Military Retirement From The Individual Ready Reserve

(Note:  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 About Retiring in the IRR

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.

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
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?

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. Doug
    im a 56 old drill status guardsman in the air national guard i have my 20 yr letter and over 5000 points im also being promoted to E-7 where i had to sign a year comitment for promotion i also have a 90% va rateing from a finacial number point it’s not benificial to continue drilling if i transfer to the irr will that time count toward my one yr comitment so i will retire at the E-7 rank and current point value when i turn 591/2 which is when im eligible to start collecting retirement pay due to deployments i know in the irr i wont accumulate points just time which is fine with me i want the value of 2023 when i retire not the current value 2019

    • Good question, Scott.

      You’d have to read the fine print in your commitment contract. Being in the IRR is normally satisfactory for longevity. If your E-7 commitment requires you to obtain points for a good year, though, then currently it’s nearly impossible to do that in the IRR.

      In addition, if you’re out of a drill billet for even one day, you’ll lose your eligibility for Tricare Reserve Select health insurance. Be very careful about depending only on the VA for your health insurance (without Tricare) for injuries or medical issues which are not service-related. Going to the IRR may not be the most financially beneficial move if you have to obtain other health insurance after losing TRS.

      The best way to estimate the amount of a future Reserve pension is to assume that it’s being paid today, and in today’s dollars. (You’ll also assume that your longevity in your retirement rank continues to accumulate through 2023, which means that you may be eligible for the maximum longevity pay at that retirement rank.) By estimating your pension in today’s dollars, you can easily compare your pension to your current expenses without having to make a bunch of further assumptions about inflation.

      While your deployments may mean that you’re eligible to start your pension at age 59.5, remember that Tricare health insurance will not kick in until age 60. You’ll still need to cover the six months with Tricare Retired Reserve insurance, or some other plan.

  2. Doug,

    I am a drilling reservist with the Army National Guard. I have a question regarding time in service and good years. I served on active duty with the Army for 3 years followed by around 5-1/2 months of IRR before joining the national guard. After joining the national guard I drilled and completed the requisite 35 points (on top of the 15 membership points) to complete 50 points for what I thought would be a good year so long as it was completed prior to the anniversary of my entry into the Army (retirement year). I suppose it is more rumor control in that I have gotten conflicting statements regarding the IRR. The opposing position claims that IRR time does not count towards retirement unless you complete the 50 retirement points while a member of the IRR. If you transfer to the national guard or reserve in a drilling status then you lose that time towards retirement (in addition to credit towards any longevity awards, badges etc.).

    Did I lose this time or did I recover it by becoming a drilling reservist and completing the requisite retirement points (50) prior to expiration of the retirement year?

    • I’ve never heard that rumor before, Frank! You probably have credit for a good year during that time and have not lost any longevity.

      You could check it by reviewing your point-count records. If your anniversary date is still based on when you joined the military, then being in the IRR did not change it. If you have credit for a good year during that first year since your anniversary date (after active duty) then the IRR didn’t affect your good year. If you obtained any drill points while you were in the IRR and those are on your point-count record, then they transferred correctly into the system.

      If you check more details then we can figure out what else may have happened. Maybe you already had a good year when you left active duty for the IRR. For example, if you leave active duty exactly on your anniversary date (no extensions or stop-loss or other delays) then you enter your first Reserve/Guard year (drilling or IRR) with zero points. However if you stayed on active duty past your anniversary date (longer than exactly three years & zero days) then your days of active duty after that anniversary date would be credited toward your point count in the first year of Reserve/Guard duty.

      IRR is still a bad deal if you’re trying to reach 20 good years. All of the services have recently made it very hard to obtain points in the IRR, especially for correspondence courses. In addition if you transfer to the IRR from drill status, even for a single day, then you lose eligibility for Tricare Reserve Select health insurance. You have to be a drilling Reserve/Guard member to maintain TRS coverage.

      I’m not sure about badges or conduct awards. All of the services have different rules for those, and I’m not familiar with the details.

  3. Would it be possible for you to explain all the different ways you can earn an “active duty” retirement while serving in the IRR, IMA, Guard, Reserve, etc. I understand I can use my active duty years to count as “Good Years” for a reserve retirement that would start paying me at 60. And I have heard differing stories about attaining an “Active Duty” retirement that would start paying me immediately. It sounds like I need 7200 (or 7300) of active points to make that happen. Obviously all inactive time would not count (drill weekends, yearly drill 2 weeks, etc.) Does all AGR time count? Active Duty Orders count, correct? Would all IMA time count towards active points? How about the 15 points for being on IR? PIRR, Civil Air Patrol, ALO, Honor Guard? I’d like to leave active duty at 18 years, but I don’t want to wait until 60 to collect a retirement… even if I have to work a few years more to get the points. Thanks!

