Service Requirements to Retire as a Commissioned Officer

Military members need 20 years of active duty service and 10 years as a commissioned officer to retire as an officer, with a few exceptions for members of he Reserve Component.
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Military Officer Retirement
Table of Contents
  1. Qualifying for a Military Retirement
    1. Qualifying for Retirement from Active Duty
    2. Qualifying for Retirement from the Reserve Component
  2. Qualifying for Retirement as a Commissioned Officer
    1. Active Duty Requirements
    2. Reserve Component Requirements
    3. Exceptions to the Above
  3. What Will Your Retirement Pay Grade Be?
    1. Service Ending at O-3
    2. Service Ending at O-4 and higher
    3. Retiring at a Lower Grade
    4. Policy vs. Law
  4. Use This Information to Plan Your Career & Retirement
    1. If You Are Retiring from Active Duty
    2. If You Are Retiring from the Reserve Component
  5. Real World Examples of How These Rules Can Impact Your Retirement
    1. Example 1 – Passing Up Orders & Retiring
    2. Example 2 – Forced Early Retirement
  6. Be Informed

Earning a military retirement can be complicated, especially when your service status changes throughout your career. Complicating factors can include changing branches of the military, transitioning between active duty and the Guard or Reserves, or earning your commission after starting your career as an enlisted member.

Several service members have contacted me regarding the qualifications for earning retirement as a commissioned officer. As you might have guessed, there are rules that guide how rank is calculated for retirees. And the amount of service time a military member has as a commissioned officer can have a major impact on their retirement.

This article examines the service requirements for retiring as a commissioned officer. This article primarily applies to service members who were previously enlisted, then later earned their commission and remained in the service through retirement.

Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF):

  • To retire from active duty as a commissioned officer, you must have 20 years of active duty service, with at least 10 of those years of service as a commissioned officer (the Secretary of the branch of service may waive this requirement to 8 years of service as a commissioned officer).
  • To retire from the Reserve Component as a commissioned officer, you must have 20 qualifying years of service (Good Years) and be a commissioned officer at the time of retirement.

I know this may seem contrary to what you may have read or heard elsewhere. So I’m going to dive into the details. Please read through this entire article, as we will look at examples and include references and links to Title 10 of the U.S. Code, which is the section of U.S. law that governs military service, including pay, retirement, discharges, and much more.

And, as you might have guessed, there will certainly be some exceptions to these rules. So I will try to point these out where applicable.

Keep in mind this can be a complicated topic and there can be exceptions to these rules beyond what is listed here. I recommend visiting with your Human Resources or Personnel office, or even your base JAG if you have specific questions about your career or retirement eligibility. When it comes to your career you need an expert to give you the facts in writing.

Qualifying for a Military Retirement

In most cases, military members must serve 20 years to be eligible for normal military retirement. There are some exceptions, including the Temporary Early Retirement Authority (TERA), which allows members to retire with as few as 15 years of service, and Chapter 61 medical retirements.

TERA is only offered when the military needs to selectively reduce the size of its force. It is generally only offered in specific branches, and then, usually only for targeted career fields and service classes (years of service).

Medical retirements are complicated and the situation is often unique to the individual. This type of military retirement will not be covered further in this article (you can read more about it in Ch 61 of the U.S. Code if you want the details).

There are also differences between retiring from active duty and retiring from the Guard or Reserves (Reserve Component, or RC).

Qualifying for Retirement from Active Duty

  • A normal active duty military retirement requires the military member to serve 20 years on active duty.

Qualifying for Retirement from the Reserve Component

Qualifying for Retirement as a Commissioned Officer

If you read the BLUF at the top of the page, I stated that prior-enlisted officers who retire from active duty need to serve 20 years on active duty, with at least 10 of those years being as a commissioned officer (waiverable to 8 years of commissioned service).

However, I also stated that wasn’t the case for members of the Reserve Component.

Let’s take a look at the U.S. Code that governs these types of retirements so we can see for ourselves how this works:

Active Duty Requirements

Let’s go to the source:

  • U.S. Code > Title 10. Armed Forces > Subtitle D – Air Force > Part II. Personnel > Chapter 941 – Retirement for Length of Service > §9311. Twenty years or more: regular or reserve commissioned officers
  • Note: this is the Air Force law, but it is the same for all branches.

Emphasis Mine:

(a) The Secretary of the Air Force may, upon the officer’s request, retire a regular or reserve commissioned officer of the Air Force who has at least 20 years of service computed under section 9326 of this title, at least 10 years of which have been active service as a commissioned officer.

(b)(1) The Secretary of Defense may authorize the Secretary of the Air Force, during the period specified in paragraph (2), to reduce the requirement under subsection (a) for at least 10 years of active service as a commissioned officer to a period (determined by the Secretary of the Air Force) of not less than eight years.

As you can see, members must have 20 years of active duty service, with at least 10 years of active service as a commissioned officer.

However, the SecDef can, at times, authorize the Secretary of the branch of service to allow members to retire with as few as 8 years of commissioned service, provided they otherwise meet the retirement eligibility criteria. This is generally 20 years of service, unless they are authorized to retire early under TERA (remember from above, TERA allows members to retire with as few as 15 years of active duty service, if they are offered this by their branch of service).

Reserve Component Requirements

Let’s go to the source:

  • U.S. Code > Title 10. Armed Forces > Subtitle E. Reserve Components > Part II. Personnel Generally > Chapter 1223. Retired Pay for Non-Regular Service > §12731. Age and service requirements

Emphasis Mine:

(a) The Secretary of the Air Force may, upon the officer’s request, retire a regular or reserve commissioned officer of the Air Force who has at least 20 years of service computed under section 9326 of this title, at least 10 years of which have been active service as a commissioned officer.

(b)(1) The Secretary of Defense may authorize the Secretary of the Air Force, during the period specified in paragraph (2), to reduce the requirement under subsection (a) for at least 10 years of active service as a commissioned officer to a period (determined by the Secretary of the Air Force) of not less than eight years.

Title 10, U.S. Code

Notice there is no language requiring the member to have a certain number of years of commissioned service. Members retiring as an officer in the Reserve Component simply need to meet the 20-year service requirement.

That said, members may incur a service commitment when they commission, so they may be required to fulfill this prior to voluntarily retiring. There are also time in grade requirements to retire under a certain grade (see the section below regarding retirement pay grade).

Exceptions to the Above

If you parse the above sections, you can see there are some exceptions to the rule. Members need 20 years of service unless they qualify for early retirement under TERA (minimum of 15 years of service, and this is only available in select cases and when authorized by the Secretary of the branch of service). TERA can apply to both active duty and the Reserve Component.

Additionally, active duty members need 10 years of commissioned service, unless the Secretary of their branch of service has authorized members to retire with 8 years of commissioned service.

This combination of early retirement and the required number of years as a commissioned officer can have some unintended consequences, which we will examine later.

Finally, there may be other exceptions regarding Chapter 61 medical retirements, and for certain specific situations that will remain outside the scope of this article.

What Will Your Retirement Pay Grade Be?

This is governed under 10 U.S. Code §1370. Commissioned officers: general rule; exceptions.

There is a lot of legalese in the preceding link, so I’ll translate it:

Service Ending at O-3

In general, if you will retire at the rank of Captain or Lieutenant or lower, you must meet the retirement eligibility requirements listed above and have at least six months of satisfactory service at that rank.

Service Ending at O-4 and higher

Officers must have served on active duty in that grade for at least three years. However, the Secretary of Defense may authorize the Secretary of a military department to reduce this period to no less than two years.

