The Marine Corps has extended time-in-grade retirement waivers for colonels and lieutenant colonels, a move designed to trim the senior ranks and restore upward mobility for junior officers seeking a career in uniform.
These waivers, one of many force-shaping tools the service is using as it draws down the active-duty force by approximately 5,000 Marines annually over the next four years, are authorized through fiscal 2014, according to Marine administrative message 004/13, signed Jan. 4. Up to 13 colonels and 37 lieutenant colonels will be allowed to leave the service a year early during each of the next two fiscal years and retain retirement benefits commensurate with their current rank, officials said.
Typically, colonel and lieutenant colonels must serve at least three years time in grade to retire with benefits matching their current rank. But time-in-grade waivers allow retiring officers to retain those benefits after just two years time in grade.
Lieutenant colonels and colonels hoping to take advantage of time-in-grade waivers must agree to leave uniform by Sept. 1, 2014.
Because the Marine Corps promotes only to vacancies, senior officers who have stayed in uniform through 30 years have created promotion backlogs that have slowed the time it takes to pin on rank. Some majors, for example, have waited much more than a year to pin on lieutenant colonel. The use of these time-in-grade waivers aims to create more vacancies, so more officers can move up.
However, voluntary measures like time-in-grade waivers have not been enough to clear the promotion backlog entirely and help hit drawdown targets. Officials at Manpower and Reserve Affairs in Quantico, Va., have been forced to employ other measures, like Selective Early Retirement Boards, which select retirement-eligible lieutenant colonels and colonels and send them home.
Although voluntary measures like waivers don't eliminate the need for early retirement boards, they do diminish it. This year's SERB, which convened in September, was expected to select up to 51 colonels and 60 lieutenant colonels, officials have said. But those numbers could be lower depending on how many take time-in-grade waivers or volunteer to retire without incentives. As more do, fewer will have to be ordered out of uniform. Results have not yet been released.
By law, the Corps may target only up to 2 percent of the O-5 and O-6 paygrades by way of time-in-grade waivers. Leaders within the service and the Defense Department had sought an increase with hopes of being authorized to target up to 4 percent of those ranks, thus minimizing the number of involuntary separations that would be necessary to meet drawdown goals. But based on the authorization numbers through fiscal 2014, it appears Congress has not granted that request.