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The popular 15-year retirement plan used in earlier drawdowns is back, but will be limited to noncommissioned officers and officers who are selected for involuntary separation.
The Temporary Early Retirement Authority allows select categories of soldiers with at least 15 but less than 20 years of active service to receive the same benefits as those who retire with 20 or more years of service, except that their retirement pay is reduced accordingly.
"We are going to be very careful on how we use TERA," Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, the Army G-1 and chief of personnel, told Army Times in a Sept. 9 interview.
The first applicants for this discretionary drawdown tool will be soldiers who are selected for involuntary separation under the Qualitative Service Program.
These will be soldiers with 15 to 18 years of service, Bromberg said.
"The first option we'll look at with these soldiers is MOS reclassification. If we can reclassify them, we will," he said.
QSP is a force-shaping tool that targets senior NCOs and staff sergeants for possible separation or retirement if they are in overstrength specialties, or specialties that are plagued by promotion stagnation.
Because QSP primarily is targeted at senior NCOs, many of the soldiers selected for separation will have at least 20 years of service, and will be eligible for normal retirement.
"If a soldier cannot be reclassified, and if he or she has 15 to 18 years of service, they will be offered the early retirement option," Bromberg said.
The Army anticipates few soldiers will qualify for TERA as a result of the QSP review that will be conducted by the Regular Army and Active Guard and Reserve (Army Reserve) master sergeant boards that convened Oct. 15.
These boards focused their QSP reviews on sergeants first class with dates of rank of Oct. 16, 2008, and earlier, and basic service dates of Oct. 16, 1987, and later.
For the military occupational specialties to be targeted by these boards, see the chart on this page.
QSP boards are held in conjunction with senior NCO promotion and command sergeant major selection boards.
Under a format adopted in August, QSP reviews for staff sergeants will be conducted by the sergeant first class promotion boards that meet in February, sergeants first class by the master sergeants boards that meet in October, and command sergeants major and sergeants major by the brigade and battalion CSM boards that meet in November.
Unlike the retirement benefits earned as a result of 20 years of service, TERA is a discretionary authority, not an entitlement.
Soldiers receive TERA benefits "as the result of not being selected (for retention) by the QSP board, not something they can request on their own," Bromberg said.
Soldiers can apply for a TERA retirement but only after they have been invited to do so because they were not selected to stay in.
"This is very intentional in the way this program is structured, and that's the way the secretary of the Army (John McHugh) wants it. TERA is not something you can volunteer for," Bromberg said.
No decisions on officers
While noting that this program could apply to certain categories of officers, Bromberg said no decisions have been made yet on drawdown programs for officers.
"We have to see what the force structure requirements will be before we make any decisions on that," he said.
Those decisions could be based in part on an ongoing study to determine whether certain O-4 positions in the force structure can be converted to O-3 slots.
This would have the practical effect of increasing requirements for the captain population, which is overstrength, while reducing requirements for the major population, which is understrength.
"We aren't even looking at officers for involuntary separation right now," Bromberg said. "We have at least another year before we may need an officer reduction."
The TERA option for officers, as authorized by McHugh in a Sept. 24 directive to major commands, would be limited to branch officers and warrant officers who face involuntary separation because they are passed over for promotion.
Such officers would have at least 15 but less than 20 years of active service.
As directed by McHugh, the TERA option will not be available to soldiers who:
• Have less than 15 years of active service.
• Were previously separated under the Voluntary Separation Incentive, Special Separation Benefit or Voluntary Separation Pay programs.
• Are under evaluation for a disability retirement under the provisions of federal law (Title 10 USC, Chapter 61).
Impact on benefits
Soldiers approved for TERA who previously requested transfer of Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to dependents are entitled to maintain transferred benefits without a further service obligation, according to a TERA implementing instruction from the Office of the G-1.
"If a soldier had not previously transferred Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, they no longer are eligible to transfer them," according to the instruction in ALARACT message 281/2012, dated Oct. 9.
The TERA law was reinstated by Congress last year as part of the fiscal 2012 Defense Authorization Act.
The law remains in effect until Dec. 31, 2018, which is the projected end date for a drawdown that is expected to cut the size of the Army from 551,000 soldiers to at least 490,000.
Congress originally established TERA in 1993 as an incentive for the post-Cold War drawdown that saw the Army reduced from 770,000 soldiers to 490,000.
A Congressional Budget Office study of that drawdown shows that TERA generated 7,500 voluntary early retirements among field-grade officers from 1993 to 1996.
By 2000, more than 54,000 former officers and enlisted veterans were drawing TERA.