There are additional rules regarding when the Secretary of Defense may authorize members to retire with less than three years time in grade, as well as the number of individuals in each rank that can retire with fewer than 3 years time in grade in a given year.

There are additional rules for retiring at the pay grade of O-7 through O-10.

More information can be found here.

Retiring at a Lower Grade

Officers retiring without the required time in service for the specific rank may be retired in the next lower grade in which they served satisfactorily for not less than six months.

This article will not cover reduction in grade for conduct unbecoming an officer, or for other administrative reasons. Speak with your JAG if that situation applies to you, as they will be able to provide personalized information specific to your case.

Policy vs. Law

The U.S. Navy, and by extension, the U.S. Marine Corps, follows the federal law for retirement pay grade. However, they also have their own policy regarding retirement rank. According to OPNAVINST 1811.3A, Navy Policy has the following Time in Grade requirements:

  • O-1 and O-2: 6 months
  • O-3 and O-4: 2 years (up to 18 months may be waived)
  • O-5 and higher: 3 years, subject to waivers allowed by law

In other words, the only changes are for O-3 and O-4, which require members to serve 2 years TIG instead of a minimum of 6 months required by law. However, COMNAVPERSCOM may waive up to 18 months of the 2-year period.

In short, it’s important to review the federal law, but you should also verify your branch of service’s policies.

Use This Information to Plan Your Career & Retirement

Don’t let retirement sneak up on you. Make sure you know your service class, when you will be eligible to retire, and at which grade you should retire.

This information can help you make important and valuable career decisions and help you avoid costly mistakes such as turning down orders and retiring before you have accrued the necessary service time as a commissioned officer, or the necessary time in grade to retire at that pay grade.

The difference can have a massive impact on your retirement pay.

If You Are Retiring from Active Duty

Qualifying for Active Duty Retirement:

  • You need 20 years of active duty service, with at least 10 years commissioned service.
  • Exceptions – active duty service time: you can retire with as few as 15 years of active duty service under TERA if it is offered by your branch of service.
  • Exceptions – commissioned service time: you may be able to retire as a commissioned officer with as few as 8 years of commissioned service if authorized by the Secretary of your branch of service.
  • Note: these exceptions are not always offered and are usually only available when the military is trying to reduce their force size. At the time of this writing, no branches are currently offering TERA or retirement as an officer with 8 years of commissioned service.

Active Duty Retirement Grade:

  • Your retirement grade will be the highest grade satisfactorily held.
  • If you are retiring as an O-4 or lower, you only need 6 months time in grade to retire at that grade.
  • If you are retiring as an O-5 or higher, you need to have 3 years time in grade to retire at that grade, unless your branch Secretary has authorized commissioned officers to retire with only 2 years time in grade.
  • There may be additional rules governing retirement as O-7 through O-10.

If You Are Retiring from the Reserve Component

Qualifying for Retirement from the Reserve Component:

  • You need 20 years of qualifying service (Good Years) and be commissioned at the time you retire
  • TERA rules may apply when authorized by the Secretary of the branch of service.

Note: You may incur a service commitment when you earn your commission. There may be a requirement to fulfill this service commitment before you will be allowed to voluntarily retire. Speak with your human resources or personnel office for more specific information.

Reserve Component Retirement Grade:

  • Your retirement grade will be the highest grade satisfactorily held.
  • If you are retiring as an O-4 or lower, you only need 6 months time in grade to retire at that grade.
  • If you are retiring as an O-5 or higher, you need to have 3 years time in grade to retire at that grade, unless your branch Secretary has authorized commissioned officers to retire with only 2 years time in grade.
  • There may be additional rules governing retirement as O-7 through O-10.

Real World Examples of How These Rules Can Impact Your Retirement

Again, it pays to understand the mechanics of retiring as an officer.

Example 1 – Passing Up Orders & Retiring

When you are in the latter stages of your career, you are often at the mercy of your functional or career advisor. They will often send you where the need is the greatest, whether or not it is a desirable career move or your preferred location. And since they know you need to follow orders to remain in the military, they have you in a tough spot.

This is where you need to decide whether or not to accept or decline the orders. Accepting the orders means you pick up your life and move (yet again). Declining your orders pretty much means game over for your military career. It’s actually not uncommon for military members to receive orders after they are eligible for retirement and decide they would rather retire than uproot their families for another cross-country or international move.

Diving into that decision is a topic for another day. But it’s important to understand how it will impact your retirement. If you are a prior-enlisted officer with 20 years of active duty service, but fewer than 10 years as a commissioned officer, you might want to think long and hard about the impact this could have on your retirement benefits.

Likewise, you may consider taking the orders if you recently promoted and will not have the time in grade to retire at that pay grade. Only you can decide whether or not taking those orders is worth the additional income (and stress) that comes with accepting new orders. The key is to be aware of your options and the impact of accepting or declining.

Example 2 – Forced Early Retirement

In a perfect world, military members would be able to remain on duty until they were ready to move on. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way, and the military does, from time to time, force people out of the military through involuntary separations and forced retirement.

For example, in 2014, the Army forced a group of prior-enlisted active duty officers to retire with 20 years of service or under TERA rules. Unfortunately, while some of them were qualified to retire, several of them did not qualify to retire as an officer because they did not have 8 years of commissioned service (the Secretary of the Army had authorized commissioned officers with less than 10 years of service to retire as commissioned officers during this period).

In effect, these Soldiers had been rewarded with career advancement for their exceptional service, then they were later forced out due to Force Shaping requirements, and were not allowed to retire as officers because they did not have the requisite service time. As you might imagine, this did not go over well.

Thankfully, enough attention was raised about this issue, and after a Congressional inquiry, the Army allowed the members to retire as officers.

Be Informed

As our good friend, GI Joe said, “Knowing is half the battle.”

Use this information to guide your career and make the right decisions. You should be able to avoid the unintended consequences of turning down orders at the end of your career and,

  • a) be forced to retire as an enlisted member because you didn’t have the requisite service time to retire as a commissioned officer, or
  • b) retire before you have the time in rank to retire at that pay grade, or
  • c) you could get a double whammy and miss out on both.

And while Example 2 is outside of your control, being aware of this situation gives you the information you need to file an appeal or work with your JAG to see if anything can be done to avoid missing out on the retirement benefits you have earned.

Photo Credit: Photo by Master Sgt. John Hughel. This work is in the Public Domain. The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

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  1. Gian says

    Hello! I heavily contemplate applying for retirement within the next 2 years or sooner. This will put me at 20 years TIS (15 years active + 5 years reserves). I’m an O3E and in 2 years will also meet my 10th year as an officer.

    (1)Will I qualify for reserve/non-regular retirement only since I won’t have 20 years AFS?

    (2) If in 2 years & with 20 years TIS, I get medically retired (since it has been brought up to me by multiple providers but I have successfully dodged so far) from active duty with more than 50% disability, will I be entitled to active duty pension and/or CRDP?

    I haven’t been able to find the answer to these questions. Neither the Army HR departments nor DFAS have been helpful so far.

    Thank you in advance!

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Gian,

      (1) Yes, you will qualify for a Reserve retirement since you do not have 20 years of Total Active Federal Military Service (TAFMS). In most cases, your retirement pay will start at age 60, along with your healthcare benefits.

      (2) My understanding is that a military medical retirement is the same as an active duty retirement, meaning you would receive benefits immediately upon retirement. Military medical retirement is based on your military disability rating, not your VA disability rating. You have to go through the military medical evaluation board, which can be a lengthy process. Your retirement pay would be based on the greater of your military disability rating multiplied by your high-36 base pay, or your years of service multiplied by your high-36 base pay (both are capped at 75% of your high-36). Those who receive medical retirement with 20 years of service and who have a 50% VA disability rating are eligible for Concurrent Retirement and Disability Pay (CRDP).

