Sanctuary In The Reserves: Only On Active Duty

The military sanctuary program protects military members' retirement eligibility and allows them to continue their service until they have earned their retirement. But it's a complicated topic. We work to make it easier to understand.
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The military Sanctuary Program protects servicemembers’ careers by allowing them to remain on active duty long enough to earn retirement benefits. According to, “The Sanctuary Program, as defined by Title 10 of the United States Code, is a federal program designed to protect military service members from being forced to leave military service when they are within two years of attaining enough service to qualify for an active duty retirement.”

For most servicemembers, this means that once you reach 18 years of active duty service, you will be allowed to remain on active duty long enough to get 20 years of active duty service and earn full military retirement benefits.

Sanctuary is an often misunderstood topic, especially when it comes to those serving in the Guard and Reserves. This article will cover the topic of Sanctuary and address many of the myths and misconceptions surrounding this topic.

Table of Contents
  1. Qualifying for Military Sanctuary Retirement
    1. Sanctuary is Only Approved When There is a Great Need
    2. What Happens When You’re Close to Sanctuary
  2. Official Sanctuary Instructions and Policies:
  3. Example 1 – Close to Sanctuary, How Can I Qualify?
  4. Example 2 – Promotions While in Sanctuary
    1. Adding Your Reserve Points to Your Retirement
  5. Example 3 – Promotion While in Sanctuary and Time in Grade Requirements
  6. Reader Questions About Sanctuary Retirement:
    1. Question #1: Getting Close to 18 Years
    2. Question #2 – the 7,200 Point Myth
    3. Question #3 – Required to Sign Sanctuary Waivers:
  7. Sanctuary Policies:

Qualifying for Military Sanctuary Retirement

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 active duty points (and 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 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 critical points of Sanctuary in the following few paragraphs, and at the end of this post, I’ll link to your service’s applicable instructions and information sheets.

Sanctuary is Only Approved When There is a Great Need

The most critical 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 billet on a joint warfare commander’s staff.

Those are servicemembers I 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, the DoD funds your pension.

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 fund it with 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 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 Happens When You’re Close to Sanctuary

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 (active duty) points, you’re placed in a special database to ensure that your service doesn’t inadvertently enable you to reach Sanctuary.

Any orders for longer than 29 days require approval 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 eligibility happens on any type 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 the 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 are 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 mobilization orders are approved, 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 has been upheld 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 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.

Official Sanctuary Instructions and Policies:

  • The Marine Corps Sanctuary instruction
  • The Air Force Sanctuary instruction
  • Example 1 – Close to Sanctuary, How Can I Qualify?

    A reader writes:

    “I’m currently deployed to Afghanistan. I am very close to Sanctuary and may reach it during the end of my leave after my deployment is over. If I don’t reach Sanctuary by the end of this deployment, I will return to the Reserves with no less than 17 years and 11 months of “active federal” time. If I remain in the Reserves and get orders to perform duty over 30 days, that will put me well over 18 years.

    I’m wondering if I have to be mobilized to apply for Sanctuary or if I can be on “active duty” orders to reach my 18 years and achieve Sanctuary. Because of my MOS, I am constantly on orders longer than 30 days at a given time.”

    If you cross over 18 years of service on a set of active-duty orders, whether you’re on duty or leave, then you’ve reached Sanctuary status. The only thing that matters is being on those orders as you cross over 18 years. If you’ve demobilized and returned to Reserve status before 18 years, then you’ll only reach Sanctuary if you go back on active-duty orders and cross over 18 years while on those orders.

    The key to “active-duty orders” is a set of orders longer than 29 days, which means that you’re receiving active-duty benefits and you’re no longer considered to be “in training.” AT or ADT orders do not count because they’re 29 days or less. If you’re on active duty orders for longer than 29 days when you cross 18 years, whether those orders are ADSW or a full-blown mobilization, then you’re in Sanctuary.

    Your service will track your active-duty time and will know when a set of orders would put you in Sanctuary, because your service has to pay the difference in pension before DoD takes over that funding.

    Remaining in Reserve status can be risky. You could miss out on hundreds of thousands of dollars from an active duty pension should policies change, budgets decrease, or you are otherwise unable to be placed on active duty orders to reach Sanctuary.

    If I were in your situation (with a heightened awareness of abrupt policy changes), then first, I’d determine exactly when I’d go over 18 years of active duty. I’d try to extend the current mobilization so that I’d cross over 18 on that set of orders before demobilizing. If that didn’t work, then I’d get back on any set of active-duty orders as soon as I demobilized so that I was getting to 18 as quickly as possible.

    Once you’re in Sanctuary, you can apply for integration into your service’s active-duty forces and then request to stay on active duty until you’re promoted and reach at least two years’ time in grade.

    Example 2 – Promotions While in Sanctuary

    Here’s a reader question from a servicemember who is currently in Sanctuary:

    “You seem to have a pretty good handle on the Reserve military retirement system, and I would like to ask your opinion on my situation. I’m in the Reserves. I’ve been mobilized, and I am currently in Sanctuary (18 years, nine months of active-duty service) with a mandatory active-duty retirement date of May 2014. I’ve just been selected for promotion. Since I will not have the opportunity for time in grade to retire at that rank before May 2014, is there a waiver process or any system that will allow me to continue past the mandatory date? Or, will my retirement be based on the High Three average in May 2014, and that is it?

    One last question, do you know if the inactive points count towards a Sanctuary retirement, or is it the straight 20 years of active time (assuming retirement at that point)?  Thanks!”

    Congratulations on your promotion! You’ve won the game in the third quarter, and now the question is how far you get to run up the score.

    Let me start with the Reserves background to your question and explain how a different set of rules applies to your active-duty retirement.

    There are waivers of time in grade for Reserve retirements. DoD lets the individual Reserve services decide how to handle their waivers (down to two years’ TIG). The services generously approve the waivers during drawdowns, although I don’t know how far below two years they would be willing to go. The approvals I’ve seen were for those who will reach a minimum of two years’ TIG, but the only way you’ll find out your service’s limit is to request the waiver.

    In your case, your promotion resets the clock on your retirement date and restarts your active-duty career. When you’re promoted during active duty in Sanctuary, your retirement orders are canceled, and you stay on active duty for a whole new ballgame. You get to serve whatever minimum TIG your service will allow, or you could continue your career with follow-on orders. You’ve rebooted your career, and you’re competitive for more promotions, should you choose to consider that lifestyle.

    I’m going to speculate that the reason your chain of command hasn’t discussed the rules is that your promotion is not yet final. When you’re promoted (not just selected), the active-duty personnel staff will note your Sanctuary retirement date and modify your promotion orders to cancel the retirement. You may also be asked to extend your current orders to give you a full two years’ TIG.

    If you want to do as little time in your new rank as possible, then I’d apply for approval of either:

    • A new retirement date to give you two years’ time in grade at your new rank, or
    • A TIG waiver to retire in May ’14 with however many months you have at that grade.

    Hopefully, you could discuss this ahead of time with your chain of command and HQ staff. If you apply for the waiver as an either/or option, then the approval staff should consider it in those terms.

    Adding Your Reserve Points to Your Retirement

    Your Reserve “good years” clock was ticking before you were mobilized, and now it’s continuing to track the longevity of your rank for your pay scale. Right now, you have 18 years and a few months of active service, but your pay scale longevity is probably at the >20 years, >22, or even higher column. That’s based on your date of initial entry into military service (DIEMS).

    To manually determine your pension amount, you’ll also need your years of service. The DoD has already conveniently determined this for you: you’ll reach 20 years on 1 May 2014. If you remain on active duty longer (at your higher rank), then your years of service will count up from there.

    The good news is your inactive Reserve points will count toward your retirement pension after you reach 20 years of active duty service. These points are calculated by adding them together and dividing them by 360. The value of those points will be converted to months and added to your active duty time when you retire, boosting your retirement pay accordingly. You can learn more in this article about calculating the value of a Reserve retirement.

    To manually calculate your monthly High Three pension amount, you’ll take that average 36 months’ base pay for those ranks at their longevity columns, multiply it by your years of service (calculated to three decimals), multiply that by 2.5%, and round it down to the nearest dollar.

    Example 3 – Promotion While in Sanctuary and Time in Grade Requirements

    A reader writes:

    “My spouse was selected for promotion before reaching Sanctuary. He was promoted after issued Sanctuary orders but before his deployment. We were completely unaware of the “promotion during active duty in Sanctuary” rule that would cancel his retirement orders and allow him to stay on active duty for his promotion time in grade. The military has NOT canceled his retirement orders and told him to submit a time-in-grade waiver request. He was then informed his Sanctuary orders could not be extended. However, he didn’t tell them he was recently promoted – would that make a difference? No one at the G1 Pentagon has notified him, nor were his promotion orders modified to cancel his retirement.

    His Date of Initial Entry on Military Service is May 198. He was issued Sanctuary orders in September 2012, he was promoted to O-6 on 1 December 2012, and the Sanctuary orders end in May 2014. Can you please clarify or point me to the regulation regarding the “promotion during active duty in Sanctuary” rule? Thank you for your help.

