Title 10 Military Sanctuary & Retirement During A Reserve Career

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A reader writes: I am an Air Force reservist with 18 good years of service. I have been trying to get back in for over four years, but to no avail. Per two recruiters, I have had to retake the ASVAB (which I passed), only to be told that they lost my results and have to take the ASVAB a third time. I was also told that my blood pressure has to be below 140/90 without medication. I am at a loss here and do not know where to go from here. I deserve to retire as I am in “military sanctuary.” Any assistance you can provide is greatly appreciated.

Title 10 Military Sanctuary RetirementWhether you’re trying to get back into the drilling Reserves or trying to get orders for active duty, the entire experience must be designed to test the strength of your commitment. They make it awfully hard to get to military retirement.

I don’t have a straightforward suggestion for the disappearing ASVAB results. It seems as if the only thing to do differently for a third ASVAB would be to try a different recruiter who’ll take better care of the paperwork.If any of you readers have solved a similar problem then I’d appreciate hearing about it.

Blood pressure is another tough situation. Most veterans have already tried weight loss & exercise. A few people are affected by “white coat syndrome”, where blood pressure rises whenever a medical technician (in a white coat) takes a BP reading. That’s a very real effect, but the only way to counteract it is through stress-reduction techniques (during the measurement) like relaxation or meditation. However, (like losing weight & exercising) these techniques also take some practice to pay off. You could ask the medical staff about wearing a 24-hour BP monitor to show that your readings jump due to white coat syndrome.

“Sanctuary” is a completely different situation, and I know quite a bit about the Navy version. It’s not to be confused with seeking refuge (or the old Syfy TV series). This is a military term that most Reservists never have to learn about, and it can cause a lot of confusion.

Sanctuary protects servicemembers on active duty who are approaching eligibility for retirement. It’s based in federal law (10 USC 12686) and implemented under the Department of Defense instruction 1235.12. When you’re on active duty and within two years of becoming eligible for retirement, you’re protected from being discharged. Here’s the specific text from paragraph 2.b.(5) of the Enclosure (3) guidelines on page 15:

(5) Active Duty Protection. In accordance with section 12686 of Title 10 USC, Reserve Component members ordered to active duty who, on the date they would otherwise be released from active duty, are within two years of becoming eligible for retired pay or retainer pay under a purely military retirement system other than retired pay for non-regular service under chapter 1223 of Title 10 USC:

(a) Shall not be involuntarily released from active duty before they become eligible for that pay.

(b) Shall be absorbed in Service-authorized active end strengths, unless the release is approved by the Secretary of the Military Department concerned.

In other words, military sanctuary means that Reservists reaching 18 years of active duty while on active duty are entitled to stay on active duty until eligible for an active-duty (20-year) retirement.

This type of sanctuary requirement only applies to active duty, and it does not apply to years of Reserve qualifying service.

[Note:  Almost all Reservists are required to have 20 years of qualifying service (20 “good years”) to be eligible for a Reserve retirement. If a Reservist doesn’t meet the requirements to continue in the Reserves, they could be discharged before they reach 18 qualifying years of service– a different type of sanctuary in section 12646 of Title 10 USC.  Thanks to Kevin S in the comments for pointing this out!]

The difference between these definitions seems arbitrary, but the significance is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In the “worst case” of the military retirement system, a Reservist could finish 20 good years while they’re still in their late 30s. If they filed for retirement then it would be at least two decades before they reached age 60 and DoD had to start paying their pension. If that same Reservist managed to reach 18 years of active duty during their Reserve career, then the sanctuary system would permit them to remain on active duty until they were eligible for an active-duty retirement– in their late 30s. Now DoD would have to pay at least 20 more years of an active-duty pension.