      According to the DFAS website:

      To be eligible to receive both military disability retired pay and VA Disability Compensation concurrently, a member who was retired under Chapter 61 for disability must:

      • Have completed 20 years or more of service creditable under 10 U.S.C. § 1405, or 20 years of service computed under 10 U.S.C. § 12732, at the time of the retirement; and
      • Be entitled for any month to both military disability retired pay and VA Disability Compensation; and
      • Have a service-connected disability (or combination of service-connected disabilities) that is rated by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs as not less than 50 percent disabling on the VA schedule for rating disabilities.

      Note: A member who was retired under Chapter 61 for disability and who did not have 20 years or more of service creditable under 10 U.S.C. § 1405, or 20 years of service computed under 10 U.S.C. § 12732 at the time of retirement, is not eligible to receive VA Disability Compensation and military disability retired pay concurrently. Therefore, such members are subject to the general rule that requires a dollar-for-dollar waiver of military retired pay in order to receive VA Disability Compensation.

      Best wishes!

  2. David L McDonald says

    What law allows the Army to retire you as an enlisted even though you have 20 AFS of which 10+years were commissioned. I was reverted to enlisted at the end of my 20 AFS. There are settled Board of Correction cases that predate my retirement that support an enlisted at the end of 20+AFS YEARS who retire as OFFICERS
    Yet I am on my 3rd Board and have been retired since 2012.

    Whay are your thoughts?

    My contact info:
    Dave McDonald
    [email protected]
    507 210 3157

  3. Joseph Erskine says

    The Navy enlisted retirement policy is different from all other services, please see the following link for understanding:

    Fact Check:

    An enlisted service member must have 30 years in order to be considered retired from active duty. If they serve 20 years plus but not the entire 30 years of active service, then they are transferred into the “Fleet Reserves,” which is an inactive reserve status.

    Case in point, for me, I was enlisted, officer, back to enlisted for retirement purposes. I reverted back to my highest pay grade held (E-9), once I reached my full 30 years (active duty & fleet reserves) I was eligible to request for highest pay grade held…which was O-3E. Even though I did not complete the entire 10 years of commissioned officer (to retire), I was able to revert back to enlisted base upon the Navy Commissioned Officer program I was selected under…Limited Duty Officer…which our enlisted records remain open for a certain amount of time…in case the service member want’s to return back to their enlisted rank and rate. Once again this is Navy, all other services are different.

    I suggest you call DFAS Tier 2 High Three Calculation Department: 216-204-0835, they can fact check your questions 1, 2, & 3. I know for sure they will be able to provide you the correct answers, I call often to get understanding of my situation.

    Please review this DFAS site (if you haven’t yet):, this site will answer the different types of retirement scenarios…based on when you entered the service. May explain some of your concerns/questions.

    The only other suggestion I may provide is to contact the Air Force Personnel Command (Active/Retirement).

    I hope my 2 cents helps.

    • Doug Nordman says

      You’re asking great questions, Raphael.
      1. I’m not familiar with Air Force personnel policies, but if you voluntarily retire from active duty with less than 10 years of commissioned service then the Army and the Navy will consider your pension as though you’ve never been commissioned. Your pension would initially be based on High Three pay tables for an E-6. After a combined total of 30 years of service (active duty and retired) you’d be able to apply to the Air Force to “upgrade” to your officer pension, which will be based on your High Three officer pay.

      2. I’m not sure what an MEB would do to your rank if you were retired on a disability pension, because you could be forced to retire involuntarily. In that situation, you’d be considered to have served satisfactorily after six months and the 10 years of commissioned service would probably be waived. You’d want to discuss this situation with a JAG and with

      3. Going to the Guard as a commissioned officer until 10 years of commissioned service does count for the “10 years of commissioned service” pension requirement. However you might also be required to serve a Guard service commitment of at least six years, even in the IRR. In addition, if you retired awaiting pay from the Guard with your 20 years of active duty, you’d still receive a non-regular (Reserve) pension which would not start until age 60.

      I normally get this question from servicemembers who’ve reached financial independence and want to give up the active-duty pension for a better quality of life, while knowing that they’ll still receive the Reserve pension at age 60.

      4. The “higher grade after 30 years” regulation is in federal law. For Air Force servicemembers it’s Title 10 U.S. Code section 9344 “Higher grade after 30 years of service: warrant officers and enlisted members”:
      This is why the other services feel comfortable with retiring officers (with less than 10 years’ commissioned service) on enlisted pensions regardless of their officer High Three pay. Perhaps the logic is that you’ve voluntarily retired and you’re willing to accept the lower pension until the point where you would have been involuntarily retired.

      • John says

        In item #3 you mentioned “still receive a non-regular (Reserve) pension which would not start until age 60.” I have two follow-up questions:
        Does this apply to AFRC transfers, i.e. I have 20 TIS but only 6 commissioned and am considering AFRC to complete 4 more years?

        Would I ultimately be foregoing my High-3 until 60 y/o, versus suspending it until I finished my time in AFRC?

  4. Raphael L says

    Hello! This is the most insightful site I’ve seen about enlisted/officer retirements. Its so hard to find information on this so thank you!

    I’ll explain my situation and then pose my questions. I joined the Air Force in January 2005. I commissioned in August 2018. All of this is Active Duty with no breaks in service.

    1. If i retire in 2025 with only 6 years of commissioned service, how is my retirement pay calculated (High 3 as an officer or high 3 as my highest enlisted rank (E-6)?
    2. If I get MEB’d after 2025 but before August 2028, would my retired pay be officer or enlisted (not concerned about disability pay and all that, just what rank is my retirement pay being calculated at).
    3. If I join the guard after 2025 as an officer and stay until August 2028, would that count as my 10 years as a commissioned officer to receive officer retirement pay?
    4. Finally, I’ve never heard of retirement pay increasing to highest rank served after 30 years. Where is the regulation for all this? I will happily do research on my own. Im jsut having trouble finding the reg i should be looking at.

    Thank you!

  5. Philip A. Smith says

    I joined the USAF August 1981 and got out 1 May 1992. After 17 years, I was commissioned in the National Guard 20 May 2009. With one deployment to Iraq, I retired after an MRD extension on 31 May 2019 as an O-4 for two years. My MRD was Nov 2018. I thought I read in 2011 in an Army Reg. that a SM would get Final Pay if retired after MRD. Regulations were updated in 2015. I am not able to find what I thought I read now. Was I mistaken or did the new regulations cancel it out?

      • Joseph Erskine says

        Update: As of Aug 2020, I am in receipt of the following information from NPC PERS 912: (Mailed to me via USPS)

        “Retirement Order and Authorization for Transfer from The Fleet Reserve to The Retired List
        (Encl) DD Form 363 (Certificate of Retirement)
        (Encl) Prior Higher Grade ltr (if eligible).

        Please contact us for any further information you require.

        Thank you,
        MyNavy Career Center

        Update: For PERS 835/Officer Retirement, ASC Yarbro, has been relieved by PSC Bishop. PSC is the original person in the billet…he was TDY on an IA, ASC Yarbro was filling the billet while PSC was out of pocket. You can contact PSC Bishop at 901-874-3183,

        Update: PSC Bishop is working on all current applications that were submitted while he was TDY on his IA. He is squared away, no issues with speaking with him on my situation…he will help you out. My application has moved forward and up the chain of command.

        Note: If you have reached your 30 year mark while in Fleet Reserves and reverted back to enlisted from officer to retire. As you read above, the Prior Higher Grade Letter/application will be enclosed in your package (Retirement orders & DD Form 363). Follow the instructions and return to PERS 835, PSC Bishop or whomever is sitting in the chair at the time.

