Military Retirement From The Individual Ready Reserve

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(Note:  For over nine months, the topics of the Reserve and National Guard forces have been at the top of this blog’s searches.  After 30 months of blogging, some of these posts rank higher in Google’s search results than the official DoD pages.  

At the end of this post I’ve linked every major article on this blog with information about the Reserves and Guard:  serving, benefits, separating, and retiring.  Some of the reader questions may apply to only a few servicemembers or retirees, but I’ve included all of them.  Please let me know if you have questions, advice, or your own story to share!)

 

In today’s post, a reader writes:

Hello sir! I’m an O-5 (USNR) with 19 years and I stumbled upon your website/blog. All I can say is AWESOME! You put things in plain English when many other websites and instructions either “beat around the bush” or use vernacular that usually leads to more questions! BZ! I was hoping you could answer one question for me. Since I am at 19 years in the Navy (seven years active / 12 years Reserve) – I am trying to weigh my options when I go over 20.

After I hit 20, if I am on the O-6 promotion list and then immediately choose to transfer to the IRR, would I be able to retire as a CAPT? Would I have to serve as a CAPT for at least three years in the IRR and if I earn enough points for a good year, does that mean I could eventually “retire awaiting pay” and retire as an O-6? I guess that was a long-winded way of asking, can you be promoted to O-6 in the IRR and earn good years in the IRR?

 

Thanks! Eight years of instructor duty, most of it with submariners: complex concepts, simple words.

The big-picture answer to your question is that you can go to the Individual Ready Reserve after you’re selected for O-6. Once you’re in the IRR you’ll have to continue to earn your “good years” in order to satisfactorily complete your time in grade.

 

The details:

Officers are eligible for promotion while they’re in the IRR, but I have never heard of anyone getting promoted while they were in the IRR. It’s possible, but there are too many Reservists on mobilization and drilling status who have probably done more things to earn the selection board’s attention. You’ll hopefully be drilling (or mobilizing) at least until you reach 20 years and get your Notice of Eligibility letter.  Ideally you’ll keep at it until you’re selected for O-6 and the selection results are approved by Congress.

Once you’re selected for O-6, though, you can go to the IRR whenever you want. (Even before you’re formally promoted to O-6.) No matter what timing you choose, the only way your time in grade will accrue is by being in the active or standby Reserve. You could hypothetically do that in a pay billet (if you get one), or by getting mobilized, or by drilling in the Volunteer Training Unit. If you’re in the IRR, though, you’ll probably do it by correspondence courses or special duty (funeral detail), or by other individual arrangements with your chain of command. (You may also want to see if you can earn points by serving as a U.S. Naval Academy Blue & Gold Officer.) IRR members still have to show up for annual musters and maintain whatever other readiness status is required by your chain of command (medical & dental screenings, staying within physical standards). Time in grade only counts when you earn a good year.

Your O-6 time in grade is normally three years, whether you’re drilling or mobilizing or in the IRR– as long as you accumulate your good years. However when you request retirement you can also request a waiver to reduce the TIG requirement to two years. That’s routinely approved for most retirements and would almost certainly be approved for a retirement from the IRR during a drawdown.

No matter when you choose to submit your retirement request, make sure you review your options under the Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan and Tricare Retired Reserve. The first is an exceptionally inexpensive life insurance annuity that offers more benefits than any civilian policy. The second will provide health insurance (up through age 60) that might even be cheaper than some civilian programs.

 

 

(Click here to return to the top of the post.)

 

All of the related Reserve & National Guard articles:
Should you join the Reserves or National Guard?
Reserves and National Guard: Tricare Reserve Select and Tricare Retired Reserve health insurance
Retiring from the Reserves and National Guard
Calculating a Reserve retirement
Why are you researching Reserve retirement?
Military Reserve and National Guard retirement calculators
The Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan
Survivor Benefit Plan
More SBP details
Reader questions on Reserve retirement Tricare and points
Guest Post Wednesday: “My Road to a Reserve Retirement”
Military Reserve sanctuary and active-duty retirement
Reserve military retirement for active-duty veterans with previous Reserve or National Guard service
Navy Reserve retirement credit for ROTC summer training
Reserve military pension for “discharge” instead of “retired awaiting pay”
Ask the readers: Returning to duty after military retirement?

