Sanctuary In The Reserves: Only On Active Duty

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I’m getting a lot of sanctuary e-mail, and it’s partly because some of today’s Reserve and National Guard servicemembers are approaching 6574 points– nearly 18 years of service.

Here’s three questions from readers wondering whether they can claim sanctuary.

(Spoiler: No.)

Question #1:

I currently have 30 years of service (13 active and 17 reserves) with 6405 points. I’m considering applying for sanctuary next year. I’d like to know which scenario would benefit me more financially if I retire as active duty with 20 years (if I get sanctuary status) or as a gray area reservist.

Question #2:

I understand that Reservists who’ve earned at least 7200 retirement points by their last day of Reserve duty, become eligible for an immediate active duty retirement. If so, will they immediately receive retirement pay for BOTH the accumulated active duty points AND the inactive duty points, or must they wait through the “grey area” for the inactive duty points?
Does accumulating 7300 total points of inactive duty points and active duty time and over 20 satisfactory years warrant an active duty retirement right away or does the member still collect at age 60?

I have gotten mixed reviews on this one and have been wondering about it. I’ve talked to folks in D.C. and even they say 7300 points is the magic number to hit no matter what combination of Active and Reserve time you have.

Question #3:

I was reading your blog about Reserve retirements. I see that someone asked a question about a Reservist accumulating 20 active years and how to figure their retirement pay. I fall into that category too. I would love to correspond with you so you could help me understand what retirement pay I will be entitled to after my 20 active years and 24 years of good service total.
Between my seven years of regular active duty and my slew of Reserve voluntary active duty orders at other commands, in a few months I will have 20 actual active years of service.
Ever since I was close to 16 years of active service, I have been required to sign a sanctuary waiver in order to be allowed to come on orders. That was so I would not claim sanctuary after I had 18 years of active service.

However, I have been blessed enough that I will achieve the 20 active years!
At the beginning of next year I will have 7629 points.


The most important sanctuary rule

Sanctuary comes from federal law Title 10 U.S. Code section 12686. It’s deceptively simple: if you’re a Reservist on active duty (not for training!) who goes over 18 years of points (while on active duty), then you get to stay on active duty until you’re eligible for an active-duty retirement at 20 years.

Yes: sanctuary only happens when you’re on active duty.

It’s also derived from a broader protection of federal law (Title 10 U.S. Code section 1176) regarding involuntary discharge. Every member of the military (on active duty) who’s within two years of retirement is entitled to stay on active duty until they’re eligible for their active-duty pension.

That’s how the urban legends start. People think that they’ll qualify for sanctuary if they have 18 years of points, or 18 good years, or more than 6574 points, or by being on any kind of Reserve orders. Or maybe they know someone who heard of someone who manipulated the Reserve bureaucracy into issuing orders and then ambushed the chain of command by claiming sanctuary for an immediate active-duty retirement. Winning!

No. There are no conspiracy theories, either.

I’ll highlight the important points of sanctuary in the next few paragraphs, and at the end of this post I’ll link to your service’s applicable instructions and information sheets. Please read the “Related posts” section at the bottom for more sanctuary topics which are beyond the scope of this post.


When your service really needs you.

The most important aspect of sanctuary is that it only happens when your service has an urgent need for your skills. It’s not a reward for your years of Reserve duty or mobilizations. It’s because the military needs a trauma surgeon right now or a combat-experienced officer to fill a critical watchbill position on a joint warfare commander’s staff. Those are servicemembers I personally know who’ve claimed sanctuary, or who have written me to share what they’ve learned from it.

Another critical aspect of sanctuary is that it costs your service a lot of money. When you apply for a Reserve retirement, your service is allowed to have your pension paid out of DoD funds. However, DoD will not pay the bill for a sanctuary-related pension. When a service decides that they need to mobilize you into sanctuary, they have to be willing to buy it out of their own money. When a Reserve or Guard member claims sanctuary and “upgrades” from a Reserve pension to an active-duty pension, DoD makes the service pay the active-duty pension out of their own personnel funds until the retiree reaches age 60. When your service gives you a sanctuary “sweet deal”, it’s because they’re fixing a crisis.


What actually happens when you have a high point count.

A side effect of avoiding this expense is that the Reserve and Guard personnel staff spend a lot of time and money tracking your point count. If you go over 16 years of points then you’re placed in a special database to make sure that your service doesn’t inadvertently enable you to reach sanctuary. Any orders for longer than 29 days have to be approved at higher levels of the chain of command. Any orders that would put you into sanctuary status have to be approved by your service’s personnel general or admiral.

