In return for their honorable service, United States' servicemembers (regardless of their branch of military service or affiliation) are afforded the opportunity to earn military pension benefits long after they retire from the military service. While some military members may simply choose to serve and fulfill an initial enlistment contract obligation, with absolutely no intent to "re-up" (re-enlist), it is the pursuit of these benefits that oftentimes provides a great incentivized motivator for servicemembers to stay in the military for as long as 20, or even 40 or more, years. Because of their highly lucrative nature, in accordance with a servicemembers base pay and time in service, military retirement pension benefits certainly fulfill a great roll in military personnel retention, as well.

For a servicemember who is toying with the idea of actually making the military a career, fully understanding these authorized military pension benefits, and how they work in conjunction with current available systems, can actually serve to be a determining factor behind your continued service. Bear in mind, however, before I continue with this Info Barrel article, that there are inherent differences between the way military retirement pension benefits work between active duty United States' military personnel and reserve component military personnel (National Guard and Reservists, regardless of the branch of service). Because national guard and reserve service members aren't actually on full-time active duty status, but rather a drilling status (unless deployed or mobilized for a state emergency), throughout their career, their military retirement pension benefit elgibility does not begin until they are at least 60 years old. (Their qualification for military retirement pension benefits take into consideration both their current age and the time they have in service.)

(NOTE: Because of the increasing global demands placed on the national guard and reserve components, as a result of the horrendous events of September 11th, 2001, early 2008 brought about a law that served to satisfy a military reserve component that has quickly become akin to a full-time active duty force. With many reserve and national guardsmen having either completed a tour of duty deployment overseas, or having been mobilized in support of a national emergency, either of these two criteria (under the new law), will qualify them to draw retirement pension benefits before the age of 60. Two caveats to this situation are that they must have at least 20 years of service already, and, they only qualify if they have been deployed or mobilized on or after January 28th, 2008. Unfortunately, with many reserve and national guard military personnel having served numerous tours of duty, in a Post-9/11 world, long before 2008, they will have served overseas but, under this law, still not qualify for this program.

A major criticism of this law is that a reservist or national guard component servicemember could have theoretically served a year overseas tour for every year between 2001 and 2008, and still not qualify to draw military retirement pension benefits until after they achieve the age of 60. While natural cycling and rotation of units would make it highly unlikely that a reserve or national guard servicemember would serve 7 or 8 consecutive overseas tours, many have done at least 2 or 3 tours in that time frame. On the inverse, in late 2008, a new private may have been mobilized for federal active duty in response to a national emergency that only required a week of unit activation, and that private would quality, under the new law, to draw military retirement pension benefits before the age of 60.)

In stark contrast to the reserve and national guard components, for their full-time service, all active duty personnel will be eligible to receive pension benefits after 20 and 40 years of service.

It has been argued that the United States' government offers its military servicemembers one of the best retirement deals around, in comparison to other military powers throughout the world. As you continue to read this Info Barrel article, you will learn about just how much military retirement pension pay benefits have changed over the last few decades, as well as, which military pension system you will ultimately fall under. While the current formula to calculate your military pension is inherently complex, it is important to note that the two major determining factors involve knowing your authorized base pay, as well as, your length of service time in years. Regardless of your service branch affiliation, it is these two components that will come in to play when determining just how much your military pension benefits will be, in relation to the system that you fall under.

While the systems governing military pension benefits have certainly evolved over the years, the year you entered the service (DIEMS: the Date of Initial Entry into Military Service) will also be a vital component when determining which military retirement pay pension system you ultimately fall under.

If a military servicemember entered any branch of the service:

  • Before September 1980, they will be eligible for the Final Pay retirement pension benefit system.
  • Between September 8th, 1980 and August 1986, they will be eligible for the High 36 system.
  • After August 1986, they are eligible to choose between either the High 36 retirement pension benefit system, or the Career Status Bonus/REDUX (CSB) retirement pension benefit system. If the servicemember, in question, declines to make a choice between either system, they will automatically receive the High 36 retirement plan as a default. In this case, it is important that you fully understand both systems and the implications of choosing either.

As mentioned previously, for national guard and reserve component servicemembers, you must reach the age of 60 (with 20 years or more service) before you can begin drawing military retirement pension benefits. Once this occurs, national guard and reserve servicemembers will fall in-line with either the final pay retirement system, or the high 36 retirement system, which essentially parrallels the way these systems work on the active duty side of the house. When determining which exact military pension retirement system a national guard or reserve component servicemember falls under, because these systems parrallel each other, you have only to look at the same criteria for active duty.