Military Retirement From The Individual Ready Reserve

It may be possible to earn enough points in the Individual Ready Reserve to earn a good year and qualify for retirement. But it's not easy.
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Table of Contents
  1. Can I Retire from the IRR?
  2. How Many Retirement Points Do I Need to Retire from the Reserves?
  3. How to Earn Retirement Points in the IRR (or not)
  4. Details About Retiring in the IRR
  5. Can You Be Promoted in the IRR?
  6. Important Factors Before Transferring to the IRR
    1. Dual status: Reserves, civil service
    2. Time in Rank for Retirement
    3. Longevity Accrues During “Retired Awaiting Pay”
    4. “Retired Awaiting Pay” Instead of “Discharge”
    5. Losing Tricare Insurance in the IRR
    6. Can I Transfer GI Bill Benefits in the Individual Ready Reserve?
  7. Summary – You can Retire from the IRR, But it Isn’t Easy

When you leave active duty, you may have the option of transferring into the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). The IRR provides the military with a source of trained servicemembers who are on call if the military needs to rapidly expand. Most IRR members remain in the IRR while completing their initial mandatory service obligation (MSO), after which, they are separated from the IRR.

However, in some cases, members can remain in the IRR beyond their MSO. In some cases, they may be able to earn retirement points, or even remain in the service long enough to earn retirement benefits.

Can I Retire from the IRR?

A National Guard member emailed and asked:

I have a few quick questions for any of the military folks out there regarding a National Guard retirement. I’m sitting at nearly a decade years in the Army National Guard with around 1900 retirement points. I have a couple of months left where I have to make the decision to either resign, transfer to the IRR, or stay in a drill billet.

Is it worth staying in the IRR for another 10 years to earn a military retirement?

Maybe the question is simpler than I’m making it. But for this to work, I would need 50 retirement points a year for the next 10 years, something that could be accomplished through 150-hours of distance learning annually.

10 years * 50 points/year = 500 points

500 points * 3 hours DL/point = 1500 hours of distance learning in the next 10 years.

This is a great question. Let’s look at it in more detail. And you’ll be relieved to learn that you’re awarded an additional 15 “participation points” when you reach 35 points of correspondence courses in the IRR. That makes it a little easier to get a good year. So technically you’ll only need to earn 35 points per year in the IRR and you’ll only exert 1050 hours of distance learning.

How Many Retirement Points Do I Need to Retire from the Reserves?

The short answer is that you need to accumulate 20 “good years” of service to receive a Reserve pension.

What exactly is a “good year”? It’s a qualifying year in which you earn at least 50 points for retirement.

That begs the question of “How do I earn those retirement point credits?”

Here’s how:

  • 365 points for a year of active duty
  • 15 points for being a member of the reserves
  • 1 point for each Unit Training Assembly (UTA or “drill”) period attended
  • 1 point for each Additional Flight Training Period (AFTP)
  • 1 point for each day of active duty orders
  • 1 point for each Inactive Duty Period
  • 1 point for every 3 credit hours earned upon completion of an accredited correspondence course
  • Tips for earning more Reserve retirement points

After you reach this milestone, you’ll receive your “20 Year Letter” from the secretary of your branch of service notifying you of your eligibility to receive retirement pay at age 60. You can reduce that age by one year for every 90 days of qualifying active duty served in a fiscal year after 2008, but you can’t receive retirement pay earlier than age 50.

How to Earn Retirement Points in the IRR (or not)

You earn 15 participation points each year while serving in the IRR. You can earn additional points for performing other military service including:

  • Serving on active duty
  • Drilling for points only (non-pay status)
  • Performing Honor Guard duty for military funerals
  • Completing correspondence courses
  • Attending annual muster

However, correspondence courses are not a panacea and you may be required to drive for some of those distance learning opportunities.

Distance learning opportunities also vary by military service. Eddie at Gubmints.com has pointed out several times that the Navy has greatly restricted the courses which can be used for IRR points, and (even worse) Navy Reserve IRR members no longer have CACs. Consider whether you could handle this in the Guard if that happened to your unit.

Getting to 50 points (or earning your 35 points) per year in the IRR may be a lot harder than it seems. If you don’t have a CAC in the IRR, are you able to drive to a Guard armory where you can log into a DoD system without a CAC? Can you set aside the time in your life to make that happen? Will the Guard cut back on the “authorized” courses to the point where you can no longer reach 500 points (or 350 points) to qualify for retirement?

Details About Retiring in the IRR

In a related question, a reader writes:

Hello sir! I’m an O-5 (USNR) with 19 years and I stumbled upon your website/blog. All I can say is AWESOME! You put things in plain English when many other websites and instructions either “beat around the bush” or use vernacular that usually leads to more questions! BZ! I was hoping you could answer one question for me. Since I am at 19 years in the Navy (seven years active / 12 years Reserve) – I am trying to weigh my options when I go over 20.