        Note: At the time of my inquiry (June 2018) about receiving my 30 year certificate…in order to get the application for the Prior Higher Grade, you had to wait to receive the 30 year certificate package …at that current time PERS 912 was backlogged in sending out the 30 year packages. I was fortunate enough to be referred to PERS 835, ASC Yarbro (at the time) and he sent me the application via email. Kept me from having to depend on PERS 912 to send me the package at a TBD date in the future. I stated all above because…if you don’t get your 30 year certificate package in a timely manner, just call PERS 835 separately and have PSC Bishop to send you the application via email.

        Update: In March 2020 NPC transitioned to a new ticketing system which is now linked to DEERS for personal data updates. When I called (Jul 2020) to get an update, not knowing the latter…All of my old case numbers from the old ticketing system (prior to March 2020)…the NPC reps could not recall the old case numbers. I had to start all over again as if it was my first time calling, even though I had been waiting since June 2018 when I reached my 30 year marked.

        Note: Please ensure you verify your personal data: mailing address, phone, email, and SSN…the old system was not connected to DEERS…the new one is, any changes you may need to make please do so via DEERS or use DFAS MYPAY to make changes such as email and/or mailing address…It will save you frustrations, trust me.

        Bottom Line: The new system has seem to be efficient…after waiting two years for my 30 year certificate and higher pay grade advancement…I’m finally getting traction…I have no more worries.

        Note: If you have any questions on pay matters (High 3/Retirement advancement pay), NPC reps will tell you to contact DFAS. Please see below information for DFAS Tier 2 High Three Calculation Department:

        DFAS Direct Number: 216-204-0835

        Please call the number above only….it goes directly to Tier 2 High Three Calculation Department…if you try any of the other DFAS numbers…you will be on the phone for hours and be transferred to multiple departments until you are finally directed to Tier 2 High Three…Trust me!

      • Doug Nordman says

        Philip, I’m a Final Pay retiree who’s tracked the system over the years, and I’ve never ever run across that. It’s definitely not in federal law or the DoD Financial Management Regulation.

        In 1999 there were changes to the old High Three/REDUX pension system (reverting to a higher pension multiple and bringing in the Career Status Bonus). There have been various TERA initiatives over the last 30 years and waivers for the length of commissioned service, including the drawdown legislation during 2010-2018. However I’ve never heard of any DoD initiatives to bring back Final Pay.

        Your pension should be based on the system under which you started your service: the average of the highest 36 months of pay for the pay tables in effect when you begin your pension. Depending on the dates of your Iraq deployment, you may be able to start your pension three months early for every 90 days in a fiscal year that you’re deployed to a combat zone. Please let me know if you have more questions about that and we’ll dig into the dates & point counts.

  6. Mark M says


    I’m having trouble figuring out how the 10 years of commissioned service to retire with officer pay is calculated. I have searched through DoD regs and US Code and can’t figure out if “commissioned service” starts with “Active Date of Rank” (ADOR) or the date I took my oath.

    Background: I was enlisted for 13 years and then commissioned through the IPAP physician assistant program. They granted 6 months of constructed credit. So I commissioned on June 8th, 2018 but my ADOR is December 5th, 2017. For retirement purposes, is my 10 year mark June 8th, 2028 or December 5th, 2027? I can’t find a law or regulation that defines it.

    Finally, thank you for the blog and for your book. I just bought it and you have a ton of great advice.

    • J.L. Erskine says

      Greetings Rod,

      Funny you ask….I just contacted Pers-912/835 last week for an update since my last in Aug 2019…The Chief I spoke with stated that my package is still in a holding pattern. He stated that he had to submit 5 packages at a time and so far he only had three packages submitted. I don’t understand that logic but nothing I can do about it but wait. The chief stated that he would try to move the current three packages as soon as possible…he reassured me that retro pay is authorized and he doesn’t see why my package won’t be approve.

      • Doug Nordman says

        Thanks, Mark, I’m glad the book & blog are helping! I’m paying it forward.

        If you’re active duty then I’d contact your service’s community manager. It’s difficult to prove a negative, but the ADOR credit may only be for seniority or to speed up your time in rank for promotion. In the absence of a detailed reference, I’d base your service on your commissioning date of 8 June 2018.

        If you’re a drilling Reserve or National Guard member, then there’s no specific requirement for 10 years of commissioned service. Your Reserve pension is based on satisfactory service and time in rank, which is generally six months for O-4 and below or three years for O-5 and above.

      • Tony K says

        Constructive credit is only used to calculate Date of Rank. “Date of Rank” is purely a fiction as far as your commissioned service for retirement is concerned. My 2LT DOR and my commissioning date were separated by at least a couple of weeks to not be earlier than West Point Cadets getting commissioned that Spring of 1995.

      • Doug Nordman says

        John, I’m not sure how that would work.

        If you reach at least 20 years of active duty and ask to transfer to the Reserves then the Air Force will ask you to retire instead of approving a Reserve transfer. There are a (very) few special-skills exceptions for returning to Reserve service or even a short term of active duty, but first those veterans all retired from active duty. You’d have to pursue this question with your chain of command, but the exceptions for those skills are rare and on a case-by-case basis.

        If you leave active duty before 20 years and transfer to the Reserves, then you’d eventually reach 20 good years of service and be eligible for a Reserve High-Three pension (in your officer rank) at age 60. The Guard and Reserves require the satisfactory completion of a service obligation, but they don’t have a minimum requirement on years of commissioned service. The downside is that you’d forego your active-duty pension for a Reserve pension at age 60.

        I realize that you’re trying to reach 10 years of commissioned service for an active-duty pension at that rank, but currently the only way to do that is to continue on active duty. When you reached 10 years of commissioned service then you’d also have 24 years of active duty. Again, the reason the services do it this way is because of that Title 10 U.S. Code section 9344 linked in item #4.

  7. Heatherann Bozeman says

    Thank you for this article and the subsequent comments. I retired in 2012 with 23 years active service which was a combination of enlisted and commissioned. I receive High-3 E7 pay. My last 6 years were commissioned. I am curious about the “automatic” increase to my officer retirement pay. I am now 30 years total with my retirement time and active service. Are you sure I don’t need to submit a letter of request? And who would I send that to?

    • Doug Nordman says

      That’s a very good question, Heatherann. I don’t know the answer, let alone whether DFAS is doing it right. If you’ve just reached that 30-year mark, then the adjustment to your pension might happen on the next deposit (a month in arrears).

      I’d file a request with DFAS to make sure they haven’t overlooked it.

      The legal references are Title 10 U.S. Code, with different sections for each of the services:
      Army: 10 U.S.C. § 7344
      Navy/Marines: 10 U.S.C. § 8334
      Air Force: 10 U.S.C. § 9344

      The Financial Management Regulation (DoD 7000.14-R), Volume 7B Chapter 9, describes the procedure which DFAS follows:
      It goes into great detail on the computation, but it doesn’t mandate that you request it.

      I’d contact DFAS through this link:
      or submit a ticket through their online customer service site:

    • Joseph Erskine says

      I am in the same situation right now. I retired in 2011 with 23 years active service which was a combination of enlisted and Limited Duty Officer commissioned. I reverted to MCPO (E-9). My last 8 years and 11 months were commissioned. I went over 30 years in the Fleet Reserves in Aug 2018, I called DFAS on 07 Aug 2019, I am still being paid for (E-9) pay. Apparently, it is not automatic for your advancement (Higher Grade or Rank) on the retired list.