A common misconception is that sanctuary happens on any sort of orders. The reality is that a servicemember has to be mobilized and on active duty when they cross the 18-year line into sanctuary. These orders are not AT or ADT or any sort of training orders. (This was a subject of at least one sanctuary lawsuit.) The servicemember also has to agree to stay on active duty until they’re eligible for a regular active-duty retirement, and they’re issued a new set of orders to take them to that date. They can’t be extended past 20 years for any other reason– unless they leave their Reserve/Guard status and apply for permanent active-duty status.

A final misconception is that the military has to approve sanctuary. Even if you’re approved for mobilization orders, you could still be required to sign a waiver of “your” sanctuary rights. No waiver, then no orders… and no sanctuary. Waiving your right to sanctuary is also controversial but it’s in federal law (for mobilizations less than 180 days) and it’s been tested in court. You might still want the mobilization orders for a compelling mission and the experience and the boost to your career (and maybe even the pay)– but you won’t reach sanctuary.

During your Reserve/Guard career you can rack up more than 20 good years or go over 6574 points. (It’s not easy but Reader #3 shows it can be done.) You could do all the drill weekends and training orders you want, even if your “training” is flying an Air National Guard tanker mission for active-duty aircraft. But unless you’re mobilized on active-duty orders of more than 29 days, you won’t make sanctuary or be eligible for an active-duty retirement. Even when you meet all of the conditions, your service may ask you to waive your right to sanctuary.

What happens with the three readers at the start of this post?

Reader #1 could request mobilization, but he’s already being tracked for sanctuary status (and he was probably added to that database when he crossed 5840 points). Even if he has a unique skill in high demand, he’ll only be mobilized if there’s a critical mission– and then he’ll be asked to sign a waiver for 179-day orders. He’ll go over 18 years of points, but no sanctuary. He’ll eventually apply for a Reserve retirement.

Reader #2 is now a lot smarter on federal law and the DoD sanctuary system. He knows where to look it up in the references and in his service’s instructions instead of relying on the tribal lore of “the folks in DC”. He also understands that it’s extremely unlikely that he’ll ever reach sanctuary, and he’s expecting a Reserve pension instead of an active-duty one.

Reader #3 loves what she does, and she gets a lot of short-term active-duty orders. (Contact me if you want the details on where to live and how to find these orders.) Her sanctuary status was tracked as soon as she crossed 16 years of points, and she’s all too familiar with the sanctuary waivers.


The real goal: financial independence

Yet Readers #1 and #3 might already be financially independent. All of their Reserve duty has given them a very high point count and a High-Three Reserve pension at age 60. (In her case, it’s at least 53% of her High Three pay base.) This means that they could reach financial independence by saving and investing enough in their TSPs, Roth IRAs, and taxable accounts to live on until their pension starts. (If they need to, they can tap their TSPs and Roth IRAs penalty-free before age 59.5.) They really only need enough assets to bridge the gap until their Reserve retirement starts, and then their inflation-fighting pensions (with cheap healthcare) could cover most of their expenses for the rest of their lives.

They’ve already won the game in the fourth quarter, and now they’re just running up the score.

If you’re saving and investing for financial independence, then you can too.


Links to your service’s sanctuary instructions and policies:

The DoD sanctuary policy
The Army sanctuary information sheet
The Navy sanctuary links from the Reserve page (SECNAVINST 1800.2 and OPNAVINST 1001.27 on the Personnel Command page)
The Marine Corps sanctuary instruction
The Air Force Sanctuary instruction


Related articles:

Military Reserve Sanctuary And Active-Duty Retirement
Sanctuary And Military Retirement During A Reserve Career
Sanctuary And Military Mobilization
Military Reserve Sanctuary Retirement And Time In Grade
Early Withdrawals From Your TSP And Your IRA After The Military

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. Hi Doug,

    I’m not sure if I qualify for Sanctuary, but I’m prior-service that joined the AFR with 17 1/2 years of active duty time. I’m headed to tech school that’s over a year long that would definitely put me over the 18 year mark I was wondering if that would put me at sanctuary?

    • Good question, Jason!

      It depends on the nature of the orders (training versus active duty). You might also have been required to sign a waiver of sanctuary as part of receiving the orders for which you’ve volunteered.

