Retiring From The Individual Ready Reserve Or National Guard

A reader asks:

I’m a Reservist who has about ten years of total active duty and who re-enlisted “indefinitely” in 2006. My ETS is currently 2027 (when I turn age 60). I have a total of 19 “good years” toward my Reserve retirement. I plan to enter the IRR as soon as I earn my 50 points for my 20th good year.

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…) Thanks for any insight!

I’m getting a lot of IRR questions– it must be the drawdown!

20 “Good Years”

Image of logo of U.S. Army Human Resources Command for Reserve retirement |

Click here to start the retirement application.

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 even then it could take months). Recheck your good years and your point count and get your service’s NOE confirmation. It takes a long time to correct any errors, and you don’t want to be stuck in the IRR before you find out that you need just one more good year.

Second, while you’re in the IRR, you still have to meet the military’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. It’s also possible (but unlikely) to be mobilized from the IRR. (It happened during the Iraq war.) Others have found the IRR’s minimal requirements to be more than they’re willing to handle (especially if they’re also caregivers for elder family), 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.

Get Your Points Early in Your Good Year

This is an edge case on optimizing your time in the IRR, and once you transfer to the IRR you may be stuck there. It can take months to apply to return to drill status after you move to the IRR, but some Reserve/Guard members take the IRR option when they need to focus on family or civilian career priorities.

If you think that there’s even a remote possibility that you’ll want to return to drill status (instead of IMA or correspondence courses) then get your points early in your year. If you can get 2-3 weeks of duty at your unit then you could earn your year’s worth of drills during the first month. When you transfer to the IRR, you’ll have another 23 months to return to drill status (or earn points in an IMA billet or via correspondence courses) in order to meet the point requirements for your second good year.

For an example of this maneuver, read CFP Rob Aeschbach’s excellent advice on this post of your options for Reserve and National Guard Retirement.

Losing Tricare

Health insurance may be your biggest concern between the time you stop drilling and age 60. When you transfer to the IRR, you lose your eligibility for Tricare Reserve Select. You might be insured by a civilian employer, or you might find suitable health insurance through your state or national healthcare exchange.

Dual status: Reserves, civil service

Speaking of Reserve opportunities, there’s the possibility of dual-status military technician. This is a Reserve servicemember with advanced technical skills (electronics, combat system maintenance, training) whose primary employer is the federal civil service. They’re also part of a Reserve unit, and they’re taking care of Reserve equipment. One example is a civil servant doing aircraft maintenance for a Reserve unit.

Time in Rank for Retirement

While we’re discussing the IRR, let me address a myth that keeps many Reserve and Guard servicemembers drilling for longer than necessary.
When you receive your Notice of Eligibility letter, your service has confirmed that you can retire. However, you might still want to drill until you reach your time in rank or your maximum longevity for pay at that rank. All servicemembers have to serve in a rank for at least six months to retire in that rank, and the time in grade at O-5 and above is three years. In some cases (like a drawdown) the three-year requirement can be waived by the service secretary to two years. That’s part of federal law applicable to all the services, and that link contains the text of Title 10 U.S. Code section 1370.

Longevity Accrues During “Retired Awaiting Pay”

Once you’ve reached that time in grade (six months, or three years, or a waiver to two years) then you can retire at that grade. More importantly, when you retire awaiting pay then your seniority in that grade will continue to accrue as if you were on active duty. When your Reserve or Guard pension starts (for most servicemembers, at age 60) it’s calculated at the High-Three average pay tables in effect during the year you start your pension. (See article 010901 at the top of page 1-30 in that PDF link.) It’s also calculated using the longevity that would have accrued in your rank if you had been on active duty between the time you filed for “retired awaiting pay” and the time your pension started.

Here’s an example. If you retire awaiting pay at age 45 as an E-7 with more than 20 years of service, then 15 years later when your pension starts you’ll receive the High-Three calculation for E-7>35. (The current pay tables top out at E-7>26, so you’ll receive the maximum E-7 pay.) If you retired awaiting pay as an O-6 with >24 years of service, then 15 years later your pension’s High-Three average is calculated using the O-6>39 column (which tops out at O-6>30). See paragraph 030205.A.2 of the DoD Financial Management Regulations on page 3-10.