      Per DFAS Retirement Tier 2 representative I must fill out a form requesting for review of my pay status. This action does not guarantee an increase in pay or advancement to highest rank held. Must go through Navy Personnel Command (NPC) (Pers-835 Officers) 5720 Integrity Drive, Millington, TN 38055.

      Note: Pers 835 Division handles Highest Grade Held. Facilitates the request of an enlisted member or Chief Warrant Officer who was transferred to the Fleet Reserves that may be eligible to be advanced on the retired list to the highest officer grade held satisfactorily as determined by the Secretary of the Navy.


      However, per NPC Pers-835 (Officers Retirement), I must submit a Service Performed In Higher Grade or Rank request, write a letter (Request Consideration for Advancement on the Retired List) addressed to (Commander, Navy Personnel Command [Pers-482]), and submit DD-214. My understanding, this process is not automatic and must be approved by NPC (Admiral).

      Also, per NPC Pers-912 (30 Year Certificate/Retirement), the retired service member must wait for the 30 year certificate to be mailed out with the Service Performed in Higher Grade or Rank request form and then submit. But, I am being told that Pers-912 is backlog on sending out the 30 Year Certificates, they are on Oct/Nov 2016. Meaning, my 30 year date is Aug 2018, I still have two years or more before I receive my certificate and request form.

      The above paragraph information was received by calling, 1-866-U-ASK-NPC (827-5672); Press zero (0): Tell representative you would like to request for your 30 year certificate.

      Please ensure you verify your telephone number, mailing address, email, and SSN. Very important to do so. Besides my SSN, the information they have in their ticketing system does not go through DEERS. My information went back to a 1995 address, telephone number, and email. In addition, I passed this information on to another retired Sailor. She called and her information went back 16 years when she was stationed in Rota, Spain. You do not want your certificate to be mailed to an obsolete address.

      It has been over a year since obtaining my 30 years of active/inactive service, I still do not have a certificate or a solid answer on when I will receive it. Currently, I am a year pass due for consideration of advancement to higher grade. I called DFAS, 07 Aug 2019, they will pay retroactive pay; however, it is based upon NPC approving my highest rank held and the date of approval. If NPC back dates to Aug 2018, then DFAS will pay retroactive, if NPC date of approval is current, DFAS will not pay retroactive. By the way, per DFAS, they will no pay retroactive beyond a six year time period.

      To circumvent the wait of the 30 year certificate, I called NPC Pers-835, 1-901-874-3183. I was provided via email the forms needed less DD-214. I submitted my information on 07 Aug 2019. Currently in a holding pattern to see if I get approved or more information required for submission.

      Lastly, If you follow what I’ve provided, please ensure you stay in contact with Pers-835, Pers-912, and DFAS Retirement to ensure the flow of information matches or you can cut off any wrong paths that your entitlement process may go.

      I hope my experience helps. Doug please chime in if you can speak to my current situation too.

      • Doug Nordman says

        Thank you very much for your feedback, Joseph!

        I’ve never heard of such bureaucracy from the other services. I’m sorry the Navy is putting you under the microscope, and I’d hope that the other services are less intrusive in their processes.

      • Rod Q says

        Is there any resolution to your request?
        Thanks for the detailed information above – I will definitely use it when my time comes. Currently, 2 years active commissioned service + 23 year enlisted, SCPO.
        I look forward to seeing positive outcome about your situation.
        V/R Rod

    • Faustino Gonzales says

      please update as I am in the same boat. I 13.5 years enlisted and 7 years officer and 4x combat tours later I will be 30 years On Oct 31 2021

  8. jonathan longar says

    Hi Doug. I left the National Guard in 2011 after 21 yrs 4 mos of total service. I left as an E-5 but prior to that I had been an 0-2 from July 1990 to November 1999. Can you fell me what rank I will retire at? I commissioned early in college and did not finish my degree until after I reverted to enlisted rank, therefore I was passed over. Otherwise my time as an officer was satisfactory.

    • Doug Nordman says

      Good question, Jonathan. You should be covered under federal law by going over 30 years of combined Guard service and “retired awaiting pay” status.

      The “10 years of commissioned service” rule is in federal law. The Army version is here:

      Also by federal law (Title 10 U.S. Code section 1407(e)), DFAS will use the highest enlisted rank to determine the high-three pay at the time you file for retired awaiting pay:

      However after a combination of 30 years of active duty and retired time, retirees are eligible to be advanced on the retired list to the highest grade they served on active duty.
      I realize you’re Guard, not active duty, but stick with this for a few more paragraphs.

      When a Reservist “retires awaiting pay” (not just “discharged” or “separated”) then they’re hypothetically available for recall. (This last happened during the country’s total mobilization of WWII.) As an incentive for this status, their pension is calculated from the pay tables in effect when they start the pension (usually at age 60) and… at the longevity in their retirement rank as though they’ve been on active duty the entire time.

      You retired awaiting pay in 2011 with 21 good years as an E-5>20.

      At age 60 you’ll start your Reserve pension. You might start the pension sooner if you deployed at least 90 days in a fiscal year to a combat zone or a national emergency, per the NDAA 2008 legislation and its 2015 amendment. Military blogger Ryan Guina covers that topic with this post:

      Nine years after retiring awaiting pay, you’ll reach E-5>30 longevity. However by that federal law section 3964 you’ve also reached eligibility to be advanced to the highest rank you satisfactorily held. That means you’re an O-2>30.

      Please let me know if you have more questions!

  9. Michael says

    But the law says 10 “active” years correct? Doesn’t that mean that the officer years have to be on active duty or total years in active status? Simply doing 10 years or more in the reserves would not be enough to qualify would it? Or does it work differently in the reserve/NG retirement system? Can a person do say 20 years active enlisted time and then say 20 years reserve office time and retire from the Reserve/Guard at the Officer rank?

    • Doug Nordman says

      You’ve raised an interesting point, Michael.

      These reader questions in that post are for service during the last millennium, and the drawdown after DESERT STORM actually generated some lawsuits over unlawful separations. In the late 1990s the federal law changed for Reserve service as well. I didn’t get into those side issues.

      As of 2018, I’m not aware of any federal law requiring a specific number of years of commissioned service for Reservists or National Guard members. They’d still have to serve satisfactorily in the grade to retire in that grade, and they’d still have to satisfactorily complete a service obligation in their unit. O-5 or above generally have to serve three years time in grade to retire at that grade (which could be waived down to two years).

      As I understand the law, serving in the enlisted ranks and then commissioning in the Reserve or National Guard would not require at least 10 years of service. A Reserve or National Guard officer could retire as an officer as soon as they reached their 20 good years (confirmed by their Notice Of Eligibility letter). They’d still have to comply with the “satisfactory” and “time in grade” caveats of that last paragraph.

  10. Casey says

    I will have 20 years active duty service next year and currently commissioned for 5 years. I have put in a request to retire in enlisted status. I was just wondering if these generally get approved and how long do they take to process? I know a few people in the past that have done this. thanks

    • Penny Williams says

      Hello! I was in the same position a few months ago. A CPT with 21 years, 13 of which were enlisted.
      I almost resigned my commission to retire, but was recommended for an MEB instead due to multiple chronic health issues.
      As for your question, they typically get approved very quickly. I know of someone who did submitted the Unqualified Resignation request and is now retired as a SSG. He was a CPT.
      Good luck to you.
      Fortunately, with an MEB separation i will retire at my current rank and receive benefits as O3E.
      I hope you are aware of the fact that you will NOT get paid the high three at your officer rank.

      CALL the Officer Separations Branch!!!

    • Doug Nordman says

      Casey, as Penny says, your service will almost certainly approve your retirement request at your enlisted rank. Be aware that your pension will be calculated at your last enlisted rank before commissioning.

