First Lt. David Harris, an AV-8B Harrier replacement pilot with Marine Attack Training Squadron 203, conducts his preflight check aboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C. Pilots going before career designation boards enjoy the highest designation rate with about 95 percent given the opportunity to stay in uniform for at least 20 years. (LANCE CPL. CORY D. POLOM / MARINE CORPS)
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Career designation boards consider first lieutenants by career field. There are five: combat arms; combat service support; aviation support; law; and aviation. While overall career designation rates are expected to hover around 65 percent, designation rates for individual fields vary widely. Marine officials expect the following selection rates in each of the fields:
Combat arms 60 percent.
Combat service support 60 percent.
Aviation support 60 percent.
Aviation 95 percent.
Law 85 percent.
The Corps expects to end the careers of up to 40 percent of active-duty lieutenants after the first of this year's two career designation boards, scheduled to convene Jan. 31.
The board will offer the Corps' most squared-away lieutenants the opportunity to stay in uniform through retirement, according to Marine administrative message 649/12, signed Nov. 13. But about two in five may not be offered the chance to continue serving beyond their current contract, according to Manpower and Reserve Affairs officials at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.
Precisely how many lieutenants the board will actually consider or offer career designation is uncertain, however. Depending on the results of a pre-board analysis of the Corps' current needs, as few as 20 percent could be denied further service.
An analysis is conducted prior to every board based on the actual population in zone," according to Maj. Shawn Haney, a Manpower and Reserve Affairs spokeswoman. "Career designation will likely remain in the 60 [percent] to 80 percent range; this is the steady-state target. Even after the drawdown, we still plan to have career designation."
Pre-drawdown career designation rates averaged about 85 percent, but that figure took a nosedive as the drawdown, which aims to cut 20,000 personnel by 2017, got underway.
The second and final fiscal 2012 board selected about 68 percent of the lieutenants it considered, or 656 out of 965. When averaged with that year's first board, in which 62 percent were selected, an annual selection rate of 65 percent emerged.
"We expect the opportunity to be similar in fiscal '13," Haney said.
The second and final board for this fiscal year is slated in August, according to the MARADMIN.
Those eligible for a career designation board include all first lieutenants with at least 540 days of observable fitness report time in their current primary military occupational specialty.
Their initial opportunity before the board will come at the first board held after they are in zone for promotion to captain. In theory, they could receive two looks, depending on their end-of-active-service date.
All officers are guaranteed at least one look, however, and can apply for an extension of service if their EAS date comes too soon. Those who have already had a look by one board cannot apply for an extension.
Those who do not make the cut at either of this year's two boards may still be able to stay in uniform, however, by transferring to the Reserve, which has had a shortage of junior officers for the past several years.
"The Selected Marine Corps Reserve is actively seeking the service of company-grade officers in any military occupational specialty who want to remain affiliated with the Marine Corps upon transition from the active component," the MARADMIN reads. "Opportunities exist for platoon/company command, resident professional military education, congressional fellowships, and advanced or additional MOS training. Depending on MOS, officer affiliation bonuses may be available for transitioning officers."
Those who want to serve more than one weekend a month and two weeks a year could pursue a billet in the Active Reserve, where Marines continue to serve full-time by helping to run units while the rest of the members return to their civilian lives.
Those who join the AR can earn another chance at career designation. The clock resets, and after 540 days of observable fitness report time, they can go before an Active Reserve career designation board.
The AR uses an identical but separate career designation review process under which a Marine already rejected for career designation on active duty could, in theory, earn it in the AR.