When the Army needs to downsize the force, one of the most effective tools is to allow more senior soldiers to retire before the 20-year mark.

It worked as the service went through a drawdown in the last five or six years, but now that troop levels are on an upswing, Army Secretary Mark Esper has canceled temporary early retirement authority and moved the threshold back to the traditional 20 years.

“...the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 increased Army end strength and we have ceased the drawdown,” Esper wrote in a Dec. 15 directive. “Therefore, I am terminating the use of TERA and ending the reduction in the minimum years of active commissioned service required for voluntary retirement.”

The directive rescinded the Army’s most recent TERA policy, which dropped the voluntary retirement mark down to 15 years, in 2016. Previously, former Army Secretary John McHugh had allowed officers to retire at as early as eight years, per a 2014 directive, at the height of the drawdown.

“With the end of the drawdown and establishment of End Strength Increase, it was no longer justifiable to continue the use of Temporary Early Retirement Authority,” G-1 spokesman Hank Minitrez said in a statement.

Soldiers who were banking on TERA do not need to fret, however. Those with 15 years in service have until Jan. 15 to submit a request to their chain of command.

“Commanders will expedite requests for TERA to the approval authority,” Esper wrote.

Similarly, soldiers who are waiting on 2017 promotion board results — and will be hitting a retention control point if they don’t move up — will have 30 calendar days from the publishing of the results to apply for TERA, as long as the results come out after Jan. 15.

All outstanding TERA requests must be approved by Feb. 28, and soldiers with approved TERA requests have until Sept. 1 to retire.

“It’s important to note that aside from four FY17 Officer Boards that have not yet been released, the January 15th deadline for Soldiers to apply is fast approaching,” Minitrez said.

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members. Follow on Twitter @Meghann_MT

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