You’ll know when you’re approaching sanctuary. The Navy and Marine Corps start tracking their servicemembers as soon as they hit 16 years of active duty, and policy may only allow certain types of active-duty orders when the servicemember is demobilized before reaching 18 years of active duty. I’m not familiar with the other service’s tracking requirements, but their personnel systems will check for sanctuary issues before approving orders. If you have over 16 years of active duty in the Reserves then it’s worth discussing sanctuary with your local Reserve unit– you might not even be eligible for mobilization.

If you were in sanctuary, you should not have been able to be demobilized from your last active-duty orders. The personnel system software would have flagged your impending sanctuary months before you reached it. Personnel branches can make mistakes, but from DoD’s perspective this is too expensive to overlook– it gets a lot of attention.

One possible solution to these issues would be to talk with a recruiter for your local Air National Guard or National Guard. Their recruiters might take better care with your ASVAB and they might have different standards for blood pressure. Other Reservists have used the NG/ANG to get to 20 good years, so I know that option works.

If any of you readers have experience with Air Force or Army sanctuary, please share your advice or your story in the comments!

Related articles:
Reader questions on Reserve retirement Tricare and points
Navy Reserve retirement credit for ROTC summer training
Calculating a Reserve retirement
Should you join the Reserves or National Guard?
Comparing an E-7 active-duty pension to an E-7 Reserve pension
Retiring from the Reserves and National Guard
Join the military to get rich and retire early?: the rest of the story
Mixed Plate: Military Sanctuary, Disability, And Civilian Pensions
Should I Stop Drilling And Go To The Individual Ready Reserve?

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. What categories of point qualify for inclusion in the calculation? I have a total point count of 6261 and my ad only is 5500+ and the afi seems to be vague on what points are used.

    • DB, the criteria is “active duty”. Drill points don’t count because they’re for training, and neither does ADT. However the AFI 36-2131 goes into considerable detail in sections 2.1 and 2.2:
      That’s dated in 2011, and you may have a more current version on an Air Force website.

      Once you get past 16 (or 16.5) years of active-duty points, the personnel tracking systems should kick in to notify your chain of command about the procedures to be followed for voluntary orders and for waiving your rights to sanctuary. The only sanctuary declarations I’ve heard of in the last four years have resulted from long-term database errors.

  2. Doug,

    fantastic article. i have a question. Can a sanctuaried Navy reservist who completes a total of 20 years of active duty service choose for forego his active retirement and reaffiliate with the Navy reserves and elect a reserve retirement? is there a USC code that talks about this?


    • Thanks, Tri, good niche question! I sent you a long e-mail, but the short answer is that you simply decline to retire (or don’t complete the 20 years of active duty) and resume drilling.

      The 20-year active-duty (and Reserve) retirement is voluntary (rank and high-year tenure permitting).

  3. Hello Doug. My question is. Am national guard on ADOS orders. I am in sanctuary already. 13 mos. to reach my 20 years. However I went MND due to a herniated disk plus every PHA they seem to find something else. Yes am old. They told me that if I don’t clear my MND they can reduce me in rank. There’s no way I’ll be able to clear my herniated disk in one year. It’s my third herniated disk and I know with therapy or surgery it just won’t happen that fast. Can they take my rank away?

    • Victor, I don’t know how the National Guard would reduce someone in rank. If your current rank is a temporary or probationary promotion then that could be vacated (and you could be returned to your previous rank). Being reduced in rank for unsatisfactory performance usually refers to Article 15 proceedings or a court-martial.

      If you already have 18 good years for a Guard/Reserve retirement (or if you have more than 18 years of active duty for a regular active-duty retirement) then federal law allows you to stay in the military until you reach retirement eligibility. This section of federal law applies to enlisted ranks:
      and there’s a similar provision for warrant officers and other commissioned officers. For example,

      You might be hearing rumors of a new Department of Defense policy to reduce the number of MND servicemembers. However this is still in draft and it’s not a new law or a new instruction– just a new policy focus on the existing system.
      If you’re already over 18 then you’re allowed to serve until 20, and if you’ve been promoted to a rank (not just “selected for promotion” or “temporarily promoted”) then you’re entitled to keep it until your medical condition has been properly treated and reviewed. That’s the medical evaluation board process, and that does not include reductions in rank.

