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More soldiers will face prospect of early-outs

Separated troops will keep GI Bill benefits and re-enlistment bonuses

Jun. 9, 2012 - 11:16AM   |   Last Updated: Jun. 9, 2012 - 11:16AM  |  
Paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team conduct a presence patrol May 19 in Ghazni province, Afghanistan.
Paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team conduct a presence patrol May 19 in Ghazni province, Afghanistan. (Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod / Army)
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Some Regular Army soldiers are being told to either deploy or leave service under terms of the newly revised Enlisted Involuntary Early Separation Program.

As announced in late May, the Army is exercising new authority from Congress to require some soldiers to leave active duty up to 12 months before the expiration of their enlistment contracts.

Under previous law, involuntary early outs were limited to no more than three months before a soldier's expiration of term of service.

Soldiers forced to leave service under this program are entitled to the same veteran benefits they would have had if they completed their contracted enlistment, except that they are not entitled to pay and allowances for the period of active duty not served.

Unearned portions of enlistment and re-enlistment bonuses will not be recouped, according to personnel officials.

The revised involuntary separation program began June 1 and will remain in effect until further notice.

"This policy is open-ended and a termination date cannot be established at this time," according to implementing guidance issued May 25.

Regular Army enlisted soldiers are subject to possible involuntary separation if they have completed at least 36 months of active service but no more than 71 months of active or reserve service at the time of separation from active duty.

The 36-month requirement ensures that soldiers do not lose their eligibility for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, while the 71-month rule ensures they do not qualify for separation pay.

Soldiers are not subject to the program if they have fewer than three years of service, have not been medically cleared for separation, are pending trial by court-martial or are being investigated for offenses subject to military law.

The involuntary early separation program was first used three years ago as the Army transitioned from the unpopular stop-loss policies that required thousands of soldiers to stay in service beyond their ETS.

Stop-loss policies were discontinued three years ago for the National Guard and Army Reserve, and for the Regular Army in 2010.

Under a special compensation program launched in 2010, Regular Army enlisted soldiers with separation dates that fell during their unit's deployment, and who did not re-enlist, were offered extension incentives of $350 or $500 per month to complete the deployment.

The same incentives are available now to short-timers who elect to stay with their unit during deployment rather than leave service under terms of the new involuntary separation program.

The revised program

Major features of the revised involuntary separation program are:

• Soldiers who will have at least six months remaining on their enlistment before their unit's latest arrival date in theater will deploy with the unit.

These soldiers will then return to home station at least 90 days before their ETS for processing and separation on the ETS date.

• Soldiers who will have less than six months remaining in service on their unit's arrival in theater will not deploy.

These soldiers will be involuntarily separated up to 12 months before their ETS in three phases as follows:

Phase I: Soldiers whose unit arrival dates in theater are on or before Jan. 31, 2013, will have their ETS advanced 90 days by Human Resources Command.

As an exception to this policy, brigade-level commanders may approve an additional 90-day adjustment, for a total of 180 days, provided the soldier is given at least 90 days for transition briefings and processing.

Phase II: Soldiers whose unit arrival dates are Feb. 1 to May 31, 2013, will have their ETS moved forward by 270 days (nine months).

Not all soldiers will separate nine months early, as ETS dates will be adjusted to fall as close as possible to 90 days before a soldier's unit arrives in theater.

Phase III: Soldiers whose unit arrival dates are on or after June 1, 2013, will have their ETS moved forward by 365 days (12 months).

Not all soldiers will separate one year early. ETS dates will be adjusted to fall as close as possible to 180 days before a soldier's unit arrives in theater.

Commanders with special court-martial convening authority, typically brigade commanders, may disapprove the involuntary separation of soldiers for compassionate reasons or operational necessity.

In such cases, the soldiers will be scheduled to leave service on the contracted ETS date.

Soldiers whose ETS dates have been adjusted, and who face involuntary separation, may request to re-enlist or extend.

Such requests must be submitted through channels to the commander exercising special courts-martial convening authority.

If the re-up request is approved, the soldier's ETS will revert to the contracted date and will be removed upon re-enlistment or extension.

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