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Corps details eligibility for 15-yr retirements

Oct. 8, 2012 - 09:01AM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 8, 2012 - 09:01AM  |  
The plan allowing some Marines to leave service early is also the subject of Marine Corps Times' Oct. 15 print edition.
The plan allowing some Marines to leave service early is also the subject of Marine Corps Times' Oct. 15 print edition. (Angy Peterson / Staff)
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Beginning in early 2013, some Marines will get to leave the service with a 15-year retirement and a reduced annual pension.

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Beginning in early 2013, some Marines will get to leave the service with a 15-year retirement and a reduced annual pension.

Designed to help the Marine Corps shrink the force from 202,000 to 182,000 personnel, the Temporary Early Retirement Authority program targets a select group of staff noncommissioned officers and field-grade officers with less than 20 years of service who volunteer to exit early and still receive a lifelong annuity.

A separate program, Voluntary Separation Pay, targets staff NCOs and officers who opt to depart with a lump-sum buyout. Both were announced in Marine administrative messages released during the first week of October.

"This is incentivizing people to leave," said Maj. Shawn Haney, a spokeswoman with Manpower and Reserve Affairs in Quantico, Va.

Under the voluntary TERA program, Marines get a monthly retirement pension that's calculated at 2.5 percent of annual base pay for each year of creditable active service, minus 1 percent of annual base pay for each year less than 20 years of service, according to details provided in MARADMINs 549/12 and 543/12.

Early retirement nets Marines smaller pensions than if they had retired with 20 years or more of active service. Under TERA, a gunnery sergeant with 16 years of service, for example, would receive 36 percent of the average annual base pay he collected during the three years when his pay was highest, typically the last three years of his service. That would be about $17,340 a year. A major with the same number of years in uniform would collect about $30,250 annually.

Marines approved for early retirement will leave the service next year, with their effective retirement dates between Jan. 31 and Sept. 30. Just how many will take the incentive one of several tools the Marine Corps is using to draw down and reshape the active-duty force is hard to gauge.

"There are so many variables. We want Marines to apply if they are eligible and make that decision," Haney said. But approvals "will be based on the needs of the Marine Corps to have the right Marines of the right ranks in the right jobs."

Marines must meet eligibility criteria, and there are no guarantees Marines will get their requests approved.

"It has to be endorsed within your chain of command," she said, adding that each request would be looked at individually.

As with other force-shaping tools, the Marine Corps is targeting overmanned ranks and job skills for Marines who will have 15 to 20 years of active service by the time they retire.

For enlisted Marines, TERA is available to gunnery sergeants in three primary military occupational specialties: 0369 infantry unit leader, 0811 field artillery cannoneer and 6434 advanced aircraft systems technician. Staff sergeants in 20 primary specialties are eligible, too including those in ground combat, utilities and aviation. Staff sergeants short of 20 years, in any MOS, who have been passed over for promotion at least twice also are eligible; in fact, those Marines are encouraged to apply for the program.

Enlisted Marines who want to retire early should make their decision swiftly: Applications must be submitted by Nov. 9.Those with the earliest retirement date will automatically transfer into the Fleet Marine Corps Reserve on Jan. 31.

Officers eligible to apply for TERA must have completed at least 10 years of active commissioned service and fall into one of two categories: 1) captains and majors, regardless of MOS, who have failed selection for promotion to the next rank; 2) captains, majors and lieutenant colonels in one of nine primary MOSs.

There is no deadline for officers to apply, but if they wish to retire early, they must complete the forms and get approvals in time to retire by Sept. 30.

Marine officials might tweak the eligibility pool as needed to meet force-shaping goals, Haney said, and any changes in the program would be announced by official message.

"We can turn the faucet on or off," she said. "That, actually, is the beauty, as we have all these different tools."

Waivers may be approved for captains, majors or lieutenant colonels in the specified MOSs who have at least eight years of active commissioned service, as well as for CH-46 pilots who have an Aviation Continuation Pay contract that incurs obligated service.

Marines who elected to transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to a family member will get the obligated-service requirement waived so there's no impact on those benefits.

Some enlisted Marines and officers aren't eligible for early retirement. Those who face legal actions or proceedings, administrative separation, disability separation or disability retirement cannot apply for the program. Staff NCOs who have asked not to be considered for promotion are ineligible. And no Marine will get an extension to stay in service long enough to be eligible for TERA.

Marines thinking of taking early retirement should be 100 percent sure of that decision when they submit their application. TERA applications are "irrevocable," so they won't be withdrawn, canceled or modified, Haney said.

While the Navy Department has authority to use TERA from 2013 to 2016, Marine Corps officials said they expect to offer it only in limited fashion for 2013.

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