Note the phrase “retired awaiting pay”. It means that you’ve transferred to the Retired Reserve until your pensions starts. That’s the normal retirement status for over 99% of Guard and Reserve retirees. That status is why your rank’s longevity continues to accrue in “retired awaiting pay” status, and it’s the reason that your pension uses the pay tables in effect when your pension starts. However, that status also means you could be recalled and mobilized for active duty during a total mobilization (which last occurred during WWII).

“Retired Awaiting Pay” Instead of “Discharge”

You could also retire in the status of “discharged” or “former member” instead of transferring to the Retired Reserve. However, when your pension starts (normally at age 60) then it would be calculated at the tables in effect on the date of your discharge, and it would be calculated at your longevity at discharge. In other words, your pension would have been frozen at the date you retired (discharged) and not boosted for inflation or longevity.

Getting Your Pension Before age 60

Finally (because Reserve/Guard retirement just isn’t complicated enough) it’s possible to start your Reserve/Guard pension earlier than age 60. The National Defense Authorization Acts of 2008 and 2015 allow your pension to start three months earlier for every 90 days that you’ve served in a combat zone after 28 January 2008. You could also qualify for this provision in the National Guard if you were activated for a national emergency during a natural disaster. The details of this legislation are extraordinarily complicated and have been updated twice, but Ryan Guina has written an excellent summary at that link.

Keep in mind that your service 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, your personnel branch might want to reduce the ranks by pruning the IRR roster.

I’m not personally familiar with the latest IRR programs for earning points. (Readers, any help here?) Correspondence courses are still an option, but in the last year, they’ve been greatly consolidated and restricted. You may still have other opportunities to earn points, particularly for honor guard detail during funeral services. Before you make the leap to the IRR, learn more from anyone in your unit who’s transferred to the IRR. You could also ask the members of RallyPoint about their IRR experiences.

Readers, what’s the best way to earn IRR points in your service?

Related articles:

Reserve Retirement Eligibility
Retiring From The Reserves And National Guard
Comparing An E-7 Active-Duty Pension To An E-7 Reserve Pension
Military Retirement From The Individual Ready Reserve
National Guard And Reserve Retirement At The Maximum Pay
Reserve Military Pension For “Discharge” Instead Of “Retired Awaiting Pay”
Reserves And National Guard: Tricare Reserve Select And Tricare Retired Reserve Health Insurance
Should You Join The Reserves Or The National Guard?
Military Reserve And National Guard Retirement Calculators
Options For National Guard And Reserve 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. After separating in 06, can I now request to enter the IRR M., to accumulate points for retiring after 13 years of separation.

    • Terence, after a 13-year break in service you’ll want to start with the military recruiter for your chosen service. (That could include National Guard as well as the other active-duty and Reserve services.) IRR is certainly one of the options but each service has their own policies.

      These days it’s also considered very difficult to earn points toward a good year in the IRR because many of the military correspondence courses are no longer eligible for points.

  2. Doug – good advice – with regard to the USAFR and IRR, right now it is very difficult for IRR Officer Reservists to find paying Reserve jobs due to the huge influx of separating (due to cascading RiF boards) active duty personnel looking for Reserve positions, even for high demand AFSCs. He should double-triple check verify he has a good 20 year letter and then place the expectation of a paying Reserve job very low unless another war breaks out or he has friends in high/low places, especially with the current state of the federal government budget and DoD resource constraints.

    With regard to ‘correspondence courses’, there has been a serious clamp down on the use of those for unpaid points towards retirement – in the Air Force Reserve, we must have several signed approvals from our supervisors attesting that we are not on government civilian paid status while taking the courses (many of our Reservists do some of the same things in their civilian (government job) as they do as Reservists (acquisition community)), and we must be authorized to take those classes (have the awarded AFSC and be working in that capacity in our Reserve jobs). I know that the Navy relies on this and was told through the grapevine they’ve almost been shut down over this….(some regulatory constraint that hadn’t been closely enforced). If you are able to do PME via correspondence, that should still count as unpaid points. I would recheck with the points people in your service to verify this and get the person who really knows…..

    With regard to the early receipt of retirement, there are some magic words that need to be on the orders he had from 2008 on and it must be 90 days within a FY (just went through this exercise and was awarded *nothing*).

    Even with the above, it is still a stream of income at 60 that allows for flexibility with other stream of income arrangements at/around normal retirement age.

    By the way, I don’t use the TRICARE Select Reserve, however, one of my Reservists said it was a great deal compared to any of the options he had in his civilian capacity and was one of the reasons why he was staying in the Reserves, so your respondent should double-triple check that as well.

    Comment? Question? What's on your mind?