    P.S. The information on calculating his pay was very helpful and good news because we thought the annuity calculation would be based on 20 years of service, and not consider his longevity which will be close to 26 years. So that was very good news if I am reading that correctly!!”

    After some questions, we came up with the following chronology:

    • May 1987: DIEMS.
    • June 1999: Separated from active duty for drilling Reserve. Completed “good years” of Reserve points each year.
    • 2006: Placed on active-duty contingency orders through 2012.

      • This was nearly continuous active service, including a deployment.

    • November 2011: Selected for promotion.
    • 1 June 2012: Reached 18 years of active duty orders (Sanctuary).
    • September 2012: Received Sanctuary orders
    • 1 December 2012: Promoted to O-6
    • March 2013: Deployed for one year
    • 1 June 2014: Sanctuary orders end at 20 years of service.

    This question addresses a slightly different situation in which a servicemember was selected for promotion before they reached Sanctuary and then promoted after the Sanctuary orders were released.

    Sanctuary is expensive. The servicemember is not usually allowed to continue on active duty past the 20-year retirement eligibility unless they integrate with the active-duty service.

    I’ve heard of several servicemembers reaching Sanctuary, but I’ve only heard of one who continued past 20 years of service. In that situation, while he was on his Sanctuary orders, he was selected for promotion. When the selection list was approved (and he was on the promotion schedule), he applied for integration with his active-duty service. He stayed on active duty long enough to serve the minimum time-in-grade of his higher rank. Then he retired on an active-duty pension.

    This reader’s spouse has a slightly different situation. He’d already been selected for promotion before he reached Sanctuary. He was promoted shortly after his Sanctuary orders were issued.

    DoD Instruction 1235.12 allows servicemembers to continue on active duty if their service secretary approves. A Department of the Army memorandum says:

    “Sanctuary orders are not authorized to be amended to reflect a period beyond the end of the month in which the Soldier attains 20 years of active service. In cases of approved Active Duty for Operational Support service beyond 20 years of active service, the Soldier will be placed on a new set of orders, and the Sanctuary provisions of 10 USC 12686 will no longer apply.”

    How does that happen? A few paragraphs later, the memo says:

    “Officers in Sanctuary status may apply for Regular Army integration through the Call to Active Duty Program, and enlisted Soldiers in Sanctuary status may apply for Regular Army enlistment through the Reserve Component to Active Component Program. Officers in Sanctuary status should be advised that the CAD Program is a competitive accession program based upon the needs of the Army; there is no guarantee of approval. […] If approved and accessed into the Regular Army, the Soldier is subject to world-wide assignment based on the needs of the Army.”

    Those are the rules, but Sanctuary is a unique program, and most personnel staffs aren’t familiar with it. Each service’s headquarters personnel staff has a Sanctuary program manager, usually a senior civil servant who’s had years to become familiar with the details. In this case, the servicemember needs to speak with the program manager to ensure they understand how the servicemember got to Sanctuary and when they were selected for promotion. They need to do that even though they’re on deployment, or else they’re going to waste a lot of time hearing different interpretations from lower levels of the chain of command. The program manager will be required to investigate this integration request anyway, so they might as well discuss the situation with the servicemember before the official application reaches their desk.

    This servicemember will reach 20 years of service after only 18 months in the O-6 paygrade. Title 10 U.S. Code Section 1370 requires higher-ranking officers to serve three years in that grade to retire at that grade, but each service has the waiver authority to reduce that time to two years. Anything less than two years Time in Grade requires approval by SECDEF and Congress, which essentially means “Don’t even ask about it.” (SECDEF does not want to explain to interested Congressional committees why some officers don’t have to serve their minimum two years’ TIG.)

    The only way for this Sanctuary servicemember to reach TIG in their higher rank is to apply for integration into the Regular Army. After that approval, they could hope for a new set of orders to remain in their current assignment for at least another six months (while applying for a TIG waiver down to two years when they retire), or they could receive a new set of orders to another duty station.

    Will this servicemember be allowed to integrate into the Regular Army and gain at least six more months of active duty to retire at their higher grade? That’s hard to predict. A few years ago, they might have been eagerly integrated and issued new orders, especially for deployment.

    Now that the drawdown has started, the Army could be reluctant to integrate anyone else into the Regular Army (let alone give them more time on active duty) if they initially reached retirement orders on Sanctuary. The timing is very awkward for the service because it would require staying on active duty past the end of a fiscal year. An additional six months of active duty would need that officer to count against end-of-year personnel strength. It’s going to be tough enough to comply with the drawdown requirements, and personnel staff will be reluctant to issue new orders to anyone without a mission-critical reason. A general officer could intervene with Army G-1 to plead this case, but general officers in a drawdown are only issued a few silver bullets.

    The “worst-case scenario” is the servicemember reaches 20 years of active-duty service in May 2014 and will be required to retire on 1 June 2014 as an O-5 instead of an O-6. Their DD-214 and their retiree ID would reflect an O-5 rank.

    Because the officer is retiring from active duty on the High Three system, his retired rank doesn’t matter for the pension calculation. The only thing that counts is years of service and the average of the highest 36 months of pay.

    Their pension has to be calculated manually because of their Reserve pay scales and active-duty years of service. Since his DIEMS is May 1987 and he’s had a “good year” every year in the Reserves, he went over 24 years of service in June 2011 (the start of this 36-month period) and over 26 years of service in June 2013. The 18 months of O-5 pay is at the O-5>24 columns of the pay tables. The 18 months of O-6 pay is at the O-6>24 and O-6>26 columns.

    Reader Questions About Sanctuary Retirement:

    Here are a few questions from readers about whether or not they might qualify for Sanctuary:

    Question #1: Getting Close to 18 Years

    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.

    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 active-duty 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.

    Question #2 – the 7,200 Point Myth

    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 wondered about it. I’ve talked to folks in D.C., and even they say 7300 points is the magic number to hit, no matter the combination of Active and Reserve time you have.

    Reader #2 is now more knowledgeable 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 doubtful that he’ll ever reach Sanctuary, and he’s expecting a Reserve pension instead of an active-duty one.

    Question #3 – Required to Sign Sanctuary Waivers:

    I was reading your blog about Reserve retirements. I see that someone asked a question about a Reservist accumulating 20 active years and figuring out their retirement pay. I fall into that category too. I would love to correspond with you to 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, I will have 20 actual active years of service in a few months.

    Ever since I was close to 16 years of active service, I have been required to sign a Sanctuary waiver to be allowed to come on orders. That was so I would not claim Sanctuary after 18 years of active service.

    However, I have been blessed enough to achieve the 20 active years!

    At the beginning of next year, I will have 7629 points.

    Reader #3 loves what she does, and she gets a lot of short-term active-duty 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.

    Sanctuary Policies:

    As a reminder, here are the links to the official Sanctuary policies.

  • The Marine Corps sanctuary instruction
  • The Air Force Sanctuary instruction

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    1. Scott Haymaker says

      I am a reservist currently on active-duty orders. March 30th I have 7200 points and will still be on orders. Does this qualify me for an active duty retirement?

      • Ryan Guina says

        Scott, we don’t have enough information to answer your question. The most important bit of information is your Total Active Federal Military Service (TAFMS). You need 20 years worth of TAFMS time to qualify for active duty retirement. All of your inactive points (which count toward your 7,200 points) don’t count toward TAFMS. This includes drill periods, certain correspondence courses, annual participation points, etc. I recommend visiting your personnel of human resources office to ask this question and get a full breakdown of how much active duty time you have and how much more active duty time you still need to qualify for an active duty retirement. Best wishes!

    2. R says

      I’m in the ANG and I’m considering accepting a 3-year, AGR Temporary/In-definite position that was just offered to me. I’m also close to reaching sanctuary status as I will have approximately 6,530 active duty points once I come off another set of long-term, one time only tour AGR orders that I’m currently on this fall. This has not been raised yet by the prospective hiring unit, but if I take this position, will I be allowed to automatically cross into and claim sanctuary status if I’m in this Temporary/In-definite AGR position, or would my new chain of command need to support and coordinate a waiver or an exception to policy request that would allow me to claim sanctuary status?

    3. Fredrick Broussard says

      It was mentioned that ADT (less than 29 days) does not trip sanctuary, I have been on multiple ADT-Special Orders for much longer than 29 days, would those type of ADT orders trip sanctuary since they are “Active Duty”?

    4. pelachile says

      Is sanctuary calculated on years of creditable service or points? Next May I will have 18 years of creditable service and 5,950 points. So I am assuming, I will not qualify for sanctuary?

      I am currently on my final AGR contract with an ETS date of January 2028. However, my goal is to retire as early as possible. My high 3 will be at E6 as a promotion to E7 would actually mean a reduction in monthly pay due to BAH rates in the areas in which I would have to serve. The only difference I see in pay really is the date when I can get my check.

