My Story of 11 September 2001

I just posted this comment on The Survival Podcast.  I thought you would like to read it, too.

**********

I’m a bit behind in listening to the podcast so I’m a little late in posting this reply.  Here is what I was doing at the time the planes hit the World Trade Center.  While it’s just the minor efforts of an office worker (more direct action came later), it was significant for me.

I was an Army enlisted guy working at a joint operations unit at an air base in Georgia.  I had just finished my morning run, showered, and had put on my usual work uniform (at the time, it was the class B uniform).  I was walking through the little cubicle farm when I saw two Air Force officers hanging and chatting around the television we had in the center of our area.  They didn’t seem tense at the time, just interested in what was happening.

Out of curiosity, I strolled over to them and listened in on their conversation while glancing occasionally at the TV.  The officers were talking as if it had been an accident so there wasn’t much concern.  Only minutes later, we saw the second plane hit.  We all were startled by this, obviously.  We all realized the impact of this without a word passing between us.  In fact, I had not said a word at this point.

Still silent, I sighed and walked away from the television as the officers remained fixed to its screen.  I walked over to the entrance to our emergency operations center (EOC).  All of the computer work stations s had been disassembled for maintenance the day before and the components were still piled on the floor (the computers were still intact, but they were not connected to the other peripheries).  I knew we were going to need those computers very soon.  The EOC was going to be activated.

*****
Pardon me.  I had to step away from the computer for a moment.  I had lit a cigar (yes, at eight thirty in the morning) as a way to try settling myself down in order to write this narrative.  It only partially helped.  Memories of the day and events afterward (the faces of friends I lost later among other things) came flooding back and I broke out into major sweats and nausea.  I had to put out the cigar, step away, and sit in front of a fan for a while.  Eventually, I had to pray to the porcelain god.  I’ll continue now.
*****

Still clutching my gym bag, I went back to the shower room and changed back into my sweaty gym clothes.  They would be more appropriate for the work I was about to do.  I then returned to the EOC, turned on one of its televisions (it was already on a news channel; I think it was CNN. People were jumping from the windows of the Trade Center at the time), and began reassembling workstations.

The Pentagon was struck as I worked.  A thought flashed in my mind but did not yet have enough substance to really stick.  I had friends working there and couldn’t really think straight at the time.  I wondered if they were okay.

I had finished about half of the stations when I had to stop and stare fixedly at the TV.  The first tower had started to collapse.  I remember standing in the middle of the room, frozen stiff, as I watched it fall.  “This is a Clancy novel,” I thought to myself, remembering the events from ‘Debt of Honor’ which I had read years ago.  “Can this really be happening?”  Only minutes later, reports of the fourth plane crashing in Pennsylvania came onscreen.  I recovered from my paralysis, hung my head, and continued working.

I  was almost through with one workstation and had two stations remaining when my boss, an Army lieutenant colonel, and his non-commissioned officer in charge, an Army master sergeant, came into the EOC.  We all watched quietly as the second tower fell.  After we caught our breaths, the colonel said there was some classified message traffic which needed to be picked up and asked if I would drive to Atlanta to receive it (my security clearance was high enough to do so at the time).  I recall glancing at my unfinished task and saying I would do it.  The sergeant said he would finish reassembling the computers for me.  I nodded and left the EOC.

I grabbed my bag from my desk and changed one more time.  I picked up the key to our government car and stepped outside.  The entire base had changed in only two hours.  The base had been quite lax during the two years I had worked there.  You could almost say it was a civilian complex.  There had been civilian security at the gates – more of a formality, really – and everything had been laid back.  As I exited the building into the morning sunlight, I saw Air Force security police (SP) patrolling the base’s roads in HMWWVs with light machine guns mounted on them.  The main gate was now manned by the SPs, as well.  In a moment of dark humor, I thought, “The Air Force has remembered that it is part of the military again.”