      The processing time varies by service. You’d have to check that with your personnel branch.

      When the sum of your years of active duty and your years of retirement reach 30 years, you’ll be automatically advanced to the officer rank which you held at retirement, and your pension will be recalculated (going forward) at the pay of your commissioned rank. For example, that federal law for the Air Force is:

  11. Ronald Neubauer says

    I have a friend who has both enlisted and warrant officer time both on active duty (Vietnam helo pilot) and in the Army Reserve as enlisted. He has reached his time for retirement and I believe opted to retire at his enlisted rank or as a CWO3, Warrant Officer rank. Can you provide the appropriate cite of U.S. Code or Army regulations that would allow him to opt to retire as a CWO3? Thank you .

  12. Brian Owens says

    Sir, I am an active duty Army CPT with 21 years of service (14 enlisted, 7 Officer (in December of 2017)) So my 8 year mark falls outside the window prescribed by the Secretary of the Army. My question is whether or not you have heard or know of any plan to extend the waiver past 2018. As it is I am not eligible to retire with 8 years AFCS by a measly 2 months. Thanks for the help!

      • Doug Nordman says

        Good question, Brian! I’m not aware of any interest in extending the law. There are pros & cons to extending the law, but I haven’t read anything about an actual proposal.

        When you apply for retirement in a few months, it’s still worth requesting the two-year waiver. The law is in effect until the end of September 2018, but the law is worded for the authority of the Army to authorize the retirement. In lawyer terms, that might mean *approval* of your retirement request within the next 13 months– even if the date of the actual retirement is after 30 Sep 18.

        Note that the Army does not have to approve your request, but you have to ask before you’ll find out.

  13. Penelope Rhone says

    Hello, I would appreciate your assistance with answering the following question:

    I joined the Army in 1997 as an enlisted Soldier. I commissioned in 2010 as a 2LT in the Army Nurse Corps. I am aware that there is a policy/regulation stating that you must have 10 years as an officer to retire as one. Otherwise, one would retire at last enlisted rank, mine being E-6. However, I heard a few years ago that the requirement had been changed to 8 years. Will someone please help me find that Army MILPER Message? I have tried every key word to search it and have had no luck.

    I really want to retire next August when I hit my 8 year mark as commissioned officer at pay grade O3E, but not if I wont get retirement pay as an O3E.

    Please advise.

    • Doug Nordman says

      Penelope, you can request the waiver and reference the federal law, which should be enough for even Army HRC. Or maybe the Army MILPER message refers to keywords like Title 10 U.S. Code Section 3911:

      Here’s the text:
      (a) The Secretary of the Army may, upon the officer’s request, retire a regular or reserve commissioned officer of the Army who has at least 20 years of service computed under section 3926 of this title, at least 10 years of which have been active service as a commissioned officer.
      (1) The Secretary of Defense may authorize the Secretary of the Army, during the period specified in paragraph (2), to reduce the requirement under subsection (a) for at least 10 years of active service as a commissioned officer to a period (determined by the Secretary of the Army) of not less than eight years.
      (2) The period specified in this paragraph is the period beginning on January 7, 2011, and ending on September 30, 2018.

      Note that although you’ll have more than 20 years of service, you’ll reach eight years of commissioned service in August 2018 and the waiver legislation expires in September 2018. The issue will be whether the Army is willing to waive your commissioned service down to eight years, or whether they’re trying to retain officers in your specialty and want you to stick around for a couple more years.

      • Penelope Rhone says

        Thanks, Doug. I plan to submit my paperwork very soon and request the waiver. I will update you as soon as I am approved for retirement and learn of all the specifics! I’m sure someone else out there is in the same boat as me and need answers. Thanks again!!!

  14. Rod Q says


    I have served as an active duty Enlisted Sailor for 22 years (E-8 now) and currently going through the Navy’s Physician Assistant program – and will be commissioned as O-2E at about 23 year active duty mark. I qualify for High-3 Retirement Pay. I have read through the previous post here, and looked up the referenced laws/regulations…here are my questions that I hope you can help answer or direct for resources to get clarification:

    1. If I resign my commission after 2 years as O-3E but less than 10 years Commissioned Officer time (8 year if allowed to be waived), total 27+ years active service at that point…
    a. Will I be reverted back to my E-8 pay for Retirement Pay computation?
    b. Will I qualify to have my Retirement Pay recalculated to Highest Rank Held (O-3E) at the 30 year mark? Is this 30 year mark just time passing by or will it need to be in the “reserves”?

    I plan on staying Active Duty as long as the Navy and my Family let me but I want to plan ahead and know my options, hence the questions. Thanks in advance for any guidance that you can offer.


    • Doug Nordman says

      That’s right, Rod, the answers are both “Yes.” The 30-year mark is just time passing by, and for an enlisted Navy retirement it’s in the Fleet Reserve. Thanks for your question!

  15. Marta Davies says

    Hi Doug,
    Thanks for posting a detailed discussion on this topic!! I wondered if any of the folks illustrated in your examples have been successful at clearing up their situations? I’m a Maj in the AF Reserve, with 15 total years in uniform, and 10.5 years active duty time. I want to return to active duty, but cannot in my current career field (41A), and cannot retrain to a line AFSC. I can only go back as a nurse (which would require nursing school), or enlist. Right now I’m just looking for information on how retirement works if I were to resign my commission and enlist. I understand from this post and my own research that I’d retire as a Maj, but wondered if I’d be paid as a Maj upon collecting my pension.

    • Doug Nordman says

      You’re welcome, Marta! It’s a very confusing aspect of military retirement.

      I don’t always hear back from readers, but the second reader (who retired from the Army) has succeeded in obtaining the officer pension that he rightfully earned. It took several years of legal appeals.

      If you have at least 10 years of commissioned service (which is waiverable to eight years during the drawdown, at least until 2018) then you’re eligible to retire as an officer. If that rank is O-5 or higher then you’ll need three years’ time in grade (waiverable to two years) in order to have that rank on your retirement certificate. (An active-duty High Three pension is based on the highest 36 months of pay, so time in grade is not as critical in setting the amount of the pension.) If you opt for a Reserve pension then that retirement rank also determines which row of the pay tables is used for calculating your pension, so you want to be absolutely sure that you have at least three years (and three good years) of time in grade at that rank before applying for retired awaiting pay status. You might be able to get that Reserve time in grade waived down to two years.

      The services may be reluctant to enlist an officer of your rank and experience, but that’s a policy decision which doesn’t have anything to do with the pension or federal law. Another possibility that you may have already considered would be transferring to your current AFSC (and rank) in the Army or Navy.

      • Dennis says

        Doug, Thanks for the useful info. I have a somewhat related question. I’m an active duty officer with 14 years in (> 3 years at my current rank), and no prior enlisted time. Long story short, there’s an enlisted job I want to do and after much research, it is possible for me to resign the commission without a break in service and enlist (active duty Army). If I do that, and then retire at 20 years while enlisted, will my retirement pay and rank be based upon my high-3 officer pay and rank or my enlisted pay and rank?

  16. Brandon says

    I’m planning on resigning my Commision and enlisting soon. I’m an 0-3E with 6 years active duty plus guard/reserve time of 19 years. I will not have 10 years commissioned service until June of 2016. As long as I’m still having fun I plan to serve in the reserves until MRD. Will I be able to retire as an 0-3E if I’m a few months short of 10 years Commissioned service?
    Also does anyone know how my grade will be determined when I resign and enlist? Will I be an E-5 or E-6? How does that work?

