A reader writes:
I’ve been commissioned from the Navy’s enlisted ranks and have not yet reached eight years of commissioned service. I’m eligible for retirement and I’ve enjoyed active duty– until now.
I’d like to retire as an officer but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get to 10 years. I’m considering retiring a few years ahead of my plans because my assignment officer is pushing hard for me to go overseas for my final tour. I do not want to retire from overseas because it’s not conducive to financial planning, house hunting, or searching for a job in the U.S.
This is a very pertinent retirement question, and it’s also an opportunity to address another issue: the Navy’s quirky process for overseas orders.
I’m not going to try to change anyone’s mind about the timing of overseas assignments, but I’ll discuss some additional factors to help with the decision. They range from the best case to the worst case.
[Disclosure: I might be biased. I enjoyed overseas duty. More than 14 of my 20 years of active duty were spent outside CONUS. My spouse spent over 19 of her 25 years of Navy duty overseas, and we’ve lived in Hawaii since 1989. We keenly understand the challenges of separating from the military while overseas, and it might not be as critical of an issue as it seems.]
The Navy’s Rules on Separating from Overseas Duty
Separating or retiring from overseas frustrates my Navy readers, but it’s for exactly the opposite reason from this reader’s question. Many Navy families want to stay overseas after separating, yet the Navy only handles that under special circumstances.
The Army and the Air Force will happily separate their servicemembers overseas at just about any duty station around the globe, while the Navy normally transfers their servicemembers to the U.S. for several months of “outprocessing” before retirement.
I don’t understand the logic behind that requirement, although it can be waived in some situations. I’ve read rumors that the Navy claims the return to the U.S. is required by their accounting for sea duty OPTEMPO, and they close it out by having the servicemember transfer to San Diego or Norfolk for temporary duty in a Transient Personnel Unit. Apparently, this happens even for sailors on overseas shore duty. It sounds like something out of a 1920s history book.
Meanwhile, Navy families want to separate overseas to travel around Europe or Asia for a few months, and maybe even get a work visa. Army & Air Force families do it all the time, but Navy families have to come back to the U.S. (on the Navy’s travel budget) and then figure out how to get back overseas on their own expenses & logistics.
Members eligible for separation while serving on a permanent station OCONUS, except Hawaii, unless immediately reenlisted on board, shall be transferred to the appropriate separation activity listed in this article, nearest to the port of debarkation in CONUS.”
The only way around this requirement appears to be finding a command which can handle separations of Navy servicemembers (under honorable conditions):
Members eligible for separation may be transferred to a separation activity not listed in this article, provided the gaining activity has no objections to receiving personnel for separation processing, and the gaining command’s Personnel Support Activity Detachment has separation capability”.
I hope the capability to process those separations means “has access to the Internet”. Then a few paragraphs later the MILPERSMAN goes into the waiver to separate overseas:
Member’s request to the Commanding Officer contains a statement that application has been made for a passport, that such passport will be granted upon separation, and that permission to remain in the foreign area has been, or will be, obtained; and”…
In the case of this reader, they’ll have no trouble transferring back to the U.S. for the temporary duty of outprocessing. Between that and terminal leave (as well as their own access to the Internet), they’ll have plenty of time and opportunity to start the career search.
Retiring with Less than 10 Years of Commissioned Service
This requirement causes tremendous confusion among prior-enlisted active-duty officers. Federal law requires that Navy and Marine officers have 10 years of commissioned service to retire at an officer rank. (The Army and the Air Force have similar federal laws.) Those laws allow the 10-year requirement to be waived down to eight years, but only through the end of September 2018.
Yet retiring now (at an enlisted rank) might not be as financially devastating as it seems.
If a prior-enlisted officer elects to retire at an enlisted rank, then after retiring they can still be advanced to the officer ranks (and an officer pension). A different federal law takes effect at the combination of 30 years of active service and time in retirement, when a Navy or Marine enlisted retiree can be advanced on the retired list to the highest grade held satisfactorily on active duty. (The Army and the Air Force also have similar federal laws.) This means that a 20-year retiree still has an inflation-fighting pension (and Tricare), and after 10 years of retirement their pension will revert to their officer rank.