      I am sure I will be at least 50% (probably around 80%) VA disabled so I don’t mind on living off that and my savings until I am eligible for my retirement check at 57 due to deployments (I’m 51 now). Or I’m I leaving way to much money on the table and I should shoot for 7,200 points to qualify for a Active retirement meaning I would have to stay in longer?

      • Doug Nordman says

        Clint, to get a non-regular (Reserve/Guard) pension you’ll only need 20 good years. (That’ll probably happen in 2022, depending on whether you’ve ever missed a good year.) You’ll confirm that with the Guard when you receive your Notice Of Eligibility letter. After you receive your NOE then the Reserve pension is based on your point count.

        To get an active-duty pension you’ll have to serve to 20 years of active duty in the AGR. That’s whenever you reach 20 x 365 = 7300 active-duty points. (I can’t find a reference for how the Guard handles leap days, but you could stick around an extra five days to make sure.) After that your active-duty pension is based on 20 years plus the rest of your other points.

        Those other Guard points (not active duty) are converted into years by dividing into 360, and those equivalent years are added to your 20 AGR years. An example of that is in the Note to paragraph 030205.B in the Financial Management Regulation (DoD 7000.14-R) Volume 7B chapter 3:

        Your retirement date also depends on your AGR assignment at the time you reach 20 years of active duty. You might have to stay longer than 7305 points in order to finish out a set of orders, or to serve the commitment of a leadership billet. If you’re retiring from a rank of O-5 or higher then federal law requires three years’ time in grade in order to retire at that rank, although you can request a waiver down to two years. Some services also have the same three-year time in grade policy at the E-8/9 rank.

    5. Clint G says


      I’m AGR. My RPAM states 20021124 as my BASD. I have 6797 active duty points as of today, with 7204 total career and 6941 total points for retirement pay. If I add the number of days from tomorrow through 24NOV2022, it does not add up to the 7300. So my question is, to get to 7300, do I need to serve until 01MAY2023. That would put me at 7307 AD points.

      • Doug Nordman says

        Chris, each of the services has their own sanctuary instruction with the process that’s derived from the federal law you’ve quoted.

        During your active-duty orders, when you cross 18 years of active duty and declare sanctuary with the process in your service’s instruction, your point count is audited. The personnel branch checks that you indeed have 18 years of active-duty points (at least 6574 points) in addition to all of your other categories of points (drill weekends, admin points, courses).

        After the active-duty point count is verified then your status changes. You’re no longer a Reserve or Guard servicemember who’s been mobilized but rather an active-duty servicemember who’s now eligible to stay on active duty until qualified for the active-duty pension. You’re usually given a new set of sanctuary active-duty orders to get to the 20-year active-duty pension.

        If you’re asking whether you should have been left at the command where you invoked sanctuary, that’s up to the service. I’m not a lawyer, but I interpret the federal law to only mean that you be continued on active duty. The particular duty station, type of duty, or billet is still part of the service’s assignment policies.

        I’m positive that the funding for your mobilization came from one personnel account, and when you reached sanctuary status then your new orders were funded from a different account. The command which paid for your mobilization would not be required to pay for your extension to retirement.

        It’s certainly possible that your service made a mistake. You could check your service’s sanctuary instruction to make sure the process was correctly followed and to see if it discusses the follow-on assignment policy. I’d review all of the details of your sanctuary transition with a JAG, including your file with your copies of the orders and the correspondence.

        • Jeremy says

          The law itself does not specify the number of days/points to be 6574, but your logic is sound. I don’t believe the Orders that I will be on were intentionally cut to ensure I would be one day short. It was a Tour of Duty process and the earliest start date that we discussed as reasonable for all of the processing to get completed just happened to come out to that number of days for me. It is possible that the Order could get cut sooner in which case I would be over 6574. I did read the policy on the HRC website that indicated they want you to submit your packet as soon as you hit sanctuary, but not less than 90 days before your Orders are scheduled to end. For arguments sake, lets say my Orders get cut sooner than later, giving me extra days on AD (all I need is one extra). For the sake of the argument, lets say my packet “slips through the cracks” Orders get cut and my end date will put me over 6574 by one day. In this instance, it does not seem prudent for me to notify HRC 90 days before my Orders expire, because they may just notify the Command to amend the Orders. As long as my packet is submitted (to the appropriate email address), is complete, and I am over 6574 points the day I submit it, I should be good to go.
          I think it needs to be pointed out as well, that there are flaws in the system. Being in the National Guard myself, means that we are dealing with 54 States/territories that don’t all keep the best records and accounting, especially for people that have been serving for a long time and their records pre-date iPERMS. A couple of years ago we had a Soldier on a voluntary mobilization Order who discovered that his RPAM statement was missing about 2 years worth of AD time and he had already achieved sanctuary. I saw a similar situation with another Soldier about 4 years ago. Point being, I don’t think it is automatic that the service will FLAG a service member once they pass the 16 year threshold nor is it automatic that the service will require a sanctuary waiver. Some people just slip through… After all, it is an imperfect system run by people who are also imperfect…

        • Jeremy says

          Would also be curious on your thoughts on the BASD or Basic Active Service Date that (at least for the Army National Guard) is supposed to be a reverse way of telling us when we would retire “if” we were currently on Active Duty Orders. For an AD Soldier with no break in service, this date never changes. For National Guard Soldiers however, the date changes whenever there is a break in service.
          For instance, if a Soldier has a BASD of 2004/02/28, this means that Soldier would be eligible for an AD retirement on 2024/02/28. One can then deduce that if that same Soldier is currently on an AD Order, has not signed any sanctuary waiver, and remains on AD through at least 2022/03/01, that would put them into sanctuary.
          Does this make sense?

        • Doug Nordman says

          Jeremy, at this point the best suggestion I have for you is to discuss your orders, the sanctuary math, and the notification process with a JAG.

          I don’t know in what other situations a Basic Active Duty Service date would be used, other than to determine whether a servicemember was eligible for a High Three pension or a Blended Retirement System pension.

    6. Chris says

      Doug… curious on your thoughts if 12686(a)… when sanctuary is invoked.

      (a) Limitation.—
      Under regulations to be prescribed by the Secretary concerned, which shall be as uniform as practicable, a member of a reserve component who is on active duty (other than for training) and is within two years of becoming eligible for retired pay or retainer pay under a purely military retirement system (other than the retirement system under chapter 1223 of this title), may not be involuntarily released from that duty before he becomes eligible for that pay, unless the release is approved by the Secretary.

      I was on extended active duty for 800+ days, invokes sanctuary. A colonel then canceled my extension and additionally curtailed my orders. The reserves then gave me an additional set of orders to PCS me to AFRC HQ where I will remain (Aug 21 – May 22) until retirement.

      What is your opinion on what “May not be involuntarily released from that duty” means?

      Thank you,

      • Doug Nordman says

        Jeremy, the federal law says “Reserves on active duty within two years of retirement eligibility…”
        That’s 18 years, which includes four leap-year days, and that’s how the numbers add up to 6574 days.
        You could check your service’s sanctuary instructions to see if they have more details.

        Keep in mind that those orders may have been written to prevent reaching sanctuary. If you’re volunteering for active-duty orders, you may be required to waive your right to declare sanctuary. If you don’t waive that right then you wouldn’t get the orders.

    7. Jeremy says

      Is 6574 a confirmed number of points? 18*365=6570. I only ask because I am about to be placed on an Order that will bring me to 6573 AD points…

      • Doug Nordman says

        You could do that, John, although you’d have to arrange your exit from active duty back to a Reserve or Guard unit. That depends on your service’s policies.

        On the other hand, it might make more financial sense to take the active-duty pension now. You’ll already get retirement credit for your other points. When you reach the 20-year vesting for your active duty time, the rest of your Reserve/Guard points (drill weekends, non-pay additional drill, correspondence courses, whatever else wasn’t counted as active duty toward sanctuary) are converted to their equivalent years and added to your 20 years of active-duty service before calculating your pension.

        You’ll probably receive more lifetime pension by taking those extra years of active-duty pension deposits now instead of waiting for a slightly higher Reserve pension at age 60. That depends on how close you are to age 60 (and the Reserve pension), any promotions you get after reverting to Reserve service, and how much longer you stay in the Reserves for more points.

        You’ll have to spreadsheet the options, but for almost everyone of the (very few) servicemembers who reach sanctuary, it makes more sense to take the active-duty pension as soon as they qualify.

    8. John J. Dougherty says

      I was wondering, if you do get sanctuary and qualify for a active retirement. Could you defer that retirement for the non-regular retirement and have all the points from active and M-day count towards it?

      • Doug Nordman says

        Dazed and Confused, I think sanctuary is a right that you earn from investing the time in the active duty.

        You’re not scamming the system. Your orders go into a database, and all the services have trackers that are supposed to trigger at 16-17 years of active-duty points.

        I agree that the service headquarters have much more control over the orders-funding process than your unit.

        I’ve never heard of a command stopping a sanctuary claim. In any case they wouldn’t want to do that and have some other staff notify them (and their chain of command) on the next database update.

        There’s a process in your service’s sanctuary-tracking instruction, and you follow that process to claim sanctuary and let them know what’s happening. The database should already know that you’re over 18 years of active duty and that you’re claiming your right.