      It’s highly unlikely that the AFR is sending you to a training program that would result in an active-duty pension at 20 years.

  2. Could you speak more about 10 USC 12646 Sanctuary for Reservists with 18 years. I think the title of this article confuses some people into thinking there is no form of Sanctuary for soldiers looking for a traditional Age 60 Reserve retirement.

    I am in the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) but still attached to a Unit drilling for points only. I still get good years in the IRR by drilling. I will have 17 good years early next year. I will be up for promotion as well. I hope to get promoted but just in case I don’t, I believe I will qualify for sanctuary under 12646 once I get my 18th year the following year. So, upon my second look for promotion, I will have 18 good years.

    Normally, you are forced out after being passed over twice for promotion. 12646 states that any Reserve Commissioned Officer, in an active status, can’t be forced out if they have 18 good years at the date prescribed for discharge. I believe active status is defined as soldiers on the Reserve Active Status List (RASL). That includes anyone that is eligible for promotion, so I think that includes IRR.

    Does that sound accurate?

    • T, your description of Title 10 U.S. Code section 12646 of the federal law is accurate, and it’s a completely different topic.

      You’re absolutely right that any servicemember with 18 years (or 18 good years for Reserve/Guard members) can continue in their active-duty, Reserve, or National Guard status until 20. Failure of selection for promotion when you already have 18 years essentially guarantees continuation to 20.

      This post debunks the myth that 18 years of active-duty points entitles a Reserve/Guard servicemember to an active-duty pension. The post’s title emphasizes that sanctuary (based on Title 10 U.S. Code section 12686 of federal law) can only be declared if the Reserve/Guard servicemember is on active-duty orders at the time. They can’t try to declare sanctuary simply because they have 18 years of active-duty points.

  3. Doug,

    I’m so glad to have found someone who knows something about Reserve sanctuary.
    In the attempt to extend one of my officers a year in our command, it was discovered that his points were calculated and tracked incorrectly and was on the precipice of sanctuary. After analyzing point capture, it was determined and proven that additional time was missed and has indeed gone over 18 Years (by 6 months).
    My question is what happens to him now that he’s achieved sanctuary? He’s currently working out of designator. Will they leave him at our command (no PCS cost etc) Will his community PCS and move him to utilize for 1.5 Years? Can he be deployed during sanctuary? And finally, can he request conversion to FTS ( which would require being designated) even though the next board is not until October?
    Thank you for your guidance.


    • That’s certainly an issue, Gwen. I can believe that PERS-9 has made a horrible mistake, but it’s very unlikely that they missed the officer going over 16 years in their tracking system.

      Let me check some numbers with you.

      First, sanctuary has to be declared while the servicemember is still on their active-duty orders. They’ve met that requirement.

      Next, the 18-year threshold is based on active-duty days and not drills. In other words, it’s not just 18 years of points but rather 18 years of active-duty points. The sanctuary point count subtracts out drills and other points which did not qualify as active duty.

      Finally they’d need to check their active-duty orders and make sure that they have not signed a waiver of their sanctuary rights. This frequently happens with voluntary mobilizations but the significance is not always appreciated by the servicemembers.

      Unless those requirements are met, then the Reserve officer is not in sanctuary. They’re someone who has over 18 years of points (>6480 = 18 x 360), but not enough active-duty points for sanctuary. There are a handful of those servicemembers in the Reserves and National Guard, and many of them have well over 7500 points. I’ve met most of them through the blog, many via e-mail after reading this post.

      When the updated (corrected) point count is submitted to the Reserve personnel branch, if the officer is over 18 years of active-duty points then all sorts of alarms will go off. If your review indicates that they may have reached sanctuary then the officer should immediately fill out their sanctuary declaration and send it to BUPERS.

      If the updated point count has over 16 years of active duty then they’ll be tracked in the PERS-9 system. Further active-duty orders will be restricted to make sure they either demobilize short of 18 years or have signed a waiver of sanctuary.

      Once someone declares sanctuary, they’re moved from the Reserves or Guard to their active-duty service. They’re given a new set of orders to take them to 20 years (for their active-duty pension) but no further. They could be eligible for worldwide assignment but they’re usually left at the command where they declared sanctuary (due to their short time remaining on active duty). On the other hand they’re certainly able to deploy with their active-duty command (or on temporary duty).

