Reserve Retention NCO Educates Soldiers on Benefits
By Spc. Petersi Liu, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait, Sept. 30, 2003 When service members near the end of their enlistment term must decide whether to stay in service, an understanding of entitlements and benefits can prevent a hasty decision.
Master Sgt. Bruce George, senior retention counselor in the Iraqi theater, explains his entitlements and benefits briefing handout to Sgt. Abraham Peden, supply sergeant of 3rd Army Support Battalion. Photo by Spc. Petersi Liu, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
All soldiers are responsible for keeping their own records, auditing their retirement-point statements annually, and ensuring credit is awarded for accomplishments, said George. Many soldiers attending his briefings on entitlements and benefits are amazed, he said, when he shows reservists how easy it is to both maximize their potential retirement points and gain promotion points.
"From $1 million to $3 million in retirement pay is possible," he said.
George takes a logical, step-by-step approach in helping soldiers understand how to calculate their projected retirement earnings.
"From a 20-year retirement to a 31-year retirement, the difference in enlisted retirement pay is substantial," he said as he showed one audience how their potential retirement paychecks are calculated. He explained how retirement points, promotions and longevity combine to enhance their retirement checks the longer soldiers remain in the fold.
In a typical presentation, George illustrates the financial benefit of staying for 31 years of service, as opposed to 20 years, before transferring to retired Reserve status. Usually, the additional 11 years for enlisted soldiers more than doubles their expected retirement checks, both in today's dollars and in dollars adjusted for expected inflation up to age 60, when retirement pay begins for reservists.
In addition to helping reservists understand the maximum potential of their standard benefits, George makes sure they know about specific benefits available to some soldiers. For example, an affiliation bonus entitlement of $50 per month is available for soldiers joining the Reserves after serving on active duty for more than two years and subsequently joining a troop program unit during the first eight-year commitment.
These entitlements and others are not automatic -- they require the soldier to understand the benefit, file a claim for it and follow the right procedures, George said.
Soldiers are entitled to various training and educational opportunities but they must initiate those processes as well, George said. Those opportunities include Professional Leadership Developmental Course, Basic Noncommissioned Officer Course, Advanced Noncommissioned Officer Course, free college online, and Army Knowledge Online access to both Army Correspondence Subcourse Program and SmartForce computer educational courses, he explained.
Soldiers need to remember to file their applications at the appropriate time to receive their entitlements and benefits from the Student Loan Repayment Program, the Montgomery GI Bill and the Tuition Assistance Program, he said. It is essential that when filing the documents for any of these programs that soldiers use a transmittal manifest, Department of the Army Form 200, he added, to avoid a challenge on whether they met the deadline, he added.
"A lot of soldiers fail to realize that tuition assistance benefits (can) be used in conjunction with the Montgomery GI Bill to pay for the same courses," George said. "This could result in (soldiers) profiting from going to college by using all their benefits and entitlements."
Directly related to educational opportunities are opportunities for career advancement into warrant officer fields, direct commissioning with a four-year degree, or an Active Guard or Reserve position, George said. Requirements for each field are listed on Army Knowledge Online, along with the packet of information required to submit an application for each. Local Active Guard and Reserve Force retention NCOs will assist with preparing packets if asked, he added.
"There are Army correspondence courses where you can get a system engineers certificate for free online, but you must take the time to explore and find the courses," he said, citing one example of online opportunities.
As part of his strategy to ensure that no soldier is left behind on learning about all these benefits and entitlements, George asks all soldiers who receive his developmental counseling form to inform at least three other soldiers about military benefits.
"I believe in working smarter, not harder," said George. "All soldiers who learn about their benefits will spread the message for me."
The retention NCO and career counselor said his message is the same for all soldiers when discussing whether they should continue their affiliation with an Army Reserve unit.
"You do not have to stay in service," he said he tells the soldiers. "Merely understand all that you are walking away from if you choose to leave. I'll be honest with you and tell you about all the benefits available to you. It remains your choice to stay in."
(Spc. Petersi Liu is assigned to Coalition Forces Land Component Command public affairs.)