This reduces the financial impact of retiring with less than 10 years of commissioned service, especially if they’re leaving active duty for a high-paying civilian bridge career.
The Search for the Bridge Career
If I had to rank the top ten concerns about the bridge career search, being overseas wouldn’t even make the list. Fortunately for overseas military, today’s job searches are largely done online. There are literally dozens of virtual job fairs for servicemembers, vets, and military spouses. That includes virtual networking (especially online webinars and conferences) and Skype interviews.
I’ve spent years helping vets navigate the bridge career transition, and one of the most annoying aspects of the process has been learning the corporate hiring cycle. Many companies will not make a decision more than 90 days out, and a few (defense contractors) won’t even hire a servicemember who’s on terminal leave. It’s their own ethics policies, based out of their interpretation of federal law for contract competitions.
A few officer ranks and specialties have federal ethics restrictions on being hired by corporations which they may have worked with while on active duty. That simplified summary comes from the 110-page “Compilation of Federal Ethics Laws” manual. Even if some of the requirements in those references don’t apply to certain enlisted ranks or situations, the corporation’s overall hiring policy may discourage any exceptions to their own rules.
Another complication for military retirees is the federal law requiring a 180-day wait before accepting employment as a civil servant in the Department of Defense. It’s caused a lot of confusion because of legal changes and proposed legislative amendments.
The 180-day requirement was waived shortly after the 9/11 attack but was reinstated in late 2016. There’s still a waiver process for hiring within the 180-day window, but the cynical punchline is that it takes a little over six months for approval.
The result is that separating servicemembers might not even meet the hiring committee in person until less than 90 days before their separation date. Then 180 days after separation, there’s another wave of opportunities for DoD civil service and more civilian corporations.
Financially, these delays are a compelling reason for building a transition fund of at least six months’ expenses before your final military paycheck.
On the other hand, when you’re pursuing financial independence then it’s easy to take a few months after the military to explore the world.
Fortunately, the bridge-career search process is the same whether you’re in the U.S. or overseas. It starts with narrowing down your interests to a few career fields and then figuring out what corporations you’d like to join. You’ll do a series of informational interviews to sort out those details, and then you’ll network your contacts to start the hiring process.
Make Your Job Search Easier and Faster with these Four Steps:
1. Read the book “The 2-Hour Job Search” and do the exercises.
2. Join the Linkedin group “Veteran Mentor Network”. (There’s a reason it’s one of the largest groups on the site.) Read the posts and apply the recommendations to your own career search.
3. Fix your Linkedin profile. Get rid of the military images & jargon and turn it into the description of your next job. List your achievements instead of your responsibilities.
Sign up for your free year of Linkedin Premium (along with every other vet and military spouse).
4. Once you’ve figured out your target industry and a few corporations, then contact others who are already in that industry and those corporations. (Your free year of Linkedin Premium makes it easier to contact people.) Ask them for a brief informational interview with a phone call or Skype. They already understand that you’re just learning about their career field, not asking them for a job.
Notice that you haven’t filled out a single résumé or application yet? You’ll figure out the résumé as you read the book and join the Linkedin group. You’ll only do a few applications, and it’ll be when one of your contacts asks you to interview with their company.
If you’re seeking a career with a multinational corporation which has an office near your overseas duty station, they might even be interested in hiring you to stay overseas. At the very least they’d be interested in hiring an overseas veteran to work in the U.S. because you’ll understand the cultural differences between their U.S. teams and their overseas teams.
Househunting in America While Overseas
Your concerns about house hunting are shared by all servicemembers, not just the overseas ones returning to the U.S. Career searches take a lot longer if they’re limited to a specific location, so vets are advised to “go where the job offer is”.
Statistics indicate that nearly half of all veterans move again within two years of leaving active duty because the new location isn’t working out. For those reasons, it makes a lot more sense to rent for 12-18 months in your new location.
Even when you have the world’s best career (or start your own business) then renting lets you learn every detail of your new location and figure out your neighborhood preferences. Once you decide where you want to live, you’ll have the time to wait for a desperate seller.
I hope this info helps everyone (and their families!) make the best decision. Please contact me if you have more questions!
The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement Price: By Doug Nordman: This book provides servicemembers, veterans, and their families with a critical roadmap for becoming financially independent.