  4. I was a drilling reservist and was admin sepd from Navy Reserves 4 months before hitting my 20 years. I was not on active duty at the time. Do I have any options, or am I just SOL?

    • Good question, Denise, and you’re going to want to talk with a JAG or a lawyer who’s experienced with military law.

      Enlisted members with more than 18 years of service do have “retention protection” to get to retirement eligibility at 20 years of service:
      The key phrase in that law is “other than for physical disability or for cause”. If the administrative separation was for one of those reasons then you may not be protected under Title 10 Section 1176.

      In addition, for Reserve/National Guard members that depends on good years– not just total years. Even though you may have been drilling just before reaching your 20th year, you would have to have at least 18 good years, and not just have been in the military for over 19 years.

      Again, I’d recommend consulting a lawyer. Please feel free to e-mail me (NordsNords@Gmail) with more details if you have more questions.

  5. I have just started my Sanctuary, I am an Army Reserve Soldier who was mobilized and reached my 18 years and 2 months to qualify for the Sanctuary. I was placed at Fort Riley, Kansas and find it surprising that they have no idea what it takes to deal with a soldier who is sanctuary. Finance personnel are awesome, but they state that soldiers who are placed on Sanctuary are not placed in the correct category within the pay system. I received the other day a 6,000 dollar debt to the reserves because I was till being paid by the reserves and was not released till a month later to be placed in the Active army. The other problem that I am encountering is medical, the reserve unit I was mobilized with, did not provide accurate information when it came to Demobilization down at Fort Hood Texas, they placed my Tricare in the transitional allowance for 6 months, now I have to wait for this to be reversed in DEERS so that I do not run into problems while trying to make appointments at the Medical facility on Fort Riley. Which I have been having problems from day one after getting my active duty orders. There must be a better system to handle sanctuary soldiers, since the active duty post do not know what to do.

    • To those that have been accepted to the sanctuary program, did you get any stations in you wish list, how possible is it to get an overseas station?

      • Good question, Laura, and you might have a misunderstanding of the sanctuary program.

        You’re only able to declare sanctuary when you’ve already been mobilized on active duty and authorized to continue those orders past 18 years of active-duty days. At that point you stay on active duty at the same command and retire (on an active-duty pension) as soon as you reach 20 years.

        While you’re at your mobilization duty station getting to 20 years, you can apply to be augmented to your military service for an additional tour. That would make you a part of your service’s personnel (not a Reservist or National Guard member) and you’d be eligible for worldwide assignment. You’d fill out a duty preference worksheet and see what your assignment officer could do for you.

        However continuing beyond 20 would depend on your service wanting to move you from sanctuary to integrate you with the rest of your service’s active-duty personnel headcount. You’d count against their end strength, and they’d have to need your skills somewhere else after your sanctuary duty. I’ve only seen that happen once.

    • Thanks for chiming in, SFC, it’s been a while since we’ve heard from an Army sanctuary servicemember.

      I think all of the services lack proficiency at handling sanctuary. You’re going to have to use personal copies of the Army instructions and the info on the HRC website to show the medical & personnel people how to figure things out. I’d also suggest that you keep in touch with a JAG on the base in case there are more problems with your eventual retirement processing.

  6. Air Force Policy (AF Community of Practice Wiki)
    AFI 36-2131: A member desiring sanctuary must do so while on active duty and must submit the request in writing. Absent a written request, the member’s release will be considered voluntary and sanctuary protection not requested. The Secretary of the Air Force requires a waiver of sanctuary before a reserve member may begin a tour that would result in their qualifying for sanctuary. Waivers are not required from members activated under involuntary authority.