        If obstructions are getting thrown in your path then you’d consult a JAG to help get the process back on track. The first step (after you file your claim) is probably the ANG auditing your service records to make sure that you indeed have the days of active-duty points.

    9. Dazed and Confused says

      I have been on MPA orders in the Air National Guard for the last 12 years. My current set put me over 18 AD years. I have never signed a waiver. I have a total of 29 good years in the guard.

      I recently spoke to someone in our flight support squadron to inquire about sanctuary and possibly initiating the process. They agree with me, that I am eligible to claim at this time. Currently the question is up at the state level.

      My question is, is sanctuary a right? Is it something that is owed to us for our years of service, or is it a drain on the system. My command found out that I was inquiring, and I am being treated by some as if I am scamming the system. That I should trust them to give me enough days to get me to the end. I trust my leadership, they have taken care of me well for the last 12 years, I just don’t trust the system that has kept my unit employed all of these years…wars ending and all. MPA will tighten up, I have been hearing it the last 12 years, now it appears to be happening, when I am so close to the end of the race.

      What should I be expecting during this process…Is it likely I will make it to claiming sanctuary, or have you heard of commands getting around someone’s claim?

      • Doug Nordman says

        D, I’m not sure I understand your question.

        If you’ve accumulated more than 18 years of active-duty points and AFRC is processing your request to invoke sanctuary… does this mean the system is working and you’ll be retired when you reach 20 years of service?

        If you’ve reviewed your latest update with a JAG, what’s their opinion?

    10. D says

      Mr. Nordman,
      Very informative post… I’ve checked back off and on looking for updates and perusing other’s comments. I’ll keep mine brief but hope to get your feedback, trying to remain as anonymous as I can.

      So there I was, around 6650 AD points (almost 14 years Active, then the past ~5 years on MPA, AGR, and extended MPA orders), and submitted my request to invoke sanctuary (my orders were over 180-days, currently sitting at a total of 700+ days as I’ve been extended numerous times) in August 2020. I did have three signed sanctuary waivers (have had I think six or seven now) at the time, for 181 days, 180 days, and 5 days… USC Title 10 and every regulation I have seen states a waiver should only be used for up to 179 days of orders, and the order should never go over 179.

      My orders did (go over 179, and as I said, 700+ as of now), and the waiver I felt should not be used (as AFJAG has opined doing back to back 179-day sanctuary waivers are not legal). So I invoked sanctuary. Interestingly, nothing was ever done with it, even tho I have the read receipt my submission was read. So I inquired again in Feb (submitted my original August invocation, as well as their new format, which they changed Feb 2021) and learned AFRC was processing my request early March.

      My question sir, is the powers that be stated their intent was “to avoid a break in service”, but everything I’ve read states I must remain on AD orders until my retirement date.

      What do you think my options are?

      • Doug Nordman says

        Mark, I’m a little confused that you’re “medically retired at 19 years, 2 months” yet never receiving a pension, and then mentioning a sanctuary option. You’re describing a Chapter 61 disability retirement, while sanctuary is a term commonly used with Reserve or National Guard servicemembers.

        In both cases a disability retirement would include Tricare, and a 90% VA disability rating might also include cancer treatments.

        I have two suggestions.

        The first one would be to post your back surgeries, medical retirement, and VA disability situation at It was founded by a JAG and has thousands of members, many of whom have been retired on disability.

        Second I’d recommend contacting a Veteran Service Officer or your state’s Veterans Affairs department. Both of them have people who are trained to help cut through the bureaucracy and get the benefits to which you’re entitled. You can search for your local VSO here:

    11. Manny Villalb says

      Doug, here is my dilemma. First let me say I’m blessed to have such a problem. I recognize things could be a lot worse, still my dilemma is causing quite a bit of anxiety.

      Background: I voluntarily resigned from active duty at 17.5 years. I had to do it and return home for a family issue. I am in the Guard in a West Coast state being activated to support long term orders for COVID efforts. At the onset of this activation, I told the command repeatedly of my AFS and they ignored it and allowed me to come on orders. I reminded them I will hit 18 years AFS if I’m pulling this detail– they still said yes. Currently, I have nothing in writing saying I am waiving sanctuary nor do I have anything saying I can go on sanctuary. I recognize the absurdity of this situation. I’m not being brought to serve a critical skill, I just am available. Worse yet my rank is a bit high – CW2. I am in a critically low MOS and can be supportive to overall guard support, but that’s not why I am being asked to come on this particular mission. Simply put– I am just a body, one they need right now. This fantasy of getting my the option to serve again is great, I get to continue my career which I was actually pretty good at and retire with my family issue resolved and in order.

      The trouble is the risk is a bit much, I will have to turn down offers to take this gamble. There are people who say just go for it, but it feels futile. I feel as though without something in writing it is destined to fail. I will have my orders in hand soon, but the question is should I request something in writing? I feel like this a bad idea. The anxiety is a bit heavy.

      • Doug Nordman says

        This causes a lot of confusion, Kevin.

        Your total point count and your good years are used for Reserve pension calculations. Your total active duty points are used in the sanctuary calculation to determine whether you’re eligible to stay on active duty for an active-duty pension.

        Your service is tracking both of those point totals. At roughly 16-17 years of active-duty points, your approval for active-duty orders has to be checked by the chain of command for the possibility of sanctuary. However your sanctuary eligibility only happens when you reach 18 years of active-duty points (6574 points). You’re still about two years (of active duty) short of reaching the 18-year threshold where you can apply for sanctuary.

        The services are willing to use sanctuary with servicemembers who have the hard-to-find skills for difficult-to-fill billets, but it’s still rare. If you finish this deployment with less than 6574 active-duty points then you may be limited in the amount of additional active-duty orders you can get. For a voluntary mobilization, you might even have to waive your sanctuary rights. (No waiver:
        no mobilization, no orders.) For an involuntary mobilization, your orders would have to be approved by a Reserve/Guard general or admiral.

        It’s also possible to earn an active-duty pension through the Army Active Guard Reserve and Navy Full-Time Support branches, but they’re relatively small programs. There are a few other service niches, as you can read about in the comments below between Jared & Jason:

        • Kevin says

          I’m receiving conflicting information from various sources. Should I only look at my ‘Total Active Duty Points’ (5800+) or ‘Total Points Credit’ (6500+)? I want to apply for sanctuary (while I’m on this deployment; however, I don’t want a miscalculation to end my career.

        • Doug Nordman says

          You’re right about the difference in the numbers, Jeremy, and you’re quoting from two different rule books.

          The sanctuary number comes from Title 10 U.S. Code section 12686

          “…a member of a reserve component who is on active duty (other than for training) and is within two years of becoming eligible for retired pay or retainer pay under a purely military retirement system.”

          The pension computation for years of service comes from a different section of federal law:

          “For the purpose of computing the retired pay of a person under this chapter, the person’s years of service and any fraction of such a year are computed by dividing 360 into the sum of the following:”

          The DoD and the services implement their instructions from the federal laws, and I haven’t checked each of their counting processes. However if I had to pay an active-duty pension to a mobilized Reserve or Guard servicemember then I’d make it as difficult as possible for the active-duty point count to get within two years of becoming eligible.

          The reality is that the sanctuary declaration rarely needs such precision. When someone mobilizes and a sanctuary issue arises, it’s usually a matter of weeks or even months between “within two years” and the ending date of the mobilization orders. When there’s a database mistake and someone’s already in sanctuary, it’s usually by years.

          Personally, if you perceive that sanctuary might be a possibility, I’d use the higher number of the active-duty point count because that’s the most conservative accounting that your service would use. But again, today’s databases are generally accurate and current. Your chain of command is usually at least as aware of the sanctuary issue as the servicemember.

          Because your active-duty point count is already over 16.5 years, I suspect that your Reserve or Guard chain of command is already tracking your numbers. If you have a by-name request for an involuntary mobilization, then your orders will be flagged (during processing) for a sanctuary check.

          If you’ll reach the “within two years” provision during your involuntary mobilization then the orders will have to be approved by a general or admiral. If your involuntary mobilization does not trigger sanctuary then you’ll be approved for the orders.

          If your by-name request is a voluntary mobilization that would trigger sanctuary, then you’d be asked to sign a waiver of your sanctuary rights. Because the mobilization is voluntary, if you don’t sign the waiver then there’s no mobilization. Otherwise the person who’s making the by-name request would have to either make the sanctuary call (if they’re a general or admiral) or persuade a general/admiral to approve the orders.

    12. Mark says

      Hi Doug,
      I am an ex PJ (Air Force Pararescueman) and I was medically retired at 19 years, 2 months because of 2 back surgeries and I was taking up a manning position. I was retired in December 1999 and was only given VA Disability pay (90% because of all the surgeries) but have never have received a military pension nor was I ever briefed on, or given a ‘sanctuary’ option. Now at age 60 and having been diagnosed with cancer and just went through a stem cell transplant, that retirement money would really help with our family and medical expenses. I would appreciate any help you could give me. Thank you, Mark.