 

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[jpsub]



I retired in 2002 after 20 years in the Navy's submarine force. I wrote "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" to share the stories of over 50 other financially independent servicemembers and veterans.

19 Comments
  1. Reply
    Super Dave January 9, 2017 at 8:08 AM

    Thanks again for your articles, Doug. (Just surfed on in from your USNR/Guard overview pros/cons.)

    I have an oddball question for you: What would happen to an O-4, or whatever rank, who had a bad year, that is forced out by retirement laws or regs before completing 20 good years? Example: O-4 doesn’t select for O-5 (and can’t continue past 20). Gets one bad year.

    Is that lad or lass allowed to drill an additional year past 20 so they can get their “good 20”?

    • Reply
      Doug Nordman January 11, 2017 at 7:09 PM

      Good question, Super Dave. Unfortunately the answer is “No”.

      I get that question several times per year from Reserve/Guard members who have missed a good year and then (for whatever reason) run into an obstacle: failure to promote, not permitted to re-enlist, or not able to continue in a drill billet.

      I’ve heard (but have not confirmed) that it’s hypothetically possible to transfer to another service. One example is an O-4 who fails to promote and reaches their service limit at 20 years but has only 16 good years. They could separate from the Navy Reserve and apply to the National Guard in the enlisted ranks, reach 20 good years there, and then file for retired awaiting pay. Because they had more than 10 years of commissioned service they’d be considered eligible (at age 60) for an O-4 Reserve pension.

  2. Reply
    Glen R October 19, 2015 at 8:54 AM

    I notice that several times on your site you recommend that people make sure to get their 20 year NOE prior to going IRR. I’m not sure that I understand why you recommend that. I am currently at 16 good years, 11 from active duty Navy, 5 from the National Guard. I recently picked up O-5, but I have to admit that I have run out of desire to continue at my current pace for the next 4 years. I am exploring a lot of options to back down a bit, but one thing that seems quite appealing is IRR. My personal business is booming right now and my guard time is actually costing me money in lost opportunity. I am having a lot of difficulty juggling everything, but I also don’t want to lose the retirement when I am relatively close.

    As I understand it, I can switch to IRR and still complete my remaining 4 good years via correspondence courses. IRR provides 15 participation points per year, so I would only have to complete 35 points worth of courses. Looking at the available course catalog, there are interesting courses that I know I could complete with less time investment than I am currently putting into my drill weekends. I am perfectly content to top out here. I don’t need any more promotions, I don’t need the part-time paycheck right now, and I don’t really need more points. I just need 4 good years to eventually cash in on the 16 hard years that I have already put in. Well, to be honest, it was 1 easy year, 10 hard years and 5 moderate years 🙂

    If there is a major mobilization, I would be eager to answer that call and contribute in any way that I can. However, I do have some concern that I would be recalled to active duty to fill some pointless hard fill billet in Bahrain. That is a risk that I have lived with for a long time, so I guess I can deal with it.

    If I go IRR and make good years, would I be able to earn a full O-5 retirement, or would I have a high 3 average of O-4/O-5? It really doesn’t make too much difference to me, but I would be curious to know.

    Thank you very much for your book, your blog postings, and managing this Q&A space. I have done a lot of research, both online and in person, and few sites have this much good information compiled in one space. In many cases, the military HR support is lacking in knowledge and/or motivation, especially when it comes to getting answers about non-traditional or “off track” options.

    • Reply
      Doug Nordman October 20, 2015 at 4:45 PM

      Great comment, Glen, and thanks for the compliment! I really wish that I’d had the time or the personal bandwidth to learn this info when I was in uniform.

      Yes, you can transfer to the IRR and obtain your final four good years through correspondence courses and other duties. However the majority of the servicemembers who make that choice eventually fail to reach their goals for a number of personal and bureaucratic reasons.

      I’m not sure whether drilling or IRR would be better for your situation, but there are two issues with going to the IRR: the IRR grass looks greener when you’re drilling, and once you go IRR it’s very difficult (especially in a drawdown) to get approval to return to drill status. Many Reservists and Guard members in the IRR tell me that they find themselves challenged to get the points for a good year. Before you make the leap I strongly recommend that you network with as many of your local Guard IRR members that you can track down, and ask them how they’re doing on IRR points.