I got into the car and drove away.  Of course, I had the radio tuned to a news station as I traveled.  I had been going for about ten minutes when the station gave an update on the day’s event and then, contrary to its usual format, began to play a song.  This song, which I had heard before, but in which I had never placed a great deal of significance, was ‘One Voice’ by Billy Gilman, a child country singer.  I think he was about twelve at the time.  Listening to the boy’s voice I as I drove, I finally felt the crushing weight of the day so far.  My eyes welled up and tears began to flow.  I don’t even remember the rest of the drive to my destination.

The remainder of the day was a blur.  I cannot recall much more than picking up the message traffic and eventually making my way back to the EOC.  I don’t think I even stopped for lunch.  Being Atlanta, the return trip took a significant amount of time.  The workday would actually end minutes after I delivered the messages to my boss.  I returned to my residence (at the time, a rented bedroom a few miles away) in a daze.  After firing off a quick email to my friend at the Pentagon (he turned out to be fine but I did learn his father had spent hours digging through rubble looking for his wife…who also turned out to be unharmed), I spent the rest of the evening staring at my television without really comprehending what I saw and heard until much later.

The next day as I entered the front gate on the way back to work, I remember being met by half a dozen SPs and seeing a machine gun nest about twenty meters from the gate.  The camouflage netting obscured what I knew was behind it.  I was sure there was an alert SP behind an M-60 or M-249 with his sights centered on my face.  Obviously, all of my movements were slow and deliberate so as not to give him a reason to pull the trigger.

That was my day.  Two weeks later, I was transferred to mechanized infantry battalion and eventually to my original unit, an armor battalion.  We mobilized in 2004 and went to Iraq for a year.  I then volunteered for another immediate deployment with a long-range surveillance company.  Memories from those trips overseas will remain with me forever.  I did nothing truly significant myself, but I know several great men who did…some of whom never returned.  It was a privilege to serve with them and, on August 15th of every year (the day four of them died), I lift a glass in their honor.

To the TSP community, I hope there is some meaning which you can take form this tale which will be of some small benefit to you.  Thank you, Jack, for this opportunity to tell this simple story.

DJ


Thrift Savings Plan Board Approves Five-Year Lifecycle Fund Increments by Erich Wagner (govexec.com)

The panel that oversees the retirement savings plan for federal employees on Wednesday unanimously approved offering lifecycle funds targeted to within five years of participants’ expected retirement date rather than the current 10-year increments.

A report on the TSP’s investment options by consultants at Aon Hewitt recommended following a trend in private 401(k) providers to offer lifecycle funds – which move investors to a more conservative portfolio as they near their anticipated retirement date — on a five-year basis.

“Most have been moving to five-year increments,” Bill Ryan, a partner at the firm, told the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board. “It helps bridge the gap for participants, and it’s easier to figure out where to place someone based on their age.”

The TSP will implement the new L Fund increments in 2020.

Aon Hewitt also recommended that the TSP’s I Fund, which is made up of international stocks and bonds, be diversified to include stocks in Canada, emerging markets, and international small-cap markets.

“These are large markets to which we have no exposure,” Ryan said. “By adding these, we would improve the risk portfolio for participants, as well as improve outcomes on a forward-looking basis.”

The board during its monthly meeting approved further examination of expanding the I Fund’s portfolio, which Sean McCaffrey, deputy chief investment officer for the FRTIB, said could be done by this fall.

“We want everyone to be fully comfortable with what we’re getting into,” he said. “We’ve got a little more studying to do just to be prudent.”

“We must be thoughtful about this because of the different risks associated with various markets,” said board chairman Michael Kennedy.

Elsewhere on the agenda, TSP officials briefed the board on their progress with preparing for the onset of the blended retirement system for the military, which is scheduled to come online in January. Under the system, new troops would automatically be enrolled in the TSP and receive a matching contribution from the government. The government will contribute between 1 percent and 5 percent of service members’ salaries toward their TSPs, depending on what they elect to contribute themselves, though they will be defaulted into contributing 3 percent of their paychecks. The TSP account will begin 60 days into their service. Those who stay in the military for 20 years, and are thereby entitled to a retirement pension, would receive a less generous calculation for their annuity.