      The active-duty officer could request a conversion to FTS (or any other community for which they’re qualified) but selection is up to the other community. The decision is probably based on their potential for long-term service in the new community, and that’s unlikely if they’re retiring at 20.

  4. I am a regular army officer with 27 years total service (15 active, 12 guard and reserve). Am I eligible to apply for a reserve retirement if I am not currently a reservist? In other words, I understand that I will not receive the pension until I’m 60, but can I drop the retirement packet and enter the “gray area” now without having to transition to the RC first?

  5. Doug,
    There is one place in the USAFR where it is possible to waive sanctuary and still reach 7305 days for an active duty retirement. Due to RPA manning shortfalls, RPA pilots and sensor operators are able to get 1095 days of continuous MPA orders as a TR. I separated at 17 years and one month, with Palace Front into the reserves as a TR, so 1095 will take me one month past 20. I still have to sign sanctuary waivers, but I’m about to hit 19 and the mission is busy as ever. It’s rolling the dice as my orders could be unfunded at any time, but I don’t see that happening. In fact they are about to apply for a 1095 waiver so I can get another 365.


    • Just to make the vocabulary more precise, Jason, I realize that you’ll reach 20 years of points as well as 20 good years, but waiving sanctuary means that you’ll earn a Reserve retirement (at about age 60) instead of an active-duty retirement in a little over a year.

      I’m not familiar with how the RPA program law affects a military pension, but Palace Front & Palace Chase are intended to lead to Reserve retirements:

      On the other hand some AGR billets do lead to an active-duty retirement because the servicemember is allowed to claim sanctuary.

      Whether a pension comes from active duty or from the Reserve/Guard, you have a challenging/fulfilling billet with cheap health insurance and a lifetime inflation-adjusted annuity. The non-regular pension means that your assets have to bridge your expenses to age 60 (or a little sooner in some cases), but you still win the game either way.

      • Doug,
        Can you please clarify this? I believe Jason says he has earned 20 years and 1 month of active duty days. Exceeding 7305 days. The AFI sanctuary waiver paperwork says that if he reaches 7305 active points he can claim an active duty annuity. “Upon accumulation of approximately 7305 active duty points, I will have earned an AD retirement and may retire immediately with an AD annuity, or continue to participate for additional points and pay.”

        Is this not accurate? Jason waived sanctuary but has still accrued enough title 10 days to achieve an immediate active duty retirement.

        • Excellent, Jason, thanks for your update!

        • Another update. So I hit 7305 days active duty time in May as a TR. I applied for an active duty retirement and will be in the check of the month club come 1 June of next year with 21 years of service. So, yes, you can definitely sign sanctuary waivers, and still get an active duty retirement if you manage to get enough active duty days.

          On another note, my post about the availability of MPA orders in the RPA (remotely piloted aircraft) mission has not changed. Just had my final set of orders approved, and I will have 1430 days of continuous title 10 MPA orders when I retire. I have had both a 1095 and 1400 day waiver approved by ACC (active duty MAJCOM paying for my MPA) without them blinking an eye. About 70% of our TRs are full time (on continuous MPA orders). I think in the next 5 years this may change as they are going to change a bunch of TRs to AGRs on our UMDs to reflect the full time nature of our mission.

        • Not sure If anyone clarified this, but I’ve signed several sanctuary waivers. It does not waive my right to an active duty retirement, if I earn it. What it waives is my right to be kept on orders so that I can earn it. Without a sanctuary waiver, once I hit 18 years, my unit would have been obligated to keep me on orders. That obligation is what I waive. They kept me on orders anyways, but the key is they didn’t have too since I signed the waiver. They would not have given me orders past 18, if I hadn’t signed it, to keep them from being in a position where they have to pay me, but the budget dries up a year or 2 down the road.

        • Here’s an update from Jason. Jared, you’re absolutely right. I’ve added minor edits in [brackets].

