With about two months to go before eligible service members can opt into the new Blended Retirement System, less than half of these 1.6 million troops have completed the mandatory training, officials said.

About 43 percent of the service members eligible to choose the new retirement system have taken the required course, Defense Department spokesman Army Maj. Dave Eastburn said. The opt-in period starts Jan. 1, and eligible service members have all of 2018 to make their BRS decision.

“Our goal is to train eligible service members by Dec. 31, 2017, however DoD policy only requires the course be completed prior to the service member opting into BRS,” Eastburn said.

No one is automatically moved to the BRS, but some service members can choose to stay in the current system or jump to the new one:

  • Active-duty service members with fewer than 12 years of total service as of Dec. 31.
  • Reserve-component members with fewer than 4,320 retirement points as of Dec. 31, and in a paid status.
  • Anyone who has entered a service academy or has signed a service agreement as of Dec. 31.

Those with at least 12 years of service will stay with the old system; all service members who enter the military on or after Jan. 1 will be enrolled in the BRS.

During a family forum at the recent Association of the U.S. Army national conference, the Army Reserve’s command sergeant major expressed concern about reservists’ access to the mandatory BRS training.

“There are 174,000 Army reservists that can opt in, who have to have the training,” Command Sgt. Maj. Ted Copeland said. “The main system of record is [Joint Knowledge Online.] We understand in our world not all the soldiers have a [common access card] reader at home on their computer to get on JKO, so we’re doing more mass training in the classroom. ... We’re a little behind.”

His biggest concern wasn’t the pace, he said, but that troops don’t have extra help they need to make their decisions. He said he took the training, “and I’m still confused.”

Some financial counselors have been hired to staff some Reserve locations, he said.

“We know it’s a problem, and we’re working hard on it,” Copeland added. “It will be a really big life decision for our young 20-something-year-olds.”

National Guard and Reserve members can also complete the training online without CAC access, Eastburn said, through a non-CAC-enabled version available here. It takes about two hours to complete.

More resources are available at MilitaryOneSource.mil’s BRS information page and at Militarypay.defense.gov.

About 30,000 service members have completed the BRS mandatory opt-in course using this option, he said. After completing the course, the service member must turn in the training certificate to receive credit.

Defense officials have taken steps to help those who aren’t near a military installation with a personal financial counselor, Eastburn said. Units that don’t have access to a full-time financial counselor can request a personal financial counselor to provide BRS counseling and training at geographically dispersed locations for events such as drill weekends, yellow ribbon events and deployment events, he said.

DoD has deployed about 300 financial counselors across the country, including Guard and Reserve centers, Eastburn said. That’s in addition to the 475 personal financial managers that already provide education and counseling on bases in the U.S. and overseas.

If service members need more assistance, Military OneSource counselors can refer them to a local financial resource, Eastburn said.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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