Army phases out its early retirement program to retain more troops

As the Army continues to move away from its plans to draw down its end strength, the service is phasing out its temporary early retirement program.

Starting Feb. 28, the Army will terminate its temporary early retirement authority (TERA), according to a Dec. 15, 2017, memo signed by Army Secretary Mark Esper.

“Since 2012, temporary early retirement authority has served as an effective tool for drawing down the Army’s end strength. However, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 increased Army end strength and we have ceased the drawdown. Therefore, I am terminating the use of TERA and ending the reduction in minimum years of active commissioned service required for voluntary retirement,” the memo stated.

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Soldiers who are eligible for TERA must have submitted their request by Jan. 15 to be considered for the last batch.

The TERA program was started in 2012 and let soldiers who served between 15 years and 20 years retire with full retirement entitlements.

The program was a tool to cast off soldiers as the Army tried to lower its end strength during the Obama administration.

The service was planning on going as low as 450,000 active-duty soldiers. Plans changed, however, after the Islamic State and other threats reared their heads.

Last year, the Army paused its drawdown and is now building its force back up to 483,500. Building the force to that level comes with its own challenges.

For 2018, Army Recruiting Command will need 80,000 active-duty recruits to stay on target.

Officials say they have never accessed that many soldiers in a single year without violating Defense Department policies, which set standards for new recruits’ educational levels, criminal histories, past drug use and other measures of “quality.”

Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, the commander of Army Recruiting Command, said the Army’s 1,400 nationwide recruiting centers managed to exceed the increased 2017 goal for the regular Army without violating those standards, though recruiting into the Army Reserve fell slightly short of the higher goal.

“And the one thing our leadership has been clear with us about is that we will continue to meet the DoD benchmarks in 2018. There’s a number of things we’re doing to make sure we do that,” Snow said in an interview. “For one, we’ve identified the resources we’ll need early on, so we’ve missioned the recruiting force for the higher numbers even though it’s not clear yet what Congress is going to support with appropriations.”

The Army is paying active-duty recruits an average of $12,700 in bonuses.

Bonuses will also be offered for new recruits who agree to join on a “quick ship” basis, beginning their service within four-to-six weeks from signing their contracts, rather than staying for a time in the Army’s delayed entry pool.

Snow said the Army was also retooling its marketing strategies both at a national and local level, mindful of the fact that only 3  in 10 Americans of enlistment age meet the military’s basic qualifications to serve, including less reliance on traditional techniques like mass media campaigns and prospecting for candidates via telephone, and more of a focus on targeted advertising, including through social media.

Read more from the DoD Personnel Notebook.