    • Doug Nordman says

      Brandon, I can’t tell whether you’re saying that you have a total of 19 good years or a total of 25 good years (“six years of active duty plus 19 good years of Guard/Reserve time”).

      If you have a total of at least 20 good years then you can apply to retire, and when you retire then the years of commissioned service can be waived down to eight years. You’d be able to retire as an O-3.

      If you have a total of 19 good years and you stayed until 10 years of commissioned service, or stayed until you reached 20 good years, then you’d be able to retire as an O-3. Again, when you retire you can apply for a waiver to retire as an officer with as little as eight years of commissioned service.

      If you have 19 good years now and resign your commission before reaching retirement (20 good years) then your next rank is decided by the policies of your new service.

      It’s possible that I’m mis-interpreting your questions, so if this doesn’t answer them then feel free to add another comment or send me an e-mail.

  17. 1LT Parker says

    I need your help!

    We all know that the Army is downsizing and using any means available to include promotion boards. Officers are being hit hardest. I am an active duty Army Officer with prior enlisted time. After not making the promotion list for the second time, I received my Mandatory Retirement Notification from HRC with a Mandatory Retirement Date (MRD) of 31 Dec 15.

    Like those Captains and Majors that were boarded against their peers in a reduction in force board I was boarded against my peers in a promotion board. I feel I am not very marketable against many peers and an easy target because of the following.

    I will be 21 days shy of my 23rd year of Active Army Service on my MRD. 19 Enlisted with the highest grade of Staff Sergeant (E-6) and almost 4 years as an Officer. Let me briefly explain. I got commissioned through a recruiting program called the Army Enlisted Commissioning Program (AECP). I applied at 14 years of service when I was an E-6. I was notified of acceptance but placed on a Deferment Status because of a priority Military Transition Team (MiTT) assignment that I would not be released from. At 15 years of service, I deployed on that MiTT assignment. I returned, 16 years enlisted service, and on a conditional acceptance, I still had 2 classes to complete before I could start the last 2 years of the BSN Nursing School I had chosen. At 17 years of service I finally started Nursing School (2 years), this takes me to 19 years of service. Upon graduating and passing the National Nursing Board Test, I commissioned in the Army Nurse Corps. At almost 46 years old with this many years of service, I feel may be some of the reason for me being a non-select. I do not feel I have longevity left as a soldier, and the board probably recognized that also.

    Unfortunately, US Code, Title 10 states (summarized) that to retire as an Officer the Officer must have at least 10 years of Commission Officer Time. The 10 years is allowed to be reduced by the Secretary of the Army to no less than 8 years, which has been done. It also states that promotion non-select for the second time be retired/separated within months of the board president approval of the list. If they do not meet the required Officer Service time, and eligible, they can retire at their highest enlisted rank. I am almost convinced that this US Code law was written during a period that the US was not engaged in major conflicts.

    Like the others, this is a slap in the face. The concern is how much it affects my retirement pay. I have dedicated myself to the Army and our Country. I stepped up when the Army was heavily recruiting Army Nurses. Unfortunately, this led me to not continue my enlisted career and pursuit of promotion within the enlisted rank (By this time I knew I was a career soldier). I have deployed in time of war. I have been attacked by the enemy. The sacrifices I have made especially abandoning my family for 3 separate deployments. I was in Afghanistan with the initial wave of Army troops and Iraq with the initial wave as well. Initial wave equals nothing very established; a true war time soldier (MRE’s and no baths for days sometimes up to 3 weeks). I have already mentioned the MiTT deployment for which I was embedded along with 11 other soldiers (12 man MiTT) into and Iraqi force (Battalion level in my case) with the priority mission being to train them as the US military was gearing up for transfer of the war mission with hope of an established and functioning force and government. This is what I get. Disheartening!

    I ask for your help in any way you may know.

    Much appreciated, Rodney

    • Doug Nordman says

      Rodney, you’ve certainly researched the issue (thank you!). I see you’ve also found the other posts which discuss the parameters.

      It’s difficult to speculate on the reasons for non-promote. It could be age or errors/omissions in a record. It could also have little to do with you and everything to do with downsizing issues and end strength requirements.

      If you haven’t already done so, your first step should be to sit down with a JAG to discuss the federal law (with these blog comments) and whether you have any other options. You and the JAG could craft a waiver request to permit you to continue on active duty to reach eight years’ commissioned service due to the critical skills you’re providing in your billet. The point of the request is to force HRC to issue a formal letter response to your waiver request, not to let them discourage you from submitting the request. You want a written response, not just a verbal “We can’t do that”.

      You could also contact your elected representatives, because several senators were involved with last year’s OSBs. That tactic might not be popular with HRC or your chain of command, but again you have nothing to lose from starting a Congressional inquiry. Regardless of when or why the “10 years commissioned service” law was passed, only Congress can change it.

      I’m not going to hold out false hope. Even if your commission could somehow be backdated to your initial AECP acceptance, you’d still have less than 10 years of commissioned service. Perhaps the best you could hope for would be that your situation calls attention to the need to change the law.

      Even if you’re forced into retirement at an enlisted rank, the military may feel that you’ll eventually be “made whole” at the 30-year point. You and the JAG should take a look at 10 U.S. Code § 3964. Here’s the text:
      Higher grade after 30 years of service: warrant officers and enlisted members
      (a) Each retired member of the Army covered by subsection (b) who is retired with less than 30 years of active service is entitled, when his active service plus his service on the retired list totals 30 years, to be advanced on the retired list to the highest grade in which he served on active duty satisfactorily (or, in the case of a member of the National Guard, in which he served on full-time duty satisfactorily), as determined by the Secretary of the Army.

      I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t understand whether Section 3964 means that your retirement pay is also recomputed. Your JAG may be able to find the applicable rule in the DoD Financial Management Regulation manual for military retirements:
      Table 1-2 on page 1-33 lists the rules for mandatory retirements, and Rule 6 probably applies to your situation. It doesn’t advise whether your retirement pay is also recomputed when you reach the 30-year point. However section 090401 on page 9-5 says:
      Reduction In Pay Due To Advancement
      There is no absolute requirement that a member of the Armed Forces be advanced on the
      retired list. If advancement and recomputation results in a reduction of retired pay for the member
      and is based solely on administrative determination, then, prior to the advancement, the member
      should be consulted by the military service and advised that the member’s retired pay would be
      reduced if advanced.
      A. Enlisted Member. If an enlisted member is, in fact, advanced on the retired
      list, then retired pay must be recomputed, even though a reduction of retired pay would result.

      To my unqualified interpretation of the FMR, it seems pretty clear that at the 30-year point you could apply to be advanced to O-2 on the retired list– and then you could apply to have your pension recalculated at the O-2 pay scale instead of the E-6 pay scale.

      Your former High-Three pay base derived from E-6>22 ($3,724.20) would be switched for a High-Three pay base of O-2E>2 ($5,418.00). Keep in mind that those columns are just the starting points and not the actual dollar amounts. You’d have to calculate the average of the highest 36 months of pay at those ranks. DFAS can help you with the calculation.

      Finally, Section 090302 on page 9-4 says you’ll also need an Army determination that you served satisfactorily in your O-2 paygrade. That appears to be handled by an Army Grade Determination Review Board, and it’s up to you and the JAG to ensure that happens during the next few months. You definitely want to get this done while you’re on active duty, because it’ll take months to make it happen after you’re retired.

      I know this doesn’t make the situation right, but I hope it helps. Please let me know how it turns out.

  18. Ann says

    Hello, I am an active duty Army CPT with 6.5 years officer time and 10 years of enlisted time. I’m on the list for early separation/retirement board in September of this year.will I be able to retire as an officer or revert back to my enlisted rank if I am selected?