After I hit 20, if I am on the O-6 promotion list and then immediately choose to transfer to the IRR, would I be able to retire as a CAPT? Would I have to serve as a CAPT for at least three years in the IRR and if I earn enough points for a good year, does that mean I could eventually “retire awaiting pay” and retire as an O-6? I guess that was a long-winded way of asking, can you be promoted to O-6 in the IRR and earn good years in the IRR?

Thanks! Eight years of instructor duty, most of it with submariners: complex concepts, simple words.

The big-picture answer to your question is that you can go to the Individual Ready Reserve after you’re selected for O-6. Once you’re in the IRR you’ll have to continue to earn your “good years” in order to satisfactorily complete your time in grade.

Can You Be Promoted in the IRR?

Officers are eligible for promotion while they’re in the IRR, but I have never heard of anyone getting promoted while they were in the IRR. It’s possible, but there are too many Reservists on mobilization and drilling status who have probably done more things to earn the selection board’s attention. You’ll hopefully be drilling (or mobilizing) at least until you reach 20 years and get your Notice of Eligibility letter. Ideally, you’ll keep at it until you’re selected for O-6 and the selection results are approved by Congress.

Once you’re selected for O-6, though, you can go to the IRR whenever you want. (Even before you’re formally promoted to O-6.) No matter what timing you choose, the only way your time in grade will accrue is by being in the active or standby Reserve. You could hypothetically do that in a pay billet (if you get one), by getting mobilized, or by drilling in the Volunteer Training Unit.

If you’re in the IRR, though, you’ll probably do it by correspondence courses or special duty (funeral detail), or by other individual arrangements with your chain of command. (You may also want to see if you can earn points by serving as a U.S. Naval Academy Blue & Gold Officer.)

IRR members still have to show up for annual musters and maintain whatever other readiness status is required by your chain of command (medical & dental screenings, staying within physical standards). Time in grade only counts when you earn a good year.

Your O-6 time in grade is normally three years, whether you’re drilling or mobilizing or in the IRR– as long as you accumulate your good years. However, when you request retirement you can also request a waiver to reduce the TIG requirement to two years. That’s routinely approved for most retirements and would almost certainly be approved for retirement from the IRR during a drawdown.

No matter when you choose to submit your retirement request, make sure you review your options under the Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan and Tricare Retired Reserve. The first is an exceptionally inexpensive life insurance annuity that offers more benefits than any civilian policy. The second will provide health insurance (up through age 60) that might even be cheaper than some civilian programs.

Important Factors Before Transferring to the IRR

Leaving active duty or Reserve status to join the IRR is a big decision and it may not be easy (or possible!) to revert to your prior duty status.

Here are a few things you should be aware of before making he decision.

Dual status: Reserves, civil service

There are many opportunities in the Guard and Reserves, including dual-status military technician status. This is a Reserve servicemember with advanced technical skills (electronics, combat system maintenance, training) whose primary employer is the federal civil service. They’re also part of a Reserve unit, and they’re taking care of Reserve equipment. One example is a civil servant doing aircraft maintenance for a Reserve unit.

Transitioning into a dual-status military technician job may allow you to buy back your military service credits, allowing you to accelerate your civilian retirement while still maintaining your Reserve pension. It’s the best of both worlds.

Time in Rank for Retirement

While we’re discussing the IRR, let me address a myth that keeps many Reserve and Guard servicemembers drilling for longer than necessary.

When you receive your Notice of Eligibility letter, your service has confirmed that you can retire. However, you might still want to drill until you reach your time in rank or your maximum longevity for pay at that rank. All servicemembers have to serve in a rank for at least six months to retire in that rank, or at least 3 years for grade O-5 and above.

In some cases (like a drawdown) the three-year requirement can be waived by the service secretary to two years. That’s part of federal law applicable to all the services, and that link contains the text of Title 10 U.S. Code section 1370.

Longevity Accrues During “Retired Awaiting Pay”

Once you’ve reached that time in grade (six months, or three years, or a waiver to two years) then you can retire at that grade. More importantly, when you retire awaiting pay then your seniority in that grade will continue to accrue as if you were on active duty.

When your Reserve or Guard pension starts (for most servicemembers, at age 60) it’s calculated at the High-Three average pay tables in effect during the year you start your pension. (See article 010901 at the top of page 1-30 in that PDF link.) It’s also calculated using the longevity that would have accrued in your rank if you had been on active duty between the time you filed for “retired awaiting pay” and the time your pension started.

Here’s an example. If you retire awaiting pay at age 45 as an E-7 with more than 20 years of service, then 15 years later when your pension starts you’ll receive the High-Three calculation for E-7>35. (The current pay tables top out at E-7>26, so you’ll receive the maximum E-7 pay.)

