FORT McCOY, Wis. –
You’re standing in a room with 10 to 20 other people with a giant American flag in the front as well as the flags of every service of the military. Some guy in a uniform walks in and describes the position of attention and parade rest. He then brings all of you to attention and then parade rest and he walks off to the side. Someone else walks in and you notice he has shiny bars on his shoulders but you have no idea what that means ... yet. This new guy brings you to attention once again and you take your oath of enlistment. You may not realize it at that moment but you just started your journey toward retirement.
Even though your retirement may still, at least, be 20 years away, it’s never too early to begin preparing for it. Sadly, far too many Soldiers wait until the last minute to begin that process according to the retirement service officers. This is where the Retirement Service Office, or RSO, comes in to play.
“With the tier 3 system it was pretty cut and dry for active duty, you do your 20 years and you start getting your pension. With the Reserve and National Guard, it’s a bit different,” said Master Sgt. Michael Gallucci, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the 88th Readiness Division’s RSO.
Soldiers may not understand the retirement process or the choices at their disposal when it comes to retiring.
“Many Soldiers decide to retire as soon as they get their 20-year letter instead of going into the Retired Reserve because they’re afraid of getting called back to duty,” Gallucci said. “If you retired in 2002 and your base pay was $1,000 you’ll get 40 percent of that when you turn 60. But, say the base pay for your rank is now $2,000 a month. If you didn't go into the Retired Reserve you would only get 40 percent of your base pay in 2002. You would lose out on that extra pay.”
“Our main mission is to provide information, counseling and advice to those who are about to get their 20-year letter,” said Maj. Eline Moeolo-Tuitele, the officer in charge of the 88th RD RSO. “We try to reach out to the 18- to 20-year (service) population. We let them know they are about to get their 20-year letter and there are critical decisions that they’ll have to make. Human Resources Command will keep that paperwork on file for you when they come back to collect their pension. At that point that paperwork they did at their 20-year letter mark will have some merit. Soldiers will have to go off that decision they made, maybe 20 years ago, when they are at 60 years old trying to collect their money.”
There are questions that come with your 20-year letter that are vital for what happens to your money after you pass away. Does your spouse continue to receive your money? Are you divorced? If so, what does the divorce decree say? Does your ex get a portion of your retirement or not? There are questions that are essentially already answered for you if you have a divorce or something of that nature. Each situation is different, which is why the RSO is so vital. Yet the RSO was created just a few short years ago.
Before the RSO, Reserve and National Guard Soldiers didn’t have a program available to them to assist with their retirement. The RSO program began in 2011 to assist with the retirement process for the Reserve component. In 2020, the RSO officially became permanent and now every Readiness Division has an RSO. Before the RSO, the only option was going to an Active Duty S-1 and hope they do the research for you.
“It's fairly new, it's still growing. In my experience working in the field as an S-1, on an Active Duty installation, having Soldiers come to the S-1 shop to transition to retirement, they didn't have a retirement brief, they didn't have Soldier For Life available to them. If I sent them the transition center they would get turned away, because none of the information applied to them,” said Moeolo-Tuitele.
The Active Duty installations did not know how to handle Reserve Soldiers preparing for retirement and many Reserve retirees could miss out on vital and critical benefits they earned, explained Moelo-Tuitele.
Another main function of the RSO is the retirement training brief that they host. They have been virtual for most of the last year because of COVID-19 but they recently started hosting in person classes again. These classes are important for the soon-to-be retired Soldiers as well as their spouse. These classes contain a vast amount of information about how retirement works. “This was an excellent class with very knowledgeable instructors and extremely informative” says Sgt. 1st Class Bernard Gyan, from the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command, who recently participated in a retirement training brief.
Many Soldiers may not realize how many benefits are available to them when they retire. Many Soldiers might only think about their pension which is another vital reason for the training brief. “This brief was very informative. I really appreciated the step-by-step instructions for filling out the retirement paperwork. I also appreciated the Tricare representative who was present” said Lt. Col. Thad Conwell with the 97th Training Brigade, who also took part in the brief.
If you have questions or concerns about your retirement, you can stop by building 35 just outside of the main gate here or you can call them at 608-388-3716. However, it’s preferred that you e-mail them first so there is a record of your inquiry and they can quickly let you know what you need to bring so they can help you better. The e-mail is email@example.com