    Thanks in advance

    • Doug Nordman says

      Great question, Ann. I’m pretty sure the answer will be “officer”.

      The last board allowed most officers to extend until they reached eight years’ commissioned service. A few officers were given waivers by the Secretary to retire as officers. Those special cases didn’t get a followup by the media, but I also didn’t get any unhappy e-mails.

      My impression is that HRC has learned that it’s less hassle to do the right thing and enable you the opportunity to reach eight years’ commissioned service. (It’s certainly better than dealing with my blog posts, the New York Times investigative journalists, and Congressional inquiries plus legislative initiatives.) If HRC thinks an extension is too long to reach the eight years then you’ll probably get a waiver to retire as an officer.

      I’d suggest that you make it easy for the Army to help you get to eight years’ commissioned service. Review your service record with someone who’s seen them at promotion boards. Find an assignment officer at HRC who will review your official record (not a local copy) for any gaps or issues. Make sure your official photo is professional and flawless, because the Army humans on the board will respond to impressive recruiting-poster images of other Army humans. Send in the corrections now (e-mailed or faxed and perhaps by overnight mail), and make sure the corrections get added to your record before the board reviews it.

      If you’re worried about being forced to retire, then worry constructively. Attend your service’s transition seminar and think through what you want to do after you retire from the military. Whether you do it on the Army’s schedule or on your schedule, you will eventually retire. It’s always worth investing a little preparation time now, even if you end up staying on active duty for a few more years.

  19. jon robinson says

    Sir, I really appreciate your response and I will follow up on your advice as soon as possible. JON

  20. jon robinson says

    This in regards to my March 2014 inquiry about which grade I retire at…I am the man who enlisted in the USMC in 1977, with USAF commissioned service (12 years combined active and reserve duty) and who is currently an E6 Army IMA reservist (9 years service) in Korea. I have contacted the personnel people at Fort Knox in regards to my retirement grade question and I have not heard a thing. I was wondering if there is a particular section at USA Reserve Command to address my original question and to get a retirement grade determination? If so, I would appreciate any contact information. Thanks. JON

    • Doug Nordman says

      Good to hear from you again, Jon!

      From your previous comment, you said that you already have your Reserve retirement Notice of Eligibility (your 20 year letter). Hopefully you’ve compared your Army Reserve record of your point count and your good years to make sure that Army Reserve HRC has all the information. It’s quite possible that they do not have any record of your 1977-80 Marine Corps service, your 1985-92 USAF active duty, or your 2001-06 USAF Reserve duty. They need to have that information in your Army Reserve personnel database in order to give you the right answers.

      You also appear to have at least 10 years of commissioned service, and Army Reserve HRC needs that information as well in order for them to understand that you’re qualified to retire as an O-3. That’s in federal law as Title 10 Section 3911 ( However in order for HRC to comply with the federal law, they need to have the documentation of your commissioned service in their records.

      As you’ve said, you’re also eligible for a Reserve pension under the “Final Pay” system. In order for the Defense Finance and Accounting System to correctly calculate your pension, Army Reserve HRC has to have your Marine enlistment in the personnel database.

      Your Notice of Eligibility should include the point count and the good years in the Army Reserve personnel database. If that information is not correct then your first step is getting all the data into the system and verifying that with a new report. Ideally your NOE will have the contact information for this project. If you’re not getting a response then it’s worth calling a department head or the Commanding Officer’s office.

      I recognize that you may not be able to access your Army Reserve personnel records online if you don’t have a Common Access Card or an account. If that’s the case then Army Reserve HRC may also be able to set you up with an account login and password.

      I realize that you’re IMA, but you should also pursue these issues up your Army Reserve chain of command. If that’s the same people you’ve already tried then I’d talk to the personnel branch at your nearest Army base. If you’re still in Korea then you’d still start with your local Army personnel branch to get a good name, phone number, and e-mail address.

      Once your record of service is correctly reflected in the Army Reserve database, you’re ready to submit your retirement request. That should include a printed copy of the information in the database, and ideally the Army Reserve would approve it as a Final Pay O-3.

      Once you have an approved retirement then you’re ready to ask DFAS to confirm the start date and the point count/retirement rank of your pension.

      I’ll also publish your comment as a blog post asking the readers who you should contact. In the meantime I’d start with your NOE, your Army Reserve chain of command, and possibly the personnel branch at the Army base nearest you.

  21. Theresa Rouse says

    I am an O-4 and am preparing to retire, and am being told that I will need to complete 3 years as an O-4 so I “can retire with O-4 benefits.” I’ve been digging HARD into this (I will be at 2 years in OCT 2022, and am ready to retire NOW), and found the following on MyNavyHR under “Officer Retirement Laws”:

    For retirement as a LCDR (20 years):
    – 20 years and 1 day of active service
    – 10 years active commissioned service
    – 3 years time-in-grade
    Note: OPNAVINST 1811.3A provides policy for time-in-grade and next-lower-grade waiver requests. NDAA 2021 via a change to 10 USC 1370 changed the time-in-grade requirement to 3 years. An update to OPNAVINST 1811.3A to reflect the change in law is pending.

    Thought this was worth sharing.

  22. Derek says

    I just retired from the national guard 2 weeks ago as a Warrant Officer, turned in my gear, handed in all my paperwork. Someone in my state just called me to inform me I did not have 10 years as an officer, so I will be retiring at my enlisted rank. I had 9 years 8 months as an officer.
    What recourse do I have here, this is the command chief WO in my state putting this out.

  23. Randy says

    I think the phrase “for tax purposes” is necessary in the previous comment. You don’t receive a pay reduction to your bank account, you just report a reduced amount to the IRS.

  24. Brian O'Hare says

    Hi., Great source of information here. Appreciate what you do!
    I am about to submit my military retirement as I turn 60 in November. I retired as an O-5 with 28 yrs of service (12 as enlisted) but only had 2 yrs and 3 months in grade as an LTC. I was in the NG at the time of my retirement and had served on active duty for a few tours after 9-11 as well as an enlisted man in the 1980’s. Will I be retired at the lower grade of O-4? Also I am receiving a 30% VA disability compensation that is likely to be upgraded to 50% in the coming months. Will that affect my retirement pay from the military? To confuse matters even more I am now an employee of the VA and will be able to collect a retirement from them in just a couple of years. (I bought back my MSD when I started at the VA). How does that retirement enter the mix?
    Thanks again

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Brian,
      Lots of questions, let’s take them one at a time.

      Will I be retired at the lower grade of O-4? 

      I believe you need 3 years to retire as a LTC unless the military had waivers at the time you filed your paperwork (the law has been temporarily amended in the past to allow service members to retire as a LTC with only 2 years time in grade). However, your pay will be based on your high-36 months of service (or final pay if you were in the final pay retirement system). So I believe your time as a LTC will factor into your retirement pay.

      Also, I am receiving a 30% VA disability compensation that is likely to be upgraded to 50% in the coming months. Will that affect my retirement pay from the military

      Yes. If you have 40% or lower, your military pay will be reduced by the amount of your VA disability compensation. Veterans with a disability rating of 50% or higher are eligible for concurrent receipt, meaning they will receive both their military pay and their disability compensation in full.

      To confuse matters even more I am now an employee of the VA and will be able to collect a retirement from them in just a couple of years. (I bought back my MSD when I started at the VA). How does that retirement enter the mix?

      FERS members can buy back their active duty military time and have it count toward both the FERS retirement and a Guard/Reserve retirement. However, they cannot have their active duty time count toward both an active duty retirement pension and a FERS pension. In your case, you should be able to count the time you bought back toward both your military retirement and your FERS pension.
      Best wishes!

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