If you retired awaiting pay as an O-6 with >24 years of service, then 15 years later your pension’s High-Three average is calculated using the O-6>39 column (which tops out at O-6>30). See paragraph 030205.A.2 of the DoD Financial Management Regulations on page 3-10.

Note the phrase “retired awaiting pay”. It means that you’ve transferred to the Retired Reserve until your pension starts. That’s the normal retirement status for over 99% of Guard and Reserve retirees. That status is why your rank’s longevity continues to accrue in “retired awaiting pay” status, and it’s the reason that your pension uses the pay tables in effect when your pension starts. However, that status also means you could be recalled and mobilized for active duty during a total mobilization (which last occurred during WWII).

“Retired Awaiting Pay” Instead of “Discharge”

You could also retire in the status of “discharged” or “former member” instead of transferring to the Retired Reserve. However, when your pension starts (normally at age 60), it would be calculated at the tables in effect on the date of your discharge, and it would be calculated at your longevity at discharge. In other words, your pension would have been frozen at the date you retired (discharged) and not boosted for inflation or longevity.

Losing Tricare Insurance in the IRR

When you’re a drilling Reserve/Guard member you’re eligible for Tricare Reserve Select. If you transfer to the IRR– even for a single day– then you lose your Tricare Reserve Select coverage. You may be able to find equivalent health care through a state or federal healthcare exchange under the Affordable Care Act, but you’ll either spend more money than TRS or have much higher deductibles.

Healthcare should not be the only reason that you stay in a drill billet, but if you’re going to leave that billet then you need to make sure you have another source of health insurance.

Can I Transfer GI Bill Benefits in the Individual Ready Reserve?

A reader asks:

“I am a Traditional (TR) Air Force Reservist with 20 good years on 31 May 2015. I would like to retire, but I have one outstanding issue– my Transfer of GI Bill Benefit service commitment date. This date is 1 August 2016. I would like to stop being a TR and become IMA, IRR, an Academy Liaison Officer (I think that this is a Category E Reservist), or a Civil Air Patrol Officer (I also think that this is a Category E Reservist). I am having a difficult time determining which of these (and all of the different status) will meet the criteria for a “qualifying year” towards the GI Bill Transfer of Benefit Commitment. What other status meets the GI Bill transfer criteria? Thanks.”

First, congratulations on achieving 20 years for a military retirement! Only one out of six servicemembers achieve this goal.

Here’s what I’ve found so far.

The VA administers the GI Bill program, of course, but DoD approves the benefits transfer. Everything I’ve read about the eligibility for a transfer requires being on active duty or drilling in the Selected Reserve. Those GI Bill benefit transfer requirements are on the VA page, the DoD fact sheet on benefit transfers (a Word document), and on Military.com’s GI Bill page.

It looks like your only option would be to stay in the drilling Reserve or to find an IMA billet. If I understand the AF Reserve organizational charts correctly, Category E billets are considered part of the IRR or the PIRR.

Academy Liaison Officer duty seems to be Category B or E, and if you can find an ALO Category B billet then you’d be in the IMA and still eligible to complete your GI Bill Benefits transfer. Here’s a Word document (including an organizational chart) from Chapter 12 of the handbook on the USAFA ALO site.

Finally, this PDF from the Air University website says “Nearly all Civil Air Patrol Reserve Assistance Programs positions are Category E”.

I’ve checked with several other Reservists, but this situation does not seem to come up very often. Unless we get a response from a Reservist who’s found a better way, it appears that IMA is the safest alternative to drills.

Summary – You can Retire from the IRR, But it Isn’t Easy

Retiring from the IRR can happen. But it isn’t easy. In the best-case scenario, you will only need to complete a couple of years in order to earn your retirement from the IRR. But it may not be easy. You will need to aggressively chase your points. As an IRR member, no one will be following up with you to ensure you meet your goals. You become your only advocate and cheerleader and earning a good year becomes your responsibility to yourself. Most servicemembers find it easier to earn a good year while still affiliated with a drilling Guard or Reserve unit, as a member of the Individual Mobilized Augmentee (IMA), a special section of the Reserves.

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About Doug Nordman

Doug Noordman is a United States Navy submarine force veteran with 20 years of service. Noordman retired in 2002 and wrote "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" to share the stories of over 50 other financially independent servicemembers, veterans, and families. Noordman donates 100% of the revenue from his book sales to military-friendly charities.

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  1. austinliedeckes says

    Hello,
    I have 16 years all in Army National Guard. I am wanting to go into the IRR and not drill for the remainder of my four years in order to get to my 20 years. I was told by the readiness staff that I could not do that.

