In reference to the possibility one of the Joint Chiefs might resign in protest of the slashing of the defense budget, Casey posed the following question.
I hate to ask a stupid question here, but how bad is resigning a specific position? Don’t you still get to keep your pension, etc, at your permanent rank? Or is it too hard to make ends meet on a Colonel’s retirement pay?
What if you resign your commission? If you’re (say) over 20 years in, do you still keep the base retirement benefit, or do you lose everything?
I, personally, would not turn down even a Major’s retirement package. :)
But seriously, are we talking descent into poverty here, or just a less-healthy retirement package?
The highest permanent rank in the US military is O-8, which, in the Army, is Major General. Promotions from 2nd Lieutenant to Major General are via promotion boards convened by the Secretary of the Army.
But promotion to the ranks of O-9 (Lieutenant General or LTG) and O-10 (General or GEN) are via appointment to a specific position, and subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.
An LTG or GEN holds their rank based on the position to which they are appointed. For instance, a Corps Commander is a an LTG by virtue of being appointed to that position, rather than being appointed a Corps Commander by virtue of being an LTG.
When there are no other assignments available to an LTG or GEN, he or she retires. As a normal matter, they are permitted to retire in grade for satisfactory service. There have been cases where generals have lost a star at retirement (for instance, former Vice Admiral Sestak was retired as a Rear Admiral), but it is pretty rare.
Officers, of all grades, are granted a commission by the President, and may, after fulfilling their service obligation, resign that commission. As a practical matter, I’ve never heard of any officer with over 20 years of service resigning their commission. Instead, they apply to retire from active duty. Retirement pay is, legally, a retainer for possible future recall to active duty. And it is not unheard of for retired officers to be recalled. GEN Schoomaker was recalled from retirement to serve as Chief of Staff of the Army for four years, before again returning to retirement.
So when we discuss the possibility of one of the Joint Chiefs resigning, what we’re really discussing is them resigning from their appointment to the position they hold, rather than their commission, per se. But as he would then not have an assignment fit for his grade, his only real option would be to be retired immediately. The question then becomes, would he be allowed to retire at his last grade, O-10?
It’s an interesting question. The Senate has to approve retirements in grade. Would a Democrat controlled Senate approve such a retirement, or would they punish what they see as political opposition to Obama by reducing the retirement grade to O-9, or even O-8? Of course, doing that would be seen as a partisan, political attack on the military, something the Democrats don’t particularly want.