About 160 Army officers pegged to be forced out of the service with reduced benefits will now be allowed to remain on active duty or retire with full benefits after an Army review found numerous officers were unfairly targeted.
“Under the criteria for officer separations, these soldiers should not have been considered,” Secretary of the Army John McHugh said in a statement issued Thursday. “This is an issue of fundamental fairness, and today we have taken appropriate action.”
As the Army works to reduce its overall end strength and officer corps, it conducted a review of 19,000 potential candidates for separation and early retirement boards. However, during that review only an officer’s commissioned service was taken into account, which put troops with enlisted service at a disadvantage.
As a result, 44 officers with prior enlisted service were selected for early retirement even though they did not meet the minimum commissioned service threshold, the Army said. Those separations have been voided and the officers now have the option of remaining in the Army until they have completed the necessary years of service to retire as an officer.
“These soldiers have served their country honorably both as enlisted soldiers, and now, as officers,” McHugh said. “We owe them nothing less.”
In addition, McHugh waived the eight-year requirement to allow another 120 soldiers reviewed by separation boards to retire as officers upon their mandatory retirement date.
“Once again, this is about doing what’s right, and taking care of our men and women in uniform,” McHugh said.
Many of the former enlisted soldiers transitioned to the officer corps during the war in Iraq, when the Army faced a growing demand for experienced junior officers.
The Army’s decision to restore the benefits came after a congressional inquiry into the matter, which found that the Army’s plan would have cost a soldier $1,000 a month, or $1 million over a 40-year retirement, in the case of a captain forced to retire as a sergeant first class.
“To demote these soldiers in retirement is an injustice that devalues their service and will materially disadvantage them and their families for the rest of their lives,” wrote a bipartisan group of senators in a November letter to McHugh. “We strongly urge you to take the necessary steps to rectify this situation in order to allow these soldiers to retire at the rank they have earned and appropriately honor their service to our nation.”
“We appreciate that this oversight was brought to our attention, and glad we were able to take corrective action in the best interests of these soldiers,” McHugh said.
With the Pentagon facing steep budget cuts, the Army plans to decrease its active-duty end strength from a high of 570,000 during the peak of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to 450,000 by 2019. If sequestration — a congressionally mandated series of cuts over several years — is not repealed in the meantime, the Army will likely be forced to cut down to 420,000 troops.