The new blended retirement system only automatically affects new service members starting Jan. 1, 2018. Current service members are grandfathered into the existing system, but can opt into the new one. The online opt-in website for service members launched in April, and more than 163,000 people have already signed up online. Tom Emswiler, a senior adviser for uniformed services at TSP, said more have signed up through offline training events.

Emswiler said testing of the TSP and military services’ payroll systems will commence next month, and beginning June 6 the Defense Department website will offer an online calculator for service members to determine whether to opt in to the blended system or stay with their current pension plan. They will have all of 2018 to make that decision.

TSP project manager Tanner Nohe said the agency is working to increase its IT and call center capacity to deal with the influx of new enrollees in time for the automatic enrollment system to come online.


May 31, 2017

http://www.govexec.com/pay-benefits/pay-benefits-watch/2017/05/thrift-savings-plan-board-approves-five-year-lifecycle-fund-increments/138303/


Agencies Reveal More Info on Military Blended Retirement Plan – by Erich Wagner (govexec.com)

Federal agencies released new information this week to help current military service members decide whether to opt into the new blended retirement program, which is slated to come online next year.

Service members with fewer than 12 years in the military by the end of this year must choose by the end of 2018 whether to stay with the current military retirement system, or move into the blended system. Officials with the Thrift Savings Plan, the government’s 401(k)-style retirement plan for federal employees, posted a fact sheet and video explaining the new system.

Under the new system, new troops would automatically be enrolled in the TSP and receive a matching contribution from the government—between 1 and 5 percent of their salaries, depending on what they choose to contribute themselves. The default is 3 percent of their paychecks, and the TSP account will begin 60 days into their service.

Those who stay in the military for 20 years, entitling them to a retirement pension, would receive a less generous calculation for their annuity.

TSP’s fact sheet spells out how the current military retirement system works, as well as how changing to the blended system would affect one’s defined benefit payments after 20 years of service. The two biggest factors in deciding between the systems, officials said, are whether a service member plans to stay a full 20 years to qualify for the defined benefit portion of the blended option, and how long one would be able to contribute through the TSP.

“How many years of making contributions and receiving service contributions will I have before retirement?” TSP officials wrote. “Is it likely that these contributions and their earnings—along with any benefit I might get from continuation pay or the lump sum option—will ultimately outweigh the amount I’d be giving up as a result of the reduced monthly annuity?”

To help answer to those questions, the Defense Department has launched an online calculator where service members can learn whether the current retirement system or the blended system is the better option financially.

Troops can plug in their age; when they began their military service and at what pay-grade; and when they plan to retire, as well as how much they would hypothetically contribute to the TSP, and the website will lay out how much they would earn under each retirement program option for easy comparison.

“We have designed an all-in-one calculator that is intuitive to use and takes into account the unique financial situations of our active duty, National Guard and Reserve service members,” said Tony Kurta, acting undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness. “The calculator presents to service members the information needed to make an effective comparison. The calculator will provide service members the ability to compare estimated benefits between their current retirement plan and BRS prior to making this important decision.”

TSP officials reported last week that more than 163,000 people have already signed up online for the blended retirement system.


June 7, 2017

http://www.govexec.com/pay-benefits/2017/06/agencies-reveal-more-info-military-blended-retirement-plan/138494/

 


The Thrift Savings Plan Under the Blended Retirement System

How will the Thrift Savings Plan change under the Blended Retirement System?  In my article, “An Introduction to the Thrift Savings Plan,” I described the basics of how TSP works.  There is a significant difference between the plan under BRS and how it works for service members right now.

 

As you have already learned, there are no matching funds for contributions you make to the plan.  Under the Blended Retirement System, this will change and a total of up to 5% of base pay will be added to the contributions you make.

 

How does this work?  Well, if you are already a serving member and have at least two years of service, you will begin receiving an automatic 1% contribution to your TSP account if you switch to BRS.  The first 3% of base pay you contribute will be matched dollar for dollar.  After that, the next 2% of money you contribute will be matched at 50¢ per dollar.  The 1% automatic contribution plus the 100% match on the first 3% of your money plus the 50% match on the next 2% of your money equals a 5% total match.