      First there’s the logistics of the correspondence courses. Can you find enough courses (approved for Guard IRR credit) in the current catalog to total up 4 x 35 points? Will you have the access (CAC card or secure login) to reach the website? Will you have to do the courses on a secure network at your local armory or even revert to paper? The Navy in particular has cut way back on the approved correspondence courses for IRR points, and they’ve largely removed CACs from their Reservists. The Guard may have other unexpected obstacles.
      http://gubmints.com/2014/09/02/comnavresfor-to-irr-no-soup-for-you/

      Will you need to explore other point options besides correspondence courses, such as funeral honors or service as a USNA Blue & Gold Officer? Does the Guard offer other IRR programs for points?

      Next there’s time management. Will all the other demands of your life derail your best of intentions with your correspondence courses? Will you be able to make the time to plug through the courses every week and finish 1-2 per month, or will you find yourself frantically cramming them in during the last two months before your anniversary date? Will all of the online courses take fewer hours per point than a drill weekend, or will some take more?

      Are the demands on your time all year round, or do they peak in certain months? Instead of going to the IRR, would you be able to take authorized absences from 2-3 drill weekends per year? (You’d still earn at least 36 points.) If money’s not an issue then would your command let you waive your AT (or other training duty) and still qualify for a good year?

      Finally there’s the business side. I spend time with entrepreneurs and startup founders and I appreciate the challenges. If your business is booming, can you delegate or outsource or partner with someone who can get you through the busiest times of the year (or the next four years)? Should the Guard be your higher priority? Can you compare your business’ current opportunity cost to the present value of a lifetime O-5 Guard pension (with Tricare and Tricare For Life) starting at age 60?

      In order to retire with your O-5 rank on your retirement certificate, you’ll need to serve at least three years in that grade. (Under federal law, the service secretaries frequently waive this to two years during drawdowns.) However your High Three pension is based only on the highest 36 months of pay during your career. You’ll complete (at least) 2-3 years of O-5 time in grade to reach 20 good years and then you’ll “retire awaiting pay” at O-5 rank. While you’re in gray area you’ll continue to accrue years of service at the O-5 rank as though you’ve been on duty up through age 60. In other words, your High Three calculation will include the pay tables in effect when you’re ages 57, 58, and 59. It’ll also include your longevity up through age 60, so your O-5 longevity column on the pay tables will be at the years of service when you’re those ages. For most Reserve/Guard members, that will be the maximum pay for your rank.

      We don’t have the pay tables for the 36 months before you turn age 60, but the best way to estimate your pension in today’s dollars would be to use your total point count at retirement (including your four years in the IRR) and the maximum pay column in the O-5 row of the 2016 pay tables.

      Please let us know how it goes. I’ve heard the joke many times: you know that you’ve reached work/life balance when your personal business, your Guard unit, and your family are all equally annoyed with you. I’d love to share some IRR success stories with the readers.

      • Reply
        Drew January 9, 2017 at 8:49 AM

        Sir, you may want to look into the “Individual Mobilization Augmentee (IMA)” program. You have to go IRR first to qualify for this program, but basically you complete your entire annual drill obligation in one shot (five weeks) and are left alone the rest of the entire year! You also can choose when exactly you wish to complete the combined five weeks (AT and IDT drills). You also receive ALL the benefits a drilling reservist receives. This program is designed for Officers and Senior NCOS, but they have some slots for E-5 or above. It is available to all branches of the US Military and there are currently over 1000 openings.

  3. Reply
    Mina Hill May 12, 2015 at 3:09 PM

    I am active duty and have approved for a non-regular retirement, my orders state I am to go into individual ready retirement status until I am reserve retirement age. Can I still find a reserve or national guard unit and do drills with them?

    • Reply
      Doug Nordman May 15, 2015 at 4:19 AM

      Excellent question, Mina! That policy seems to vary by service (especially for the Air Force, not so much for the Navy) but it’s possible. Talk to your local Reserve/Guard unit about the options– especially presenting military honors for veterans’ funeral services.

      • Reply
        S May 24, 2016 at 7:36 PM

        Can someone please tell me how to get points in the Air Force IRR other than the two PME courses? I have been calling everyone from my unit to the point calculation folks in Colorado and no one can give me any suggestions other than it cannot be done.

        • Doug Nordman May 25, 2016 at 5:16 PM

          S, I’m afraid that all of the services have been reducing the ability to get points for correspondence courses.

