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How to get a CAC card and dependent ID cards [step-by-step guide]

As a service member, you’ll need to pull out your ID a lot. We’re talking …

The ID Card Office in Bldg. 460 will be closed Oct. 26-28 while the Military Personnel Section moves to Bldg. 1. (Air Force photo by Kelly White)

As a service member, you’ll need to pull out your ID a lot. We’re talking daily. This card — known as a CAC card — gets you exclusive access to your base and restricted areas on various military installations. It’s as important as your driver’s license or social security card, so making sure it’s on you at all times is a must.

Your CAC card benefits are important ones, so you’ll need to get this card as soon as possible. It may also need to be updated — depending on your role — at each new command.

The Department of Defense(DoD) issues CAC cards and a Uniformed Services card to dependents. Both are important to the everyday lives of military families. We’ve included insight into obtaining both in this post.

Need to know how to get a CAC card or Uniformed Services ID? Read on for all the details!

What is a CAC ID Card?

cac cards
(DoD Graphic)

A CAC ID card, also known as a Common Access Card is essentially a “smart card” that holds important information on it for active duty uniformed service personnel, selected reserve, DoD civilian employees, and eligible contractor personnel.

CAC benefits include:

  • Base access
  • Access to buildings and controlled spaces
  • Provides access to DoD computer networks

Who Needs a CAC ID Card?

Checking IDs
(U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

There are four different types of cards. Active duty armed forces, reservists, DoD contractors, and civilians may all have a CAC card. Card uses will vary depending upon the command you support. Additionally, your status determines special color-coding on your card indicating if you’re a non-U.S. citizen, a contractor, or another type of personnel.

How to Get a CAC Card 

If you’re new to the military, it can seem as though there’s a lot of red tape to cut through and unanswered questions more often than not. This can be especially frustrating when you’re trying to obtain all the necessary documents and ID to enter your new command.

Your CAC ID is one item you’ll want to have on you at all times. Consider your CAC ID essentially as important as your driver’s license or social security card. Keep it secure at all times!

You’ll need to follow the below steps to receive your card: 

Passing an ID
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Scott Warner)

Step 1: Get Sponsorship to Determine Eligibility 

Upon applying, you’ll need to be sponsored by a DoD government official or employee. This will generally be a person in the Human Resources department. Ask your command for details.

Step 2: Registration & Enrollment

In order to get your CAC card, you’ll need to be registered in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) before your sponsor can request a card for you.

Step 3: Background Check

Sponsors will do a background check on all potential cardholders. This will include an FBI fingerprint check along with a National Agency Check (NACI) with Written Inquiries. The NACI process can actually take up to 18 months, but your card may be issued before this as long as your fingerprint check comes back fine.

Step 4: Receive Your Card

You’ll need to visit a Real-Time Automated Personnel Identification System (RAPIDS) site in-person to finish your card processing. Upon arrival, be sure to bring the following information and items:

Getting a CAC card
(U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)
  • A pin – Think of a 6-to-8 digit number pin you’ll want to use.
  • Government unclassified email address – You can get this from your computer system administrator if you will need access to DoD computer networks and systems.

Learn more about CAC details here.

Have a Dependent? They Need a Uniformed Services ID Card

Uniformed Services Cards
(WikiMedia Commons)

This ID card is strictly for military family members and retirees.

Whether they want to get on base, go to the military exchange, or use the base gym, they’ll need this card. It means they can get on base without a service member, too, so it’s important to get this card ASAP. It also serves as a health insurance card if you’re using the Tricare system.

It does expire, so be sure to keep an eye on the expiration date to prevent any issues accessing base. Your status determines which category you’re in as there are seven different categories of cards, too. DEERS staff will explain this to you if needed.

DEERS office
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Lancaster)

Pre-arrival steps before heading to the DEERS office includes: 

  • Completing a signed DD Form 1172-2
  • Filling out eligibility documentation
  • Locating two forms of ID

Important note: All ID documents must be originals. No photocopies are allowed!

New to the military? Check out the full-length Department of Defense DEERS enrollment checklist to learn how to get your new ID card. If you have additional questions on how to enroll in DEERS or get a military ID card, reach out to a DMDC/DEERS Support Office for help!

Curious about your new duty station? Check out our post 7 Ways to Learn More About Your New Duty Station to learn how to get the details about your new base before you go!  

Feature image courtesy of Kelly White, U.S. Air Force

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