  7. Thanks, Kevin, good point– I’ve clarified that in the post.

  8. The original answer is incorrect. There is, in fact, Reserve Sanctuary for AF reserve officers that have at least 18 years of satisfactory service (“good years”). It is addressed in AFI 36-2131, Chapter 5. The law is codified at 10 USC 12646 (a) and (b). A “year creditable for retirement” is defined as a year in which the reservist earned 50 participation points at 10 U.S. Code § 12732 (a)(2). A Reserve officer in an ‘active status’ means an actively drilling Unit or actively working IMA, as opposed to an IRR reservist. It has nothing to do with active duty, which is a separate sanctuary issue.

    I know this, as I was affected by it (was twice passed but had the points to qualify for 18 “good years” and claimed sanctuary). I had 11 years of active duty and 7 good reserve years when I asserted my sanctuary rights.

  9. Mr. Haines, please e-mail me (NordsNords at Gmail) to tell me more about your questions and how I can help.

  10. i have a world war 2 with 23 yrs of total services with 8yrs points credited days 2164 and points 1239 could u help mr. charles haines, please call 214-[Edited by moderator].

  11. I’m an Air Guard member currently on title 10 orders overseas. I was forced to sign a sanctuary waiver prior to taking these orders. With almost 19 years of Active Duty service and my current orders coming to an end, can I claim Sanctuary protection? Who should I contact for advise and and or representation?

    • AF,

      This is a controversial section of federal law, and you need a military lawyer.

      The issue is that a few lawsuits have been filed over requiring a servicemember to waive their sanctuary rights. Plaintiffs have claimed that they cannot be required to waive these rights and should be awarded an active-duty requirement. As far as I know, however, this claim has not been upheld. It may not be ethically just to require ANG members to sign sanctuary waivers, but (so far) it appears to be legal.

  12. Hello, next april I should receive my Army Reserve 20 year retirement letter. soon after I receive my letter I will put in my retirement packet. Question: Do I have to continue drilling the moment I submit my packet? or can I stop drilling at that moment?

    • Great question, Omar!

      In almost all cases, you should continue drilling until your retirement request has been approved and you have the effective date. This way you’re still a drilling Reservist in good standing– just in case the chain of command (or your Reserve HRC) has delays or mistakes in processing your request.

      Each service and unit has their own policies, and you may be able to stop drilling sooner. For example, it may be possible to take six months of authorized absence (AA) before you’re transferred from the “drilling Reservist” category to “retired awaiting pay” category. (Ask your chain of command or your Reserve center.) Your unit may also authorize you to be absent from one or two drill weekends per year upon your request. That’s between you and your chain of command.

      Congratulations on your career, and let us know how the retirement process goes!

  13. Doug – you are spot on – sanctuary has to do with equivalent time on active duty. For Reservists, that is 365 points per year – of AT, RPA, MPA or EAD; not IDTs nor non-pay points. So if you multiply 365 times 18, that gives you how many points are needed (of the type mentioned above) to gain sanctuary in the active duty retirement protection sense.

    When I was a squadron commander, we had several Reservists in this position – if they wished to do more than drill and were close to sanctuary, we made them sign a waiver to an active duty retirement before we’d issue the orders. The only way they could gain sanctuary without it was for non-voluntary call-ups, i.e. war.

    As for the questioner here, I don’t know what the circumstances were for his release – is he still in the IRR? Can he find a Cat E position (non-pay points)? If he truly only has 2 more years left before he has his 20 years for a Reserve retirement at 60 years, then he could do his 50 points for 2 years in non-pay status and then get his 20 year letter. However, without more details, I can’t surmise anything else. The recruiter is a good place to go, however, he should also engage Air Reserve Personnel Center (ARPC) in Denver, and/or speak with HQ AFRC.

    • Thanks, Deserat!

      I’ve seen PACOM Reservists who were allowed to break sanctuary, but only a couple. Navy never seemed to allow that, although there were several who were being tracked by the system.

      I haven’t heard from the reader yet, but I’m hoping for an update…

    Comment? Question? What's on your mind?