          At this point the best options seem to be funeral detail, IMA points for certain activities or drills with your unit, or (for a very few in the IRR) serving as a recruiting officer for a military academy.

  4. Reply
    M.Garcia April 15, 2015 at 8:42 AM

    I spent eight years in the Army IRR. I now work for the federal government. Can these
    years be used for retirement purposes?
    also I was active duty three years, can these be used also?

  5. Reply
    Drew B. March 25, 2015 at 4:07 PM

    Hi! I’m an Army Reserve E-6 who has about ten years total active duty and who re-enlisted “indefinitely” in 2006 and who’s ETS is currently 2027 (when I turn age 60). I have a total of 19 “good” years towards a reserve retirement. I am a drilling reservist in the only remaining USAR Infantry unit (in Hawaii). I recently moved back to Ohio from Hawaii and plan to enter the IRR as soon as I earn my 50 points for the year (both because I prefer to be in the IRR and also because there are no USAR Infantry units available on the U.S. mainland). My specific questions are these: 1. Can I transfer to the IRR as an “Indefinite” soldier instead of retiring “awaiting a pension”?? In other words can I spend 15 years in the IRR awaiting my USAR pension instead of spending that time as a “gray area retiree” awaiting my pension?? 2. Due to already having earned my “20 year letter” I wouldn’t be all that concerned with earning retirement points. Would I be required to earn retirement points in the IRR? I do not want to be a drilling reservist anymore but I am interested in IRR opportunities (perhaps IMA or “short tours” etc…) I will be retired early from my civilian civil service job and actually look forward to the IRR as a kind of “wild card” retirement. Thanks for any insight!

    • Reply
      Doug Nordman March 26, 2015 at 7:26 PM

      Great question, Drew!

      First, before you make any moves from your drilling Reserve status, make sure that you have 20 good years and your Notice of Eligibility for your retirement. Once you go into the IRR, it’s difficult to return to drilling status (and then it could take months). Recheck your good years and point counts and get the Army’s confirmation. It takes a long time to correct any errors, and you don’t want to be stuck in the IRR if you need one more good year.

      Second, while you’re in the IRR, you still have to conform to the Army’s requirements. That includes physical readiness as well as complying with any training requirements like an annual muster. If you exceed height-weight limits or don’t comply with annual status checks then you could find yourself being forced to retire. Others have also found the IRR’s minimal requirements to be more than they’re willing to handle (especially if they’re also coping with family or elder care), but you could always retire from the IRR.

      Third, you might bump into a high-year tenure limit for your rank. There are no point requirements while you’re in the IRR, but you might be required to retire (from the IRR) when you reach the maximum number of years permitted at your rank.

      Finally, the Army has the approval authority on whether you can go to the IRR or retire awaiting pay. Their policy is generally shaped by force manpower targets. Although it might make perfect sense for you to be in the IRR, the Army might want to reduce the ranks by pruning the IRR roster.

      I’m not personally familiar with the Army’s latest IRR policies. (Readers, any help here?) You may still have an opportunity to earn points, particularly for burial services. Before you make the leap, see if you can learn more from your XO or anyone in your unit who’s transferred to the IRR. You could also ask the members of RallyPoint about their IRR experiences, and I’m pretty sure someone will chime in.

  6. Reply
    Jeff M March 3, 2015 at 7:39 AM

    Hello, thanks for all this information. I am in the Navy with 7 years active 3 years reserves and 10 years IRR. I have not been active in the IRR meaning I did not meet my 50 points for retirement but maintained 27 points for minimum participation. So I am a few months away from 20 total years. What happens now. Is there anyway to retire without pay just benefits or any other options. Thanks…

    • Reply
      Doug Nordman March 4, 2015 at 3:51 AM

      Jeff, the only way to earn a Reserve retirement is through 20 good years. I’m not sure whether your IRR years had the minimum number of points to qualify for good years, but you can check that by reviewing your point count statement– either online or with the help of your local Reserve center. You should also verify that it’s accurate.

      Assuming you have 20 good years of service, you’ll receive a Notice of Eligibility with instructions on how to file for retirement. If you’re short of 20 good years then you’ll have to talk to a recruiter or your local Reserve center about returning to drill status (or reaching the minimum annual points via IRR activities).

      If you’ve reached 20 years and a NOE, the retirement details are at this post:
      http://the-military-guide.com/2012/02/27/calculating-a-reserve-retirement/

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