      • Doug Nordman says

        Ron, your sanctuary orders led to an active-duty retirement. No issue there. You’re no longer subject to the Reserve pension system.

        I’d query HRC and DFAS to make sure they have your information correct in their records. If they’re not aware that your VA disability rating exceeds 50% then they won’t know to start CRDP.

        If their database is accurate then it could simply be a processing backlog due to the pandemic and civil-service cutbacks. In any case your CRDP will be paid back to the effective date on your VA disability rating.

    13. Jeremy says

      You mentioned in your calculation of 18 years that you were taking 365*18 plus a few additional days due to leap years. That would bring the magic number close to 6575.

      However, years of creditable service for computation of retired pay are divided by 360, not 365 as DoD considers each month to be 30 days and 30*12=360. That brings the magic number down to 6480 which is a difference of 95 days.

      The only reason I bring this up, is because I have found myself in one of those very unique situations where I am sitting at 6116 AD points (not including ADT or AT) and have a unique opportunity to go on a 400-day mission under a by-name request. If I use the 360 day calculation, the mission would put me into sanctuary. Using the 365 day calculation leaves me short.

      Can you provide clarification on this?

      Thank you,

      • Doug Nordman says

        Thanks for asking the question, Steve, and you’re correct that the services’ instructions start tracking sanctuary status at 16-16.5 years of active-duty points. I’ve added the phrase “active duty” in a couple places to clarify the point count to which I’m referring.

        The services may change the links to their instructions when they update their policies. (We’re constantly chasing down link rot among the 500+ posts on this site.) You should refer to your service’s sanctuary policy to see exactly where you’d approach any sanctuary tripwires.

        Let me also clarify that you’re not discouraged from taking orders simply because you’re approaching a sanctuary tripwire. (I think that all of the services will happily support their Reserve and Guard members in volunteering to boost their point counts.) The sanctuary tracking system just means that as you approach the tripwires, the orders have to be approved at a higher level of review. For a voluntary mobilization you might also have to waive your sanctuary rights.

    14. Ron says

      Hello. I had recently retired on 01 October per sanctuary retirement from the Army with 22 Active Duty years. I am receiving my retirement pay and I just got rated as 100% T&P. However, I am not receiving my Concurrent Retirement and Disability Pay (CRDP). I am tracking I qualified. Is sanctuary considered AD retirement? Also, do I have to wait until I am at the reservist retirement age to receive my CRDP? I was tracking that I should be getting pay for my retirement and 100% disability.

      • Doug Nordman says

        Good questions, Bruce! I’ve seen some of these over the years, but it’s been a while.

        Although you have 25 good years, and you could be very close to 18 years of active-duty service, you can only declare sanctuary while you’re on active-duty orders. Keep in mind that you’d have to add up the active duty days that you’ve done in the Reserves (drill weekends don’t count) and then see whether the additional 120 days of active duty will put you into sanctuary. 18 years of active duty is literally 365 x 18 plus 4-5 Leap-Year days.

        Since you’re planning to retire anyway, it’s worth reminding your chain of command about your potential sanctuary status. It’s possible that the sanctuary desk at HRC is not yet aware of your mobilization orders. If this involuntary deployment would put you over 18 years of active-duty days then declaring sanctuary might mean that you’d have to stay as long as two more years to get to 20. Alerting the chain of command will attract the sanctuary experts and either help you cancel your mobilization or ensure that your sanctuary is properly approved by a general.

        In case you’re asked to waive sanctuary, I would not do so for an involuntary mobilization. If that becomes an issue then you’d want to discuss it with a JAG. Many Reserve and Guard members waive sanctuary for voluntary mobilizations (for good reasons) but if you’re being involuntarily mobilized then your service should be willing to pay for the possibility of sanctuary.

        If you meet the sanctuary criteria and your mobilization is still approved by HRC, then your orders will be extended to get you to 20 years of active duty. You’ll demobilize and retire right at 20 years of active duty.

    15. Steve says


      I’m still a little confused by some of the items you pointed out in your article. I am a Navy reservist with 20 years of good service. I have 6300 points (Active + Inactive), but only a total of 15 years of Active Duty time. I am looking to do a 1 year mobilization, however, I’m concerned I will be flagged for potential sanctuary risk. I am not looking to hit sanctuary, but I want to mobilize. My understanding is that you are flagged at 16 years of ACTIVE service, or 5840 ACTIVE points. But from what I read in your article, I may be flagged as a potential sanctuary risk due to having 6300 total points (Active + Inactive), or over 17 years worth of active and inactive time. Am I reading this correctly? My understanding is that sanctuary is based on active duty time only. By my calculation, if I mobilized for a year, I’d barely hit 16 years of ACTIVE service as I am demobilizing, at which point then I would be flagged for sanctuary risk. But I would be coming off Active Duty orders and not be at risk of hitting 18 years of Active duty by any stretch of the imagination. Any clarification would be helpful.

      Thank you for your time.


      • Doug Nordman says

        Steve, I’m afraid that answer is beyond my circle of competence.

        If you’re a Coast Guard Reservist who’s been mobilized on active duty with the Dept of Defense, then 10 USC 1176 is applicable.

        If you’re a CG Reservist who’s been mobilized with Dept of Homeland Security (or some other part of the federal government) then I don’t know what section of federal law would apply.

        You’d have to track that answer down with a Coast Guard JAG or a civilian lawyer who’s familiar with military law.

        • Doug Nordman says

          Dave, every service implements this policy differently, but they’re all backed by the same federal law:

          Section 637(a)(5)(B) says “Notwithstanding the provisions of clause (A), any officer who would otherwise be discharged under such clause and is within two years of qualifying for retirement under section 7311, 8323, or 9311 of this title, shall unless he is sooner retired or discharged under some other provision of law, be retained on active duty until he is qualified for retirement under that section and then be retired.”

          You’ll want to check the references of the notification of your consideration for release from active duty, and see how your service carries out their policies.

          It’s also worth your time to check your notification and this federal law with a JAG officer.

    16. Bruce says

      Super glad to have happened across your blog while researching retirement from AD status. As yet I have not seen a case like mine so let me lay it out here:
      I transferred from AD to Reserves with 16 yrs of ADS, promoted to O6 in 2017 and have TIG for high-3. I was in the midst of submitting my retirement packet thru my command and to HRC when I was mobilized. I called HRC, explained I was past 20 (I actually have 25yrs) and was retiring, I suggested if there was another officer who could fill the position. At which point I got kindly told that there wasn’t anyone else qualified to fill this position and the deployment takes precedence, and my retirement is summarily postponed (cancelled) until the deployment is over. So as I began researching the possibility of retiring from AD, this is an involuntary fill for not less than 120 days, and it is overseas. It seems the verbage in T.10 USC sec 12686 states ‘sanctuary’ can be granted if one “reaches at least 18 years” (and here’s the kicker) “but not more than 20 years of credible service.”
      SO…..could it be possible for someone in my position to still apply for Sanctuary? If not, because I do already have 25 years, can I simply put in to retire from AD once I report to my duty station for this deployment? Thank you in advance for your guidance.


      • Doug Nordman says

        Good question, Guardsman!

        Each service has different policies, and I’m not familiar with the details (and their changes). You’ll earn an active-duty pension in the AGR at 20 years, and that’s paid for by DoD program rules. I’m not sure about what happens if you reach 20 in the AGR and then resign without retiring. I’d be very concerned that leaving active status would make it nearly impossible for you to receive an active-duty pension.

        One common factor among the services is retiring from active duty at 20 years (for the immediate active-duty pension) and then applying to return to service in a drill billet. That could help you achieve your promotion goals, and it will add points/seniority to your (active duty) pension after completing each set of Reserve orders.

        I understand your promotion and High Three goals. It’s worth keeping in mind that every additional month of active duty only affects your High Three average by a small percentage, and if you’re drilling in a Reserve billet it might be harder to promote in that status than on active duty. If you simply retire at 20 then you’ll have a better work/life balance, more family time, and possibly more opportunities to replace a promotion goal with other life goals. That’s a very personal and individual decision.

        I suspect that if you want a more reliable path to your promotion goals and a solid High Three average at that retirement rank, then it’ll involve staying on active duty longer… and less family time.

    17. Steve says

      Does 10 USC code 1176 apply to the Coast Guard? I was told that it only applied to department of defense. If it doesn’t then is there a Coast Guard equivalent ?

      • Doug Nordman says

        Thank you, Nick, you wrote that better than I could!

        I’d also suggest that the two-star endorsing the sanctuary request would have to be in the same service as the person declaring sanctuary. Your service has to be willing to pay the price of your pension (from their own personnel funds) until you’re age 60, when the Army could give the pension obligation back to DoD.

        I’ve seen an Air Force general at a joint command try to persuade a Navy admiral to give sanctuary to a Navy officer, and it didn’t happen. I wish I could’ve listened in on that phone call.

        • Doug Nordman says

          Great question, Rosie!