 

These matching funds have a nice effect on your total investment.  That effect is an automatic 100% return on your investment.

 

For a visual representation of what I just described, see the BRS infographic I have posted in the description below.  There is an active and reserve component version of this graphic.

 

The 1% contribution will begin immediately for service members who switch to BRS.  It will begin after sixty days for new members.  The matching funds will begin once a member reaches two years of service.

 

I mentioned in my previous article that there are two version of the TSP, traditional and Roth.  Traditional contributions are not taxed now but are taxed when you withdraw the funds and their earnings at age fifty-nine and a half.  Roth contributions are taxed now but are not taxed when you withdraw the funds and their earnings at age fifty-nine and a half.  All matching funds go into a traditional account.  Your contributions can go to either or both of the two.

 

There will be a vesting requirement in order to keep the matching funds.  Vesting simply means your ability to keep that money (by that I mean the matching funds only, not your money).  If you have at least two years of service, you will be fully vested as soon as you switch to BRS.  If you have less than two years, you will be vested once you hit the two-year mark.

 

D.J, are the matching funds based on the active duty pay scale or my drill pay?

The matching funds are based on whatever amount of money you have earned for a particular month.  If you’re on a short tour of active duty, are drilling, or on annual training, your matching funds will be based on that amount of money.  The match will not be based a full month of base pay unless you have earned that much for the month.

 

Are matching funds also added if I contribute bonuses or incentive pay to the TSP?

No, the matching funds are based on your base pay only.  Don’t let this fact prevent you from contributing those funds to the plan if that is what you wish to do.

 

If I receive the career continuation bonus, can I contribute that to the TSP?

Yes, you can contribute all or a portion of that payment to the TSP.  It is also possible to receive career pay in four annual installments.  This means if you want to contribute as much of the continuation pay as possible and you are receiving more than the $18,000 per year limit then you can break up the payments and either pay less in taxes or be able to contribute more to the TSP.

 

You can set your preferences for what percentage of base pay, bonuses, and incentive pay you would like to go to the TSP through the MyPay website or through the Coast Guard Pay Portal. You can then manage how the money is spread across the various funds within TSP at the TSP website.  There are links to all of these sites in the description below.

 

Last month, I posted an announcement for a webinar which would describe some of the workings of TSP under the BRS.  I have not found the recording of that webinar on MilitaryOneSource.  I do however have a copy of the slides they used.  I have posted them to my website and include a link in the references below.  It is called “TSP Under the Blended Retirement System.”

 

Next week, I will talk about some of the other effects of the Blended Retirement System.

 

Thanks for joining me today and, of course, thank you for your service.

 

D.J.

 

References:
The Uniformed Services Blended Retirement System
DOD Implementation of the Blended Retirement System
RS Implementation Timeline
Are You Opt-In Ready?
BRS Infographic – Active Component
BRS Infographic – Reserve Component
Value of a Retirement Point Chart for 2017 (Legacy System)
Value of a Retirement Point Chart for 2017 (Blended Retirement System)
TSP Under the Blended Retirement System
Global Pay Self Service (Coast Guard)
MyPay
Thrift Savings Plan Website

Related YouTube Episodes:
What is the Blended Retirement System?
What Will the Blended Retirement System Do to My Pension?
Myths About the Blended Retirement System
Career Continuation Pay Under the Blended Retirement Plan
An Introduction to the Thrift Savings Plan
Let’s Talk About the Funds in the Thrift Savings Plan – Part 1
Let’s Talk About the Funds in the Thrift Savings Plan – Part 2

Related Podcast Episodes:
What is the Blended Retirement System?
What Will the Blended Retirement System Do to My Pension?
Myths About the Blended Retirement System
Career Continuation Pay Under the Blended Retirement Plan
An Introduction to the Thrift Savings Plan
Let’s Talk About the Funds in the Thrift Savings Plan – Part 1
Let’s Talk About the Funds in the Thrift Savings Plan – Part 2

Related Articles:
What is the Blended Retirement System?
What Will the Blended Retirement System Do to My Pension?
Myths About the Blended Retirement System
Career Continuation Pay Under the Blended Retirement Plan
An Introduction to the Thrift Savings Plan


