Military Reserve Sanctuary and Active-Duty Retirement

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.

Related articles:
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

WHAT I DO: I help you reach financial independence. For free. 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, veterans, and families. All of my writing revenue is donated to military-friendly charities.

  1. Hello Doug,
    I have 17 years 7 months and 21 days active duty in the Navy. In 2009 I was released from Navy Acitve duty due to not achieving promotion to E6. I went up the Navy’s chain of command for two years to petition to come back in because I missed a couple of exams due to deployments in Iraq. Finally April 07 2011 I received a phone call saying that I am in the Navy reserves. A couple months after being in the reserves I went on active duty orders for 3 years until Oct 1 2014. A rear admiral is saying I will not see anymore active duty time since I only have 5 months before going into sanctuary. So according to the books I will retire as a reservist Sept 2015 with only 1 year as a drilling reservist. Please help I don’t know what to do. I have never said that the Navy owes me anything, but I have done whatever they have told me to do. Of the the 17 years and 7 months I spent 16 years 7 months with the Marines as a hospital corpsman. Please help me out with this.

    • Timothy,

      First, congratulations on your persistence in getting back into the Navy. I’ve seen too many servicemembers simply give up and leave.

      The admiral is delivering bad news from SECDEF: sanctuary has been DoD policy for over a decade. The only way for a Reservist to achieve sanctuary (and eligibility for an active-duty pension) is for the Navy to approve mobilizing those with special skills. The reason is because it costs the service a lot of money. Although DoD pays military pensions from DoD funds, the active-duty pensions of Reservists who reach sanctuary have to be paid by the individual services out of their own personnel funds. It’s literally a million-dollar decision and BUPERS does not delegate the authority.

      As you’ve seen, the only way that you’d reach sanctuary and qualify for an active-duty pension would be for BUPERS to approve another mobilization. You’d have to find a medical command (or a Marine general) who would request you by name and receive BUPERS approval. The process is described in OPNAVINST 1001.27. It’s possible that you could get assigned to the Navy’s latest medical mission, but personally I think it’s unlikely.

      When I say “personally”, I’m referring to my spouse. Over a decade ago she was in the same situation as you. Although her commands could not persuade BUPERS to mobilize her in sanctuary, she continued to earn Reserve good years (for over seven years) and she earned her Reserve retirement. She did not get a sanctuary retirement, but her Reserve pension starts at age 60.

      You can continue to drill as a Reservist until you reach high-year tenure. Although the Navy will limit your active duty, you can still complete orders for training. OPNAVINST 1001.27 authorizes drill weekends and annual training as well as up to 29 days of ADT per fiscal year. This allows you to continue earning good years until you either reach high-year tenure or Reserve retirement eligibility.

      Before you apply for Reserve retirement (“retired awaiting pay” or “gray area” status), review your records to make sure that you’ll have at least 20 good years. If you want to continue to earn points, then talk to your support center to figure out what types of duty you can accomplish. Even if you have to stop drilling for pay, you could still complete some correspondence courses or other duties for points that will help boost your pension.

      You can find the latest version of OPNAVINST 1001.27 at this site:

      Thanks again for your comment, and please keep me posted. If you have more questions then you can e-mail the details to me at NordsNords at Gmail, and we’ll figure out the options.

  2. My husband was promoted after Sanctuary orders issued, but prior to his recent deployment. We were completely unaware of the “promotion during active duty in sanctuary” rule that cancels his retirement orders and allows him to stay on active duty for TIG. HRC has NOT cancelled his retirement orders and in fact, told him last week he had to submit a TIG waiver request. He was told sanctuary orders COULD NOT be extended, however, he didn’t tell them he was recently promoted — would that make a difference? No one at the G1 Pentagon has notified him, nor were his promotion orders modified to cancel his retirement. His DIEMS is May 1987, his Sanctuary orders were issued Sep 2012, he was promoted to 06 Dec 2012, and orders end May 2014. Can you please clarify or point me to the reg regarding the “promotion during active duty in sanctuary” rule? Thank you for your help. P.S. The information on calculating his pay was VERY helpful and good news, because we thought the annuity calculation would be based on 20 AFS period, and NOT consider his longevity which will be close to 26 years. So that was VERY good news if I am reading that correctly!!