          Your Reserve good years continue to accrue while you’re on active duty. When you reach 20 good years (for example six years in the Reserves and 14 years of active duty) then you’re eligible for a Reserve pension. You’d want to make sure your point count is correct and you’ll want to wait until you’ve received your Notice Of Eligibility letter from RESFOR. You may have to query them to obtain it, because they may have assumed that your active-duty chain of command would send your NOE.

          You can read more about the Reserve pension here:

          If you stay on 20 years of active duty then you’re eligible for an active-duty pension. (That would be a grand total of 26 years in uniform— six in the Reserves and 20 on active duty.) At that point your Reserve points (from your first six years) would be converted to months of service and added to your 20 years of active duty to calculate the amount of your active-duty pension, but that would only happen after you reached 20 years of active duty.

        • Doug Nordman says

          Eric, you’re asking for an interpretation of federal law and the various DoD/service instructions, and I’m not sure where we’d find an example of the numbers you’re quoting.

          However the sanctuary law is written for years of service, and in that case it’s calendar days. You’d have to accumulate 18 calendar years (365 or 366 days per year) of active duty. Depending on the leap years, that’d be (18 x 365) + 4-5 leap days = 6574-6575 days.

          The Reserve/Guard points systems (and the military month of 30 days) are used for Reserve pension calculations. They’re not applicable to determining sanctuary status.

          This may be a distinction without a difference. In every validated sanctuary case I’ve ever read or heard of, intentional or accidental, the servicemember went well over 18 years or was pre-approved for sanctuary status. If you were in a sanctuary situation that your service was not aware of then you’d probably be advised by a lawyer to reach at least 6575 active-duty days before filing a notice of sanctuary with your chain of command. If you think that you’re in a position to surprise the chain of command with a notice of sanctuary then you’d definitely want a lawyer’s advice.

          In all but a handful of sanctuary situations, the Reserve/Guard servicemember exceeded 18 years of active duty only by waiving sanctuary when they volunteered for orders. There are dozens of these servicemembers with more than 6575 points (I’ve heard from one with over 11,000 points) but they’ve all waived sanctuary in order to get the orders.

          If the sanctuary status was validated then you’d be retired at precisely 20 years of active-duty service, which would be calculated as two years past the date at which you went over 18 years. (You’d be retired as of the first day of the following month, but you would not get retirement credit for that partial month.) The pension would be calculated as an active-duty pension, not a Reserve pension, so there would not be points or dividing by 360.

          I’ve read of one sanctuary case involving a database error where the servicemember had prior service. They served four years in the other service before transferring to the new service, and when their new service’s Reserve coordinator initiated sanctuary tracking at the 16-year point then the servicemember mentioned that they’d had prior service. The Reserve coordinator discovered that their prior service was not in their new service’s database. That’s when the servicemember learned about sanctuary, and that’s when their new service found the database error and learned that this servicemember had already reached a total of over 20 years of active duty. Nobody was happy about this situation, including the servicemember who was immediately retired from active duty instead of being permitted to continue to serve.

          The sanctuary law and the DoD/service instructions only provide for sanctuary service to 20 years. The only way you’d be able to serve beyond 20 is by augmenting to your service’s active-duty force and being subject to active-duty assignment policies with a new set of active-duty transfer orders.

        • Doug Nordman says

          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.

        • Doug Nordman says

          Dave, that’s my interpretation of title 10 U.S. Code section 12646. You’d definitely want to check that with a JAG if there’s even a possibility that you’d be released from active duty by a board. In general, boards are aware of this law and will continue servicemembers to 20.

          Note that these laws also stipulate “satisfactory service.” If you’ve been convicted of a felony, convicted at court-martial, or even received a DUI then your service may find that your service has been unsatisfactory. It’s highly dependent on the individual service policies, your rank, and the circumstances of any offense.

    18. Guardsman5 says


      I’ve got a retirement question which probably fits within the Sanctuary discussion.

      As an AGR nearing 20 years of active federal service, I am eager to transition into civilian life but have not yet achieved my promotion goals & accompanying High-3 for retirement. One compromise I am exploring is whether I can transition from Active to Reserve status after completing 20years in order to secure the next Rank for retirement purposes while finding more time with my family.

      I have seen one other AGR resign in order to retire as a reservist, however he was 60yrs old (or very near to it), so the math was advantageous, and he would have collected immediately regardless. I will achieve 20 years of active service at the age of 42. I’m potentially willing to sacrifice 2-3 years of income in order to meet my goals but am concerned about the risks to my retirement status. I am not inclined to delay my retirement benefit by 15 years.

      If I were to resign my active status after reaching retirement eligibility, would I still be eligible for immediate benefits upon retirement from a reserve status? Would I technically be facing a sanctuary scenario and the possibility of being asked to waive my benefits upon resigning active status? If I had accrued benefits in a continuous active status, would my service still be required to foot the bill?

      • Doug Nordman says

        Barry, I think you should consult a lawyer. I went through those tough drawdown years after DESERT STORM, too, and the military ended up 25% smaller.

        The sanctuary law referenced in this post only applies to Reserve or National Guard servicemembers who reach 18 years of active-duty service while they’re on active-duty orders.

        Active-duty servicemembers with at least 18 years of active duty are also protected by federal law.
        However I’m not sure when this law was passed. If it was in effect during your active-duty service then you may have been protected. If it was passed after 1992 (before you reached 20 years of service) then I don’t think it applied retroactively.

        A lawyer would be able to search for earlier federal laws which might have supported your continuing on active duty, and for any other legal precedents from servicemembers who left active duty after 18 years. Then you could decide whether to apply for a Board hearing or file a lawsuit.

    19. Dave says

      Hello. I have a question on sanctuary, or over 18 years Active Service, whichever applies in my case. I am currently 6 months shy of 18 years AS. I am in the Title 10 AGR program. A REFRAD board meets on August 24th, which will be 4 months prior to my 18 years AS date. I am subject review on this board due to over 5 years time in grade. HR has stated stated that no one who is selected for REFRAD will be released from active duty until a minimum of 9 months and a maximum of 12 months after the board notifies the officer of selection for REFRAD. My question is will be I be able to complete 20 years AS if I am notified 3 months prior to sanctuary that I am selected from REFRAD but can’t be released for 9 months after notification of selection? In other words, can I be released if I am notified just prior to 18 years AS but won’t be discharged until I am in the window of 18 years AS? Thanks.

      • Maria M says

        One thing of note regarding this scenario. if Rosie doesn’t complete 20 AD years, she will not be eligible for retirement pay. She will need to return to the reserves, apply for a reserve retirement in order in to ultimately receive a retirement.

    20. Nick says


      I wanted to share my experience about making it into Sanctuary (which I am currently in). For the purposes of the Army National Guard, or Army Reserve (I can’t speak to other services, but this may apply), we fulfill orders voluntarily through Tour of Duty (TOD MOBCOP), or through Mobilization and Deployment cycles, as identified by FORCECOM to support a patch chart for whatever COCOM the unit will be assigned to. I came in under a TOD. If there is a service member who is close to hitting sanctuary, as I was, it helps to be special in some way. For instance, that last exercise your unit was part of, placed you as an LNO in whatever HQ (preferably with a 2 Star) and give you unique knowledge to how their organization works. Thus making you a valuable fill for whatever reason. In my case, I am a in an already small warrant officer MOS, in a much Smaller SOF community. I have volunteered for a lot of different exercises, deployments etc., and have made gains with units I have been attached to for things like JCS level exercises etc. So when they wrote a TOD, I was already in mind to fill that TOD. This isn’t a broad scoped TOD entry. This must be very specific, that makes it unlikely that other Soldiers who apply will meet that criteria. In my instance, with my schools, in my field, I am a 1 of 1 in the guard or reserve – no one else would have met the requirement in TOD. The other aspect is it will take a GO (2stars) to write a waiver memo. These are rarely turned down, but the waiver memo will state why you are a special snow flake, and your specific skills are required to fill that job. When this HQ contacted me about filling a billet, I told them it would be problematic due to me being close to sanctuary, and they felt that the juice was worth the squeeze to get the person they wanted to fill that billet. So for those of you looking to cross into the magical world of AD retirement, I would suggest that if you have a HQ willing to pull for you, that they write the TOD to specifically fit you, and the waiver memo explaining why they need a left handed, medically trained, Helicopter pilot, with a TS clearance, read into the secrets of underwater basket weaving, and happens to be fluent in pig latin. I am happy to share a copy of my waiver memo so you know what a successful one looks like.

    21. Barry Haynes says

      I was active duty Air Force from Sep 73 thru Aug 92. At that time I was working in the F-16 Integrated Avionics Shop career field. In 1992 this career field as well as many others were identified as over manned. I later learned this was an attempt to reduce Air Force manning levels without going through an official RIF (reduction in force). Because I did not have retention to reach 20 years (due to reenlisting early twice to accept PCS duty assignments) should I have been allowed to stay on active duty until reaching 20 years under the sanctuary rule? Instead I was forced to accept either VSI or SSB (or neither) and leave active duty. Do you have any suggested recourse (BCMR ?) and should the sanctuary rule have applied in this case?

