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Changes clear way for active-duty retirees to join the Reserve

ROBINS AFB, Georgia -- Retirees from active duty can continue serving their country by joining the Air Force Reserve thanks to changes in the law and Air Force instructions.

Known by a variety of names, the ability for active-duty retirees to join the Reserve was made possible when Congress passed the 2001 National Defense Authorization Act. The act added a new section to Title 10 of the U.S. Code allowing the change. The Air Force changed Instruction 36-2005, Conditions That Make Applicants Ineligible for Appointment, to match the new law. Prior to the AFI change, active-duty retirees were ineligible to join the Reserve.

Maj. John Unger of the Directorate of Personnel, Office of Air Force Reserve in Washington, D.C., said the program bolsters the Reserve’s experience level and strengthens the force.

“It allows us to take advantage of a fully trained person, saving training dollars,” he said.

Since the change in law, at least 164 enlisted members and 124 officers who had previously retired have returned to service as members of the Air Force Reserve.

Authority for the accession of enlisted applicants comes from the chief of Air Force Reserve. Title 10, Major Unger said, mandates presidential appointment for officer applicants.

Officers retired for less than five years and enlisted Airmen retired for less than seven years are eligible to apply. Applicants must have earned a 20-year active-duty retirement and can only be brought in against a “valid” vacancy. Other requirements, including a physical, staffing levels, job qualifications and high-year-of-tenure, also apply.

Major Unger said the greatest challenge facing returning Airmen is the length of time it takes to process the paperwork.

“It can still take several months from the initial contact with the recruiter to final approval,” the major said. “The officers’ approval process, because of the routing through Air Force and DOD (Department of Defense) levels, can take even longer.”

Retirees who join the Reserve will receive two checks, according to Major Unger. One is their retirement pay; the other is their Reserve pay. For each day of participation in the Reserve, however, the DOD withholds one-thirtieth of one month’s retirement pay, the major said.

Once active-duty retirees join the Reserve, they participate the same as any other Reservist, the major said. They must meet participation requirements, they are eligible for mobilization or to volunteer for extended duty, and they are eligible for promotion.

While a promotion will not affect their active-duty retirement, Major Unger said, the change in law allows these “retired Reservists” at age 60 to forego their active-duty retirement and select an Air Force Reserve retirement.

“They could do this in order to afford themselves the opportunity to take advantage of increased retirement benefits due to their extended service and any increase in rank they may have gained,” the major said.

One thing participants are not allowed to do is receive both active-duty and Reserve retirement entitlements.

If serving full time, however, retirement pay is completely replaced by Reserve pay. The finance service pays the member the entire Reserve pay entitlement based on their particular category, the major said.

Major Unger said dozens of variables come into play when determining how applications are approved and how members get paid after being accepted into the Reserve.

Master Sgt. Al Eakle was the third enlisted person to join the Reserve after the law changed. He said the benefits of the program outweigh the potential pitfalls.

“The camaraderie I shared with Airmen over the years could not be beaten,” he said. “There’s also a real advantage when I reach 60 and request a Reserve retirement.”

Sergeant Eakle said the paperwork and process require patience. Before applying for the program, he recommends retirees “check with a Reserve unit and see if there are any vacancies.”

Sergeant Eakle said he had to deal with one pay issue. Retirement pay is doled out of the finance center in Cleveland, while Reserve pay comes from Denver.

“I was getting retired pay and Reserve pay at the same time. It caught up five months later with a lump-sum deduction from my retired pay,” he said.

Major Unger said every applying retiree’s circumstances are not the same, making each application different.

“Each retirement situation, as it relates to pay and eligibility, differs,” he said. “Therefore, interested applicants should call or visit their local recruiter and contact the Defense Finance and Accounting Service for more information.”

Information and various “return scenarios” are available online at http://www.afreserve.com/retiree_adaf.asp. The Reserve Recruiting Opportunity Center can be reached by calling toll free 800-295-4648.

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