Podcast Episode 0018 – The Thrift Savings Plan Under the Blended Retirement System

 

References:
The Uniformed Services Blended Retirement System
DOD Implementation of the Blended Retirement System
RS Implementation Timeline
Are You Opt-In Ready?
BRS Infographic – Active Component
BRS Infographic – Reserve Component
Value of a Retirement Point Chart for 2017 (Legacy System)
Value of a Retirement Point Chart for 2017 (Blended Retirement System)
TSP Under the Blended Retirement System
Global Pay Self Service (Coast Guard)
MyPay
Thrift Savings Plan Website

Related YouTube Episodes:
What is the Blended Retirement System?
What Will the Blended Retirement System Do to My Pension?
Myths About the Blended Retirement System
Career Continuation Pay Under the Blended Retirement Plan
An Introduction to the Thrift Savings Plan
Let’s Talk About the Funds in the Thrift Savings Plan – Part 1
Let’s Talk About the Funds in the Thrift Savings Plan – Part 2

Related Podcast Episodes:
What is the Blended Retirement System?
What Will the Blended Retirement System Do to My Pension?
Myths About the Blended Retirement System
Career Continuation Pay Under the Blended Retirement Plan
An Introduction to the Thrift Savings Plan
Let’s Talk About the Funds in the Thrift Savings Plan – Part 1
Let’s Talk About the Funds in the Thrift Savings Plan – Part 2

Related Articles:
What is the Blended Retirement System?
What Will the Blended Retirement System Do to My Pension?
Myths About the Blended Retirement System
Career Continuation Pay Under the Blended Retirement Plan
An Introduction to the Thrift Savings Plan
Let’s Talk About the Funds in the Thrift Savings Plan – Part 1
Let’s Talk About the Funds in the Thrift Savings Plan – Part 2


YouTube Episode 0020 – The Thrift Savings Plan Under the Blended Retirement System

https://youtu.be/aIfkfxk_C9E

References:
The Uniformed Services Blended Retirement System
DOD Implementation of the Blended Retirement System
RS Implementation Timeline
Are You Opt-In Ready?
BRS Infographic – Active Component
BRS Infographic – Reserve Component
Value of a Retirement Point Chart for 2017 (Legacy System)
Value of a Retirement Point Chart for 2017 (Blended Retirement System)
TSP Under the Blended Retirement System
Global Pay Self Service (Coast Guard)
MyPay
Thrift Savings Plan Website

Related YouTube Episodes:
What is the Blended Retirement System?
What Will the Blended Retirement System Do to My Pension?
Myths About the Blended Retirement System
Career Continuation Pay Under the Blended Retirement Plan
An Introduction to the Thrift Savings Plan
Let’s Talk About the Funds in the Thrift Savings Plan – Part 1
Let’s Talk About the Funds in the Thrift Savings Plan – Part 2

Related Podcast Episodes:
What is the Blended Retirement System?
What Will the Blended Retirement System Do to My Pension?
Myths About the Blended Retirement System
Career Continuation Pay Under the Blended Retirement Plan
An Introduction to the Thrift Savings Plan
Let’s Talk About the Funds in the Thrift Savings Plan – Part 1
Let’s Talk About the Funds in the Thrift Savings Plan – Part 2

Related Articles:
What is the Blended Retirement System?
What Will the Blended Retirement System Do to My Pension?
Myths About the Blended Retirement System
Career Continuation Pay Under the Blended Retirement Plan
An Introduction to the Thrift Savings Plan


Podcast Episode 0015 – Myths About the Blended Retirement System


Let’s bust some myths about the Blended Retirement System.

References:
Myths About the New Military Retirement Plan

Related YouTube Episodes:
Episode 0014 – What is the Blended Retirement System?
Episode 0015 – Calculating Retired Pay Under the Blended Retirement Plan

Related Podcast Episodes:
Podcast Episode 0012 – What is the Blended Retirement System?
Podcast Episode 0013 – Calculating Retired Pay Under the Blended Retirement Plan