    • Mike, I understand what you’re seeking but it happens for very few servicemembers. Most of them have arcane skills like trauma surgeon or dual-status technician (aircraft). A handful more are in full-time active-duty support billets for the Guard/Reserve. It’s extremely unlikely for you to be able to earn an active duty retirement from the Reserve/Guard.

      Your years on active duty (before you affiliate with a Reserve/Guard unit) count toward Reserve/Guard credit at one point per day of active duty. A year of active-duty points is a good year, of course, and any points past that anniversary of your year will count toward credit for the next good year in the Reserve/Guard.

      I’ll build up to your situation. For example, if you’re on active duty for five years and 30 days then you have 5×365 points (plus a leap year point or two) and five good years. 30 days past that anniversary of five years means that you have 30 points toward good year #6, so just a couple drill weekends will take care of bagging that good year.

      We’ll circle back to your 18-year question in a few more paragraphs.

      The way to attain an active-duty retirement from the Reserve/Guard is to go back on active duty. One way is to be selected for Navy “Full Time Support”, where you’re on active duty in a billet that takes care of a district of Reserve units. Another way is to be selected for an Air Force AGR billet doing similar duties. However that means you were in a Reserve/Guard unit, in drill status, and you were selected for a special active-duty program. As you might imagine, it’s very competitive. You’re also on active duty– which means you can be transferred to a new duty station.

      Another way (full of urban legends) is “sanctuary”. (Look up that keyword on the site and read those posts.) Essentially you have to be mobilized from a drill billet, and during that active-duty mobilization you have to cross over 18 years of active-duty points. Then before you’re demobilized you have to file for sanctuary status, which would allow you to continue on active duty in that billet until you reach 20 years. This does not happen by accident, and the services actively track it to avoid putting you in the position to declare it.

      You’re right, drill weekends don’t count. Only active-duty time is part of the 18 year total. (That includes AT, ADSW, mobilization, and a few other categories.) Participation points do not count. I doubt that PIRR, CAP, ALO, or Honor Guard count because those are not active duty. I’m not sure about IMA. It essentially means that you had to have 7000-8000 points (most of which came from years of active duty or mobilization) to accumulate the 18 years of 6575 sanctuary points. And then you’d be in sanctuary status until you reached your 20th anniversary.

      If you left active duty just short of 18 years, then you’d need two more good years to be eligible for a Reserve/Guard pension at age 60. However the services are keenly aware of your proximity to sanctuary. You’d be forced to either waive sanctuary to volunteer for active-duty orders, or you’d never be mobilized and you’d have to finish your 20 good years with drill weekends.

      I know one Air Force officer who left active duty at 14 years. After a few years in the ANG she was selected for a (very competitive) AGR billet. She’ll finish 20 years of active duty for her active-duty retirement. She’s the only one to do this among thousands of readers who I’ve heard from over the last decade. I also know of a trauma surgeon who was able to declare sanctuary during a mobilization (and his service fully supported that). I know of one Marine Reserve officer who reached sanctuary after multiple mobilizations and simply outstanding performance, and that was during the “surge” years of the Iraq War.

      The most reliable path to the goal you seek is to transfer to the FTS or AGR communities (or your service’s equivalent). In that case I recommend that you talk with a Reserve/Guard recruiter and with your active-duty assignment officer.

  4. 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”?

    • 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.

      • Hi Doug,

        Those obstacles to retirement are the kinds of things that the DoD should wrap around in black/yellow DANGER tape. You would think the big N would advise separation right then and there! But they don’t. There is a lot of jeopardy for even one bad year, it appears.

        I had one bad year, but fortunately I picked up USNR O-5, which allows me to keep drilling until (I believe) I hit 28 years active + reserve.

        Trying to read in-between the lines on everything here:

        Any new insights since your last? Thanks again and please continue all the good things you do.


  5. 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.

    • 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.

      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.

      • 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.

  6. 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?

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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.

  7. 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?

  8. 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!

    • 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.

  9. 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…

    • 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:

    Comment? Question? What's on your mind?