          “I hit 7305 at the of May and qualified for active duty retirement. I asked for a 1095 waiver and got that, so that I could stay another year since I am waiting for a specific job. RPAs are extremely critically manned (24/7 combat ops with no end in sight). I do not foresee MPA orders running out anytime soon. One of the guys I worked with who just retired received a second 1095 waiver (I guess it’s a 1460 waiver) and was able to fly five years with no break as a TR on MPA.
          I think there isn’t a notification. [Of eligibility for an active-duty retirement.] At least I can’t find one. I was just told that when I go to MyPers and apply for a retirement, I select active duty and the personnelists gonk it out. The only way I think I can check is on PCARs. I can see that I have over 7305, and all of my points are listed as 1 (active duty) since I have always been on MPA. I’ll figure it our soon. I’m going to apply for retirement next June so I should be able to do it when I get back from leave since I’m now a year out.
          We have a ton of people in our unit doing exactly what I’m doing. A bunch of TRs are riding full time MPA orders for 1095 days to get active duty retirements. From my perspective it’s better than AGR. I have all the benefits of a TR (i.e. I can say no), I fly the line, and I earn an active duty retirement. The only downside is you never know what the budget will be or when it will be passed. It hasn’t been an issue other than a bit of pain. I’ve had to be VOCO’d [given verbal orders] twice because the budget wasn’t done on time. But it has always come through.”

        • Jared, thanks for the clarification of the section at the top of page 19 of AFI36-2131 of 27JUL11.

          “______ I understand that I will continue to accrue active duty points while performing this tour with a waiver in place. Upon accumulation of approximately 7305 active duty points, I will have earned an AD retirement and may retire immediately with an AD annuity, or continue to participate for additional points and pay.”

          I’m confused too, although it’s still waiving sanctuary.

          However I agree with your point. The paragraph seems to say that should the servicemember somehow perform more active duty for enough additional time (like a series of active-duty orders with voluntary sanctuary waivers) to accumulate 7305 days of active duty (not just drill or training) then they’re eligible to retire on an active-duty pension.

          It looks like the RPA mission (similar to AGR) potentially created another path to an active-duty retirement. It’ll be interesting to see whether the AF considered the mission important enough to pay for the pension difference out of Air Force personnel funds (instead of DoD funds). In light of the aviator retention issues, that may be the case.

          I’ve sent a followup e-mail to Jason. Thanks for noticing this issue!

          (Note to other readers: 7305 points in the Reserves or National Guard does not mean entitlement to an active-duty retirement. However 7305 points of active duty, through a series of active-duty orders, seems to lead to an active-duty pension in at least the Air Force Reserve.)

        • Got it, thanks– see the above comment.
          Jared, can you link to that AFI sanctuary waiver paperwork or send me a copy (NordsNords at Gmail)?

          Waiving sanctuary means giving up the active-duty pension, but if it’s a program like AGR then it might qualify for an active-duty pension.

  6. Thanks, Leftbucket, that’s exactly right!

    This type of sanctuary also comes from federal law (Title 10 sections 1176 and 12646). If a Reserve/Guard member reaches 18 good years then they have to be continued in the Reserves for the opportunity to reach 20 good years.

    It means that they cannot be separated before qualifying for a Reserve/Guard retirement, but they could still lose their drill billet and be put in the Volunteer Training Unit or IMA or IRR. The burden to perform (and obtain good years) is still on the servicemember.

  7. Nords,

    Thanks for all your detailed work here. I know you’ve been keeping your finger on the pulse of this
    for a while. As a note of clarification, I think it’s worth pointing out to some readers that there can indeed be a “reserve sanctuary” as well: designed for ensuring a member with 18 good reserve years can get to 20. As an example, readers can see the Air Force Instruction you have appropriately linked, page 12 for details on how this works.

    Thanks again for tackling this complicated subject.


  8. Thanks, Bridget, you’re absolutely right!

    Congress and DoD have to treat that as a revenue-neutral change, and there has been insufficient interest in cutting other programs to fund early retirement for those mobilized between 9/11 and 28 Jan 2008.

  9. Doug,

    Thank you for this post….you are absolutely correct. I was a Reserve squadron commander and we would have people sign sanctuary waivers quite often and we would *not* allow them to come on active orders unless they signed the waiver. This was one thing that was part of my duties as a G Series orders commander and my personnel section also made sure we did not bring anyone on orders if they didn’t sign that piece of paper.

    Now, if those people who have that many points have done duty since 1 Oct 2008 in for 90 days in a year in Title 10 service status, they can have their Reserve retirement earlier by 90 days for every 90 days of service, so they could receive their pension before they become 60 years of age. They would not get the healthcare coverage, but they would get the early receipt of their pension.

    Unfortunately, the law that authorized the early receipt did not roll back to 9/11/2001. I surmise it would have cost too much $$$ if the DoD or Congress had authorized it – if so, I would be getting my pension at least three years earlier. Alas, it is not to be.


    Comment? Question? What's on your mind?