    • Great questions, Cindy, thanks! Please check your e-mail (and maybe your spam filter) for my long response. Let me know if that covers it or raises more questions.

      I’m going to put up a separate blog post on this in a few days, and I’ll also link that to here for the rest of the readers.

  3. I am impressed by your knowledge Nords, but honestly I think I would have had an easier time understanding, a reactor start up sequence :).

  4. Thanks, Kate! I try to stick to the topics where I actually know more than the average reader, and sanctuary is a little-known program.

    In this case it’s personal experience. (You’ll notice I’m begging for links on the Army & Air Force sanctuary regs.) My spouse was subject to sanctuary monitoring during her Navy Reserve career (2001-2008) when she drilled at PACOM. PACOM mobilizes a lot of senior Reservists who are close to 18 years of service (6480 points) and the subject came up several times a year. She still has her (very thick) XO correspondence file, which got me started. I also spent a couple of hours last year plowing through Title 10 USC looking for changes to sanctuary case law, because now I can make the time to do things like that.

    Fortunately, Rob, one of the PACOM Reservists my spouse served with was a Marine O-5. He was a very experienced watch officer drilling in an active-duty billet which was chronically gapped. PACOM fills nearly a third of their active-duty billets with drilling Reservists, and J1 finally persuaded USMC Reserve to mobilize him under this exact same scenario with a similar retirement at 20 years. Shortly after he was mobilized, he was selected for O-6 and pretty much ruled PACOM’s Joint Operations Center (especially midwatches & weekends). He elected to serve his two years’ time in grade and retired in 2006. (I even ran into him once, literally, while we were surfing.) I e-mailed that Marine’s name and Linkedin profile to the reader who asked this question. I’ll have to tell you the rest of those sea stories over a frosty beverage at FinCon13.

    The POC for PERS-91B came from a very old NAVADMIN: I don’t know if Mr. Sam Wyvill is still serving as the Navy’s sanctuary expert, but he was a big help back then. Sadly he held the line on Navy sanctuary, too, and almost never approved those requests.

    The gory details on time in grade and retirement programs are in the DoD Financial Management Regulation manual (DoDFMR,, and I sure wish I’d known this one better while I was on active duty. I revisited it in 2011 while I was researching the details of the Temporary Early Retirement Authority because it was referenced in a message from my own thick 1990s correspondence file.

    The FMR used to have interim changes authorizing the services to reduce time in grade from three years to two. (For example, That change was finally made permanently (to public law) in 2004: Two-year TIG retirements were almost routine in the Navy Reserve. But the services would have to go to SECDEF to reduce TIG below two years, and SECDEF might even have to go to Congress.

    The FMR is a gold mine of retirement nuggets, but unfortunately you have to either be blessed with an outstanding personnel staff– or you have to be retired to make the time to read it. Everyone should review chapter 3 before they file their retirement request, and that’s especially important if there are medical or disability issues:

    Kate, when I was in your position (at-home parent married to an active-duty spouse facing a new set of transfer orders) I used to spend many a cozy evening with my spouse paging through the Joint Federal Travel Regs and the Officer Transfer Manual. Again, you practically have to be retired to make the time to learn this info– or you end up depending on your assignment officer to “take care of you”. The information we found in those references led to her leaving active duty to start her Reserve career. (More sea stories for our FinCon13 frosty beverages.) I hope you never have to defend yourself with these weapons of mass instruction!

    Thanks again for bringing this up– one of my older posts used a dead FMR link, so I fixed that too.

  5. Yeah, what Kate said!

    By the way, what are your sources? When I was an XO I got to know my way pretty well around the JFTR, PRIM, and IRAM. I’ve had a good look at the MCRAMM, Promotions Manual, and MARCORSEPSMAN, but it sure would have taken me a while to find all the stuff you put in this post.

    Obviously I’m not asking for proof (‘SOURCE!’), just some tips on where we all can find similar info for ourselves.
    Thanks! Again, great job here.

    (and thanks for the link shout out — you’re welcome, any time!)

  6. Wow, Doug, you really do know about everything! I am impressed with your depth and breadth of knowledge, and very glad that question didn’t come to MY email box.

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