the physical and psychoattitudinal tests necessary to be accepted as Reserve Officer cadets, are first sent for a longer (compared to soldiers' and NCOs') training period in one of the Reserve Officer cated schools, typically for 3-4 months, after which they are nominated ΔEA (Δόκιμος Έφεδρος Αξιωματικός, DEA, Reserve Officer (in testing) ).
Service as an RO is different from a simple conscript's in many ways: ROs are generally subject to a harder training at first as cadets, but are also offered many privileges such as better dwellings, infrastructures and education. After their graduation from cadet academies, ROs are not required to live in barracks but are can reside outside the camp and follow the same work schedule of permanent officers, and even receive a salary equal to 60% of a permanent sublieutenant (ca. 600 euros) plus certain bonuses depending on social and service criteria.
However, after the reduction of the tour's duration from 18 to 12 months in 2003, there is less incentive to become an RO, as ROs are required to serve a 17 month tour instead of the 12 months of soldier and NCO conscripts, while before the tour duration was equal in both cases.
Greek military law allows Permanent Residents Abroad to defer military service till repatriation to Greece. Until 2005, Permanent Residents Abroad status (for draft purposes) was only granted to persons who had been born abroad or who had moved abroad before the age of eleven and to those who had immigrated to a specific set of countries before 1997. This definition excluded many thousands of citizens who were living abroad and who were regarded as 'draft evaders' by the authorities. The law was amended at the end of 2005 to grant Permanent Resident Abroad status to persons who have lived abroad for at least eleven years, or have worked abroad for at least seven years.
Non-Greek European Union citizens have the right of unlimited permanent residency and employment in Greece without the obligation of conscription.
According to current standing orders, conscripts are required to train for a total of 7 1/2 hours daily. However, a large number of conscripts are excused from training as they are on secondment to other assignments such as security or clerical and menial work. Moreover, many training activities tend to be theoretical in nature, and few opportunities are provided for the conscripts to practice the skills they are taught. As a result, the level of effectiveness of the training, particularly during the second and third cycles, is debatable.
Apart from their military training, draftees also have other duties such as cleaning the camp, making food, serving other draftees in the military restaurants, et cetera. On emergencies draftees might be called for assistance in Forest fires or other natural disasters
Draftees live in barracks. Each barracks contains its own toilet facilities and sometimes its own canteen. The barracks are divided into dorms each providing accommodation for a varying number of draftees, depending on the military installation; this number can be as little as 15 draftees or as high as 75, such as the dorms of the Hellenic Air Force's 124 Basic Training Wing.
There is also another practice called "unwritten leaves", these are leaves who carry normal leave papers but the superiors do not write down on the draftee's official record, as a favour. All those practices result in a draftee's total days of leave extending far more than the officially allowed 18 days, reaching as much as 3 months in total of a year service or even more in exceptional cases. This practice maintains the uneven treatment of the draftees in the army, and political or military peers are used extensively for influencing superiors in giving "unwritten leaves". It is generally acknowledged that people who are famous (or semi-famous), or simply have the right connections, i.e. singers, athletes, politicians or even middle-range members of political parties have been extensively favoured by the practice of unwritten leaves.
In 2004, the Greek Parliament passed a law stating that men over the age of 35 would be allowed to buy off their military obligation after attending 45 days of basic training. Currently the amount required to do this is 8,505 euros. This price tag (810 euros for every month not served) is calculated based on the income of professional soldiers adjusted for taxes. However, it is disproportionate to the income of many Greeks therefore raising questions as to whether this ability is just another implicit taxation measure. Some critics of conscription in Greece also argue that the only people who would be able to buy off their tour are rich people, and not ordinary citizens.
People seeking long-term employment in both the public and private sector are usually required to have no pending military obligations. Among more traditional sectors of society, such as those in the rural regions, national service has been unofficially but historically perceived as a rite of passage. In part this attitude was caused by moralistic beliefs encapsulated in the proverb Women have birth, men have the army, meaning that both genders offer a service to their Greek motherland, women by giving birth and men by helping defend it. Furthermore, widespread popular suspicion was generated by the fact that many deferments were due to homosexuality or reasons of mental health. The combined effect of these attitudes was considerable prejudice against people who had not served in the army. Draft-dodgers were often frowned upon and deemed useless by society.
Mandatory military service is often justified on the grounds that the army is perceived as the "natural" way to go and as a final 'school' of socialization and maturing for young Greek men before their comeout to the real world. This mindset is still present in modern times, even though the average age of draftees is higher than in the past, where the conscriptees tended to be 18-20 years old. Nowadays, conscripts are commonly in their mid-twenties, and many have university-level education (some having travelled abroad for studies) prior to conscription. In past generations, the army would often be the first time a young adult would find himself on his own and away from home ; nowadays this has by and large been replaced by Higher Education studies. Many draftees consider conscription a waste of time and a "necessary evil", since it can't be avoided without suffering serious repercussions. Also the number of young men trying to achieve permanent deferment by stating (usually mental) health problems has increased in recent years.