      • Eric Marquez says


        As just a follow-up. After AFPC recently updated my TAFMS and determined that I have over 6,575 I was able to apply for and was granted AD sanctuary. I had not signed nor agreed to a sanctuary waiver. I have new orders in hand and will retire in early 2023. With that said, AFPC did discuss options for staying beyond the sanctuary retirement date, especially if a promotion occurs between now and then. Thanks for your response.

        • Doug Nordman says

          I’ve seen this situation before, Manny, and it’s possible that the people who’ve requested the orders are not aware of sanctuary– or they’re hoping it will be approved.

          I’m glad that you’ve been able to resolve your family issue, because this new military issue may take quite a bit more effort to resolve.

          If your mobilization is voluntary then the orders usually include a sanctuary waiver. If you don’t sign the waiver then you don’t get the (voluntary) orders. If you sign the waiver then you’ll get pay & benefits during the orders while still only being qualified for a Reserve pension.

          If your mobilization is involuntary then you may not see a sanctuary waiver. The military is willing to accept that as part of your mobilization, or at least they’ll review it at the general-officer level.

          When you accepted the Guard position then your 17.5 years of active duty triggered a sanctuary flag in the personnel database. (It’s usually triggered at 16-16.5 years.) When your mobilization orders are processed then ideally they’d be reviewed by a general officer and approved for sanctuary. In my opinion, the pandemic is a national emergency which qualifies for sanctuary orders. Your sanctuary may already have been approved as part of the COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

          If the orders were issued without a general’s sanctuary approval, then Army HRC might step in over the National Guard and cancel the orders 24-48 hours later. (I’ve seen it happen.) If the orders are issued with sanctuary approval then they might have that approval paragraph in the orders.

          If your orders do not specify a sanctuary waiver and they don’t mention a sanctuary approval, then I’d contact the person at the issuing command listed in those orders. (Contact them as soon as you get the orders.) Let them know that you intend to declare sanctuary when you’re on those active-duty orders on the day after you reach 18 years of service. If they don’t take action then I’d contact the National Guard Bureau or HRC with the same information.

          You say you’re just a body, but you’re also a leader. Right now we need all the leadership we can get, and the Army might be willing to pay for it.

          At some point in the mobilization process (or with the NGB or HRC) you’ll encounter someone who understands sanctuary and will have more insight on how your orders were approved. In the extremely unlikely event that doesn’t happen, then you’ve followed all of the procedures. Your conscience is clear. When you’re on those active-duty orders and you cross 18 years of service, you’ll follow the Guard’s procedures to notify the chain of command of sanctuary.

          Once you declare sanctuary then you’ll be issued a set of orders to retire you from active duty at 20 years of service… and with an immediate pension. You will have earned it.

    22. rosie fernandez says


      how does retirement work when i have served 6 years in the Navy Reserves and now i am on active duty component i dont belong to the reserves anymore. I plan on doing 20 years but im not sure if ill get active duty retirement or reserve? or do i need to stay 6 more years active until i can get paid how does that work? Thank you !

    23. Eric Marquez says


      I have a some specific questions about the number of Active Duty points required to hit sanctuary and AD retirement.

      I understand that you have to be on AD orders (not for training) to claim sanctuary. Also, I recognize that it is AD points ONLY that are required to reach AD sanctuary. With all that in mind I have the following questions.

      Which of two calculations for sanctuary is correct, over 18 years of Active Duty points (>6480 = 18 x 360) to claim sanctuary while on AD orders or is it (>6570 = 18 x 365)? Along the same line, do you need to accrue 20 years of Active Duty points of 7300 (20 x 365) or 7200 (20 x 360)?

      I reached out to my Personnel office, but they did not have a good understanding of the rules and based on my research it has been difficult to determine which calculations are correct.

      Thanks for your time,


    24. Jason says

      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?

      • Dave says

        So then with this also apply to an AGR officer who is on title 10 status and is 2 months shy of 18 years active federal service? If the officer is selected for release from active duty by a board then the officer would have to be kept on orders until 20 years because the officer could not be discharged before the 18 year mark?

    25. T says

      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?

    26. Doug Nordman says

      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.

      • Gwen says

        Thank you for the information. The sailor does indeed meet the threshold for sanctuary. I was unsure of his options once this occurred. Thank you again.

    27. D B says

      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.

      • Doug Nordman says

        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.

    28. Doug Nordman says

      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).

    29. T. Nhan says


      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?


      • Jeremy says

        The sanctuary checklist requires the Soldier to identify 3 station preferences but also specifies that your assignment placement will be “based on the needs of the Army”. There is no guarantee that you will remain on Active duty at the same command. I had a NG Soldier mobilized to support a Cyber unit at Fort Meade for a 400-day Order. He reached sanctuary during the mobilization and once the mobilization was completed, the Army PCS’d him to an Infantry unit in Suffolk, VA.

      • Doug Nordman says

        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.

    30. Doug Nordman says

      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.

    31. Victor Feli says

      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?

      • Doug Nordman says

        Great question, Anthony! The answer is “probably”. The law was changed in 2005 and you no longer have to serve in a Reserve unit for the years before you apply for a Reserve retirement.

        More details are at this post:

        The Reserves might have stopped tracking your data after you went on active duty (and never demobilized) so they may have to catch up with the active-duty databases. If you do not already have a Notice Of Eligibility from your Reserve service then obtain that first, and after that good-year and point-count verification you should be able to apply for retired awaiting pay.

        • Doug Nordman says

          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.

        • Doug Nordman says

          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.)

        • Doug Nordman says

          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.”

        • Jason Fuller says

          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.

        • Jason says

          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.

        • Doug Nordman says

          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.

    32. Gwen says


      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.


    33. Doug Nordman says

      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.

    34. DENISE THOMASON says

      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?

    35. Anthony Soika says

      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?

      • jaredk2500 says

        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.

    36. Jason Fuller says

      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.


    37. SFC Carol Harris says

      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.

      • Doug Nordman says

        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.

      • Laura P. Gratton says

        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?

    38. C Harley says

      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.

    39. Kevin S says

      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.

    40. Doug Nordman says

      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.

    41. leftbucket says


      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.


    42. Doug Nordman says

      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.

    43. Deserat says


      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.


    44. charles haines says

      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].

    45. Air Force says

      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?

      • Doug Nordman says


        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.

    46. Omar Fuentes says

      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?

      • Doug Nordman says

        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!

    47. Timothy Harvey says

      Hello Doug,
      I have 17 years 7 months and 21 days active duty in the Navy. In 2009 I was released from Navy Acitve duty due to not achieving promotion to E6. I went up the Navy’s chain of command for two years to petition to come back in because I missed a couple of exams due to deployments in Iraq. Finally April 07 2011 I received a phone call saying that I am in the Navy reserves. A couple months after being in the reserves I went on active duty orders for 3 years until Oct 1 2014. A rear admiral is saying I will not see anymore active duty time since I only have 5 months before going into sanctuary. So according to the books I will retire as a reservist Sept 2015 with only 1 year as a drilling reservist. Please help I don’t know what to do. I have never said that the Navy owes me anything, but I have done whatever they have told me to do. Of the the 17 years and 7 months I spent 16 years 7 months with the Marines as a hospital corpsman. Please help me out with this.

      • Doug Nordman says


        First, congratulations on your persistence in getting back into the Navy. I’ve seen too many servicemembers simply give up and leave.

        The admiral is delivering bad news from SECDEF: sanctuary has been DoD policy for over a decade. The only way for a Reservist to achieve sanctuary (and eligibility for an active-duty pension) is for the Navy to approve mobilizing those with special skills. The reason is because it costs the service a lot of money. Although DoD pays military pensions from DoD funds, the active-duty pensions of Reservists who reach sanctuary have to be paid by the individual services out of their own personnel funds. It’s literally a million-dollar decision and BUPERS does not delegate the authority.

        As you’ve seen, the only way that you’d reach sanctuary and qualify for an active-duty pension would be for BUPERS to approve another mobilization. You’d have to find a medical command (or a Marine general) who would request you by name and receive BUPERS approval. The process is described in OPNAVINST 1001.27. It’s possible that you could get assigned to the Navy’s latest medical mission, but personally I think it’s unlikely.

        When I say “personally”, I’m referring to my spouse. Over a decade ago she was in the same situation as you. Although her commands could not persuade BUPERS to mobilize her in sanctuary, she continued to earn Reserve good years (for over seven years) and she earned her Reserve retirement. She did not get a sanctuary retirement, but her Reserve pension starts at age 60.

        You can continue to drill as a Reservist until you reach high-year tenure. Although the Navy will limit your active duty, you can still complete orders for training. OPNAVINST 1001.27 authorizes drill weekends and annual training as well as up to 29 days of ADT per fiscal year. This allows you to continue earning good years until you either reach high-year tenure or Reserve retirement eligibility.

        Before you apply for Reserve retirement (“retired awaiting pay” or “gray area” status), review your records to make sure that you’ll have at least 20 good years. If you want to continue to earn points, then talk to your support center to figure out what types of duty you can accomplish. Even if you have to stop drilling for pay, you could still complete some correspondence courses or other duties for points that will help boost your pension.