    • Joe says

      Why not check with IRR directly. I was in the IRR ( Air National Guard ) attached to Denver Co. Air Force Reserve Center. I was in the Participating IRR, then went into a non participating IRR, I was told I would still get my membership points ( 15 points yearly ) but did not receive them for credit.

      You may have to go in a participating status to continue. All you need is the minimum 50 points to get a good year. I was using Form 40 which gave me 2 points for each day of participation.

      Again I would contact IRR directly. There is also another program called IMA ( Individual Mobility Augmentee ) which is a paid position.

      • Doug Nordman says

        As Joe recommends, Austin, I’d talk with your National Guard support center about the best way for you to earn four good years (at least 35 points per year from you plus the Guard’s 15 participation points) in the IRR.

        It’s hard to patch together the activities for your point count but it can be managed with persistence and research.

        Note that once you’re out of a drill billet, you’ll lose your eligibility for Tricare Reserve Select. You’ll have to buy your own health insurance through a state or federal exchange, or find an employer plan.

  2. Mike says

    Sir, thanks for all that you are doing. This website is more help than MPF.

    I just got 20 good years. I accured the 50 points I need for the last good year. My understanding is that I still need to have 20 years of time from when I joined the military to retire. Since I earned all the 50 points at the beginning of my last good year can I ghost the military till the 20 years of time point? What about if the military transfers me to non participating IRR? If they put me in NPIRR status with no points no pay can I still retire at the 20 years of time point? Could you point me in the direction of the regulations this would fall under? Thanks again for the help.

    • Doug Nordman says

      You’re welcome, Mike, I’m glad it’s helping!

      You need 20 good years to file for retired awaiting pay, and you’ll know that your service agrees with your numbers when you receive your Notice Of Eligibility. Depending on how backlogged they are with verifying the data and issuing NOEs, that might happen before or after the anniversary date of reaching 20 years.

      Once you’ve acquired your points, you might still have other unit requirements to earn the good year: two weeks of active duty, completion of required annual training, medical/dental updates, and possibly drill weekends. Although these are largely administrative requirements beyond points, and might be waived by the unit, you’ll still need to comply with your command’s requirements in order to have them put the 20th good year in the database.

      Once you have your NOE, you’re eligible to file for retired awaiting pay. After you’ve filed your request, you could transfer to the IRR. (I would not go to the IRR until you have your NOE, and maybe not even until your retirement request has been endorsed/submitted.) Your service may also offer a six-month Authorized Absence during your career, where you would not be required to muster for drill weekends.

      You can check these requirements in your service’s instructions for the training & administration of Reserves (or Guard). You can read the applicable paragraphs (for your rank and service) in the Financial Management Regulation Volume 7B chapters 1 and 3:
      https://comptroller.defense.gov/Portals/45/documents/fmr/current/07b/07b_01.pdf
      https://comptroller.defense.gov/Portals/45/documents/fmr/current/07b/07b_03.pdf
      The backs of those chapters also link their paragraphs to the source sections of federal law.

  3. David Lloyd says

    Thank you for your very informative article. I’m a USAR O-4 (prior NCO) who has been doing COADOS (active) tours since 2013. I recently transferred into the IRR, as it was easier for them to approve my COADOS orders. I have about 23 good years (combined active and reserve), and am considering retiring. My question is, how does that work for someone in the IRR? Do I just de facto retire by not taking any more assignments? Or is there something official that I need to do to be out completely? I ask because in order to get a retirement LOM, it says that retirement orders need to have been cut.

    • Doug Nordman says

      You’re welcome, David, I’m glad it’s helping!

      Before you start the retirement process you’ll want to receive your Notice Of Eligibility and check that it has an accurate record of your good years & points. Ideally you receive a NOE as soon as you reach 20 good years, but the system is frequently backlogged.

      After you have your NOE it’s as simple as filing your request to “retire awaiting pay” up through your chain of command. Once that’s approved then you’re officially in the gray area and waiting to apply for your pension.

      In very general terms, you’ll apply for your pension about 6-12 months before turning 60 years old. You might be eligible to start your Reserve pension three months earlier for every 90 days that you’ve been mobilized to deploy to a combat zone.

  4. Sean says

    Hey Doug, I have a question about retiring from the IRR. I was recently told by a former AD officer, now in the IRR, that she will be able to finish out her 20 years (she did 10 active) in the IRR and, at age 60, will start collecting a military pension based on the points she’s accumulated, just like a Reserve/Guard pension… How is this possible? Is she mistaken? Thanks!

    • Doug Nordman says

      Sean, the only way I’m aware of to earn a Reserve pension is to accumulate 20 good years. She had 10-11 good years when she was on active duty (depending on how far she stayed past her 10-year point). After that she’d need another 9-10 good years, which means earning at least 35 points in the IRR each year.

      Possible, but not easy.

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