Here’s an unusual reader question:
“You seem to have a pretty good handle on the Reserve military retirement system and I would like to ask your opinion on my situation. I’m in the Reserves. I’ve been mobilized and I am currently in sanctuary (18 years, nine months of active-duty service) with a mandatory active-duty retirement date of May 2014. I’ve just been selected for promotion. Since I will not have the opportunity for time in grade to retire at that rank prior to May 2014, is there a waiver process or any system that will allow me to continue past the mandatory date? Or, will my retirement be based on the High Three average in May 2014 and that is it?
One last question, do you know if the inactive points count towards a sanctuary retirement or is it the straight 20 years of active time (assuming a retirement at that point)? Thanks!”
Congratulations on your promotion! You’ve won the game in the third quarter, and now the question is how far you get to run up the score.
Let me start with the Reserves background to your question, and then explain how a different set of rules applies to your active-duty retirement.
There are waivers of time in grade for Reserve retirements. DoD lets the individual Reserve services decide how to handle their own waivers (down to two years’ TIG). The services generously approve the waivers during drawdowns, although I don’t know how far below two years they would be willing to go. The approvals I’ve seen were for those who will reach a minimum of two years’ TIG, but the only way you’ll find out your service’s limit is to request the waiver.
In your case, your promotion resets the clock on your retirement date and restarts your active-duty career. When you’re promoted during active duty in sanctuary then your retirement orders are canceled and you stay on active duty for a whole new ballgame. You get to serve whatever minimum TIG your service will allow, or you could continue your career with follow-on orders. You’ve rebooted your career and you’re competitive for more promotions, should you choose to consider that lifestyle.
I’m going to speculate that the reason your chain of command hasn’t discussed the rules is because you have not actually been promoted yet. When you’re promoted (not just selected) then the active-duty personnel staff will note your sanctuary retirement date and modify your promotion orders to cancel the retirement. You may also be asked to extend on your current orders to give you a full two years’ TIG.
If you want to do as little time in your new rank as possible, then I’d apply for approval of either:
- A new retirement date to give you two years’ time in grade at your new rank, or
- A TIG waiver to retire in May ’14 with however many months you have at that grade.
Hopefully you could discuss this ahead of time with your chain of command and HQ staff. If you apply for the waiver as an either/or option then the approval staff should consider it in those terms.
Your retirement is a different situation because it’s an active-duty one. I’m going to assume that your date of entry onto initial military service (DIEMS on your LES) is after 7 September 1980. That means your active-duty retirement will be High Three. (If your DIEMS is before that, or if you’re a service academy grad from Class of ’84 or earlier, then you’re Final Pay. Not very many of those servicemembers are still in uniform.) The High Three system averages your highest 36 months of base pay.
Most servicemembers use the DoD active-duty retirement calculator but that assumes at least three years of TIG. If you retire with less than that TIG then you’re going to have to manually calculate your highest 36 months of pay from your time at your mobilized rank (perhaps 12 months) and your time at your promotion rank (24 months). If you remain on active duty longer (at your higher rank) then your High Three months at the higher rank will also rise.
Your Reserve “good years” clock was ticking before you were mobilized, and now it’s continuing to track your longevity of your rank for your pay scale. Right now you have 18 years and a few months of active service, but your pay scale longevity is probably at the >20 years, >22, or even higher column. That’s based on your DIEMS too.
To manually determine your pension amount you’ll also need your years of service. That’s already been conveniently determined for you by DoD: you’ll reach 20 years on 1 May 2014. If you remain on active duty longer (at your higher rank) then your years of service will count up from there.
To manually calculate your monthly High Three pension amount you’ll take that average 36 months’ base pay for those ranks at their longevity columns, multiply it by your years of service (calculated to three decimals), multiply that by 2.5%, and round it down to the nearest dollar.
Let me beat this concept into the ground provide a sample calculation. If you retired on 1 May 2014 with a DIEMS of 1 January 1990, the High Three base pay numbers would be taken from the pay tables for the 36 months you spent as >20 years (eight months), >22 (24 months), and >24 (four months) at your two ranks. If your DIEMS is 1 May 1987 then the pay table columns would be >24 (24 months), and >26 (12 months). If your DIEMS is 1 May 1984 then it’d all be >26. Depending on your current rank and your promotion rank, some of those pay table amounts might remain the same when you go from the >20 years column to the >22 column or from >22 to >24 or from >24 to >26.
I’m assuming that medical issues will not affect your retirement pay calculation: no TDRL, no Chapter 61, no VA disability rating over 50%, no CRSC. We’re already way past the usual discussion of active-duty or Reserve retirements, and the medical rules are even farther beyond the scope of this post.
The Navy sanctuary point of contact is PERS-91B. You can also check this Marine Corps message for that service’s sanctuary points of contact. (Thanks, Rob!) In other services it’s the headquarters personnel branch for Reserve affairs, and it might even have the word “sanctuary” in the title. If you have the Air Force and Army points of contact for sanctuary questions, please send me the links and I’ll add them to this post.
The regulation for calculating an active-duty pension
Calculating a Reserve retirement
Military Reserve and National Guard retirement calculators
Sanctuary and military retirement during a Reserve career
Reader questions on Reserve retirement Tricare and points
Guest Post Wednesday: “My Road to a Reserve Retirement”
Reader questions about retiring on a military enlisted pension
Military retirement with low savings