        You can find the latest version of OPNAVINST 1001.27 at this site:

        Thanks again for your comment, and please keep me posted. If you have more questions then you can e-mail the details to me at NordsNords at Gmail, and we’ll figure out the options.

    48. Deserat says

      Doug, you are correct, we did have to meet the qualifications requirements for the orders, however, we had enough qualified personnel who weren’t hitting sanctuary that we had options. If that is not the case, then it’s a command decision, which as you’ve alluded to can go quite high.

    49. Deserat says

      My experience as a commander was that they watched the sanctuary time for Reservists *VERY* closely and had Reservists sign waivers regarding sanctuary – i.e. they would forgo sanctuary if they took orders that took them over those 18 years – otherwise, we would find someone else for those orders who didn’t have that burden. I had many of my personnel sign those waivers when deployments were much more prevalent than today. Be aware they may be watching you and your time……and if they haven’t then that’s your luck.

      • Doug Nordman says

        Yep, Army and Marines seem to be much more liberal in their sanctuary policy. Navy– pretty tight. I’ve seen Navy Personnel N9 step in to cancel mobilization orders issued by a PACOM flag officer.

        I think the Air Force practice of signing away your federal sanctuary rights is skating on mighty thin legal ice… the orders should go to the best-qualified servicemember, not the cheapest. Still, none of the lawsuits have been successful– yet.

    50. Mel M. says

      Wow…no wonder I always dozed off when my US Army Reserve brethren start talking about their retirement and reaching sanctuary (thought this was akin to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude)!

      • Doug Nordman says

        It’s a confusing program! The bureaucracy is difficult to navigate too.

        In retrospect, I probably spent a lot longer on active duty than I needed to, and part of that was because I was blissfully ignorant of the alternatives. These days I’m happy to show others how to figure out the Reserves and retirement.

    51. Cindy says

      My husband was promoted after Sanctuary orders issued, but prior to his recent deployment. We were completely unaware of the “promotion during active duty in sanctuary” rule that cancels his retirement orders and allows him to stay on active duty for TIG. HRC has NOT cancelled his retirement orders and in fact, told him last week he had to submit a TIG waiver request. He was told sanctuary orders COULD NOT be extended, however, he didn’t tell them he was recently promoted — would that make a difference? No one at the G1 Pentagon has notified him, nor were his promotion orders modified to cancel his retirement. His DIEMS is May 1987, his Sanctuary orders were issued Sep 2012, he was promoted to 06 Dec 2012, and orders end May 2014. Can you please clarify or point me to the reg regarding the “promotion during active duty in sanctuary” rule? Thank you for your help. P.S. The information on calculating his pay was VERY helpful and good news, because we thought the annuity calculation would be based on 20 AFS period, and NOT consider his longevity which will be close to 26 years. So that was VERY good news if I am reading that correctly!!

      • Doug Nordman says

        Great questions, Cindy, thanks! Please check your e-mail (and maybe your spam filter) for my long response. Let me know if that covers it or raises more questions.

        I’m going to put up a separate blog post on this in a few days, and I’ll also link that to here for the rest of the readers.

    52. Clif Purkiser says

      I am impressed by your knowledge Nords, but honestly I think I would have had an easier time understanding, a reactor start up sequence :).

    53. Doug Nordman says

      Thanks, Kate! I try to stick to the topics where I actually know more than the average reader, and sanctuary is a little-known program.

      In this case it’s personal experience. (You’ll notice I’m begging for links on the Army & Air Force sanctuary regs.) My spouse was subject to sanctuary monitoring during her Navy Reserve career (2001-2008) when she drilled at PACOM. PACOM mobilizes a lot of senior Reservists who are close to 18 years of service (6480 points) and the subject came up several times a year. She still has her (very thick) XO correspondence file, which got me started. I also spent a couple of hours last year plowing through Title 10 USC looking for changes to sanctuary case law, because now I can make the time to do things like that.

      Fortunately, Rob, one of the PACOM Reservists my spouse served with was a Marine O-5. He was a very experienced watch officer drilling in an active-duty billet which was chronically gapped. PACOM fills nearly a third of their active-duty billets with drilling Reservists, and J1 finally persuaded USMC Reserve to mobilize him under this exact same scenario with a similar retirement at 20 years. Shortly after he was mobilized, he was selected for O-6 and pretty much ruled PACOM’s Joint Operations Center (especially midwatches & weekends). He elected to serve his two years’ time in grade and retired in 2006. (I even ran into him once, literally, while we were surfing.) I e-mailed that Marine’s name and Linkedin profile to the reader who asked this question. I’ll have to tell you the rest of those sea stories over a frosty beverage at FinCon13.

      The POC for PERS-91B came from a very old NAVADMIN: I don’t know if Mr. Sam Wyvill is still serving as the Navy’s sanctuary expert, but he was a big help back then. Sadly he held the line on Navy sanctuary, too, and almost never approved those requests.

      The gory details on time in grade and retirement programs are in the DoD Financial Management Regulation manual (DoDFMR,, and I sure wish I’d known this one better while I was on active duty. I revisited it in 2011 while I was researching the details of the Temporary Early Retirement Authority because it was referenced in a message from my own thick 1990s correspondence file.

      The FMR used to have interim changes authorizing the services to reduce time in grade from three years to two. (For example, That change was finally made permanently (to public law) in 2004: Two-year TIG retirements were almost routine in the Navy Reserve. But the services would have to go to SECDEF to reduce TIG below two years, and SECDEF might even have to go to Congress.

      The FMR is a gold mine of retirement nuggets, but unfortunately you have to either be blessed with an outstanding personnel staff– or you have to be retired to make the time to read it. Everyone should review chapter 3 before they file their retirement request, and that’s especially important if there are medical or disability issues:

      Kate, when I was in your position (at-home parent married to an active-duty spouse facing a new set of transfer orders) I used to spend many a cozy evening with my spouse paging through the Joint Federal Travel Regs and the Officer Transfer Manual. Again, you practically have to be retired to make the time to learn this info– or you end up depending on your assignment officer to “take care of you”. The information we found in those references led to her leaving active duty to start her Reserve career. (More sea stories for our FinCon13 frosty beverages.) I hope you never have to defend yourself with these weapons of mass instruction!

      Thanks again for bringing this up– one of my older posts used a dead FMR link, so I fixed that too.

    54. Rob says

      Yeah, what Kate said!

      By the way, what are your sources? When I was an XO I got to know my way pretty well around the JFTR, PRIM, and IRAM. I’ve had a good look at the MCRAMM, Promotions Manual, and MARCORSEPSMAN, but it sure would have taken me a while to find all the stuff you put in this post.

      Obviously I’m not asking for proof (‘SOURCE!’), just some tips on where we all can find similar info for ourselves.
      Thanks! Again, great job here.

      (and thanks for the link shout out — you’re welcome, any time!)

    55. Kate Horrell says

      Wow, Doug, you really do know about everything! I am impressed with your depth and breadth of knowledge, and very glad that question didn’t come to MY email box.

    56. Deserat says

      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.

      • Doug Nordman says

        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…

    57. Doug Nordman says

      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.

    58. Chris says

      18 years of TAFMS (active duty days), will be ~6575 points (AT/ADOS, not IDT or anything other points). 7305 active points is the magic number…

      I successfully hit Sanctuary in the reserves, and was amazed at the level of backlash I received for following the law… hah

    59. Doug Nordman says

      Pelachile, there’s two different laws behind your question.

      The federal law on Reserve/Guard sanctuary (linked in that post) requires at least 18 years of active-duty points, as well as being mobilized for active-duty orders. 365 x 18 + leap days is at least 6574 points. That’s when you’d qualify for sanctuary, although you seem to be already covered by your very long AGR orders.

      Title 10 U.S. Code section 1176 also protects enlisted members whose obligation runs out after 18 years, and entitles them to extend to 20:
      With your ETS of January 2028 it looks like that doesn’t apply to you either.

      You can apply for retired awaiting pay from the Reserves as soon as you have 20 good years and receive your Notice Of Eligibility. Or you could stay on your AGR contract (even after your NOE) until you’ve reached 20 years of active-duty points (7305), or another 1355 points past May 2022. That would take you into early 2026, still within your AGR contract.

      I’d stay on active duty as long as you’re feeling challenged & fulfilled, but when the fun stops then you could retire to your Reserve pension or even try to vacate your AGR contract to go back to drill status until you can retire awaiting pay. The real value of the military pension is the lifetime inflation adjustment and the cheap healthcare. Saving for financial independence gives you resilience and choices. You have tremendous human capital outside of the military and you don’t have to risk your mental, physical, and emotional health just to gut it out for a pension.

      I don’t understand your preference for staying at your E-6 rank instead of promoting to E-7. Whether you retire from active duty or the Reserves you could earn an E-7 High Three pension for the rest of your life, and you only have to give up a few years of the difference in the BAH rates. Let me know if you want to dig into the details of the math.

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