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Lateral moves can help during drawdown

Dec. 24, 2012 - 08:58AM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 24, 2012 - 08:58AM  |  
Lance Cpl. Alex Voultos, an intelligence specialist with Production and Analysis Support Company, 2nd Intelligence Battalion, provides security during training at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Manpower officials are encouraging re-enlistment eligible Marines to consider a lateral move to the 0211 military occupational specialty, one job that's in high demand.
Lance Cpl. Alex Voultos, an intelligence specialist with Production and Analysis Support Company, 2nd Intelligence Battalion, provides security during training at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Manpower officials are encouraging re-enlistment eligible Marines to consider a lateral move to the 0211 military occupational specialty, one job that's in high demand. (CPL. JAMES CLARK / MARINE CORPS)
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MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. Here's the hard truth for Marines hoping to re-enlist this fiscal year: About 75 percent of first-termers will be denied a second tour, and competition is similarly severe for staff noncommissioned officers looking to lock in a 20-year career and for senior enlisted Marines with ambitions of hanging around even longer.

With a drawdown of the active-duty force underway, making the cut in some military occupational specialties will prove tougher than in others, especially if Marines have even minor blemishes on their records. For that reason, the Corps is encouraging personnel to consider moving into other MOSs with plentiful vacancies.

Officials provided Marine Corps Times with a list of 20 fields where career-minded Marines will see the greatest opportunities to re-enlist this year and in several cases, they can take home sizable signing bonuses and see greater prospects for advancement. Many vacancies fall within chronically undermanned high-demand occupations such as intelligence and explosive ordnance disposal. Others, including reconnaissance and special operations, have comparatively high thresholds for acceptance and simply may not be for everyone.

But the Corps' lat-move hotlist also includes opportunities to work with the newest technology, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and in emerging fields such as cybersecurity. Did you know that corporals and sergeants who re-enlist as criminal investigators can pocket almost $30,000 in bonus cash?

And beyond the Corps' top 20, there are hundreds of vacancies within dozens of MOSs that officials need to fill. So if your career is in jeopardy, or you're looking for a change of pace, re-enlistment-eligible Marines should lat-move now.

Here's the lowdown on who would be wise to consider such a move and how the process works:

The basics. Every Marine, regardless of MOS or tenure, can consider a lateral move. The window to do so in fiscal 2013 opened Dec. 1. The fiscal year ends Sept. 30, but officials encourage those interested to act immediately.

Who should lat-move. In short, this is a good option for those in overmanned MOSs where competition is fierce, said Lt. Col. Rory Quinn, the head of Manpower and Reserve Affair's Enlisted Retention Section here.

In some jobs, competition is so severe that manpower officials receive more re-enlistment applications than they can grant the day re-enlistment opens Oct. 1. These MOSs are not only closed to lat moves most years, many Marines already in them get squeezed out.

"Some put in their packages July 1," Quinn said. "In fast-filling MOSs, on the first day of the [fiscal] year, we already have 40 packages for 20 spots."

However, Quinn stressed, "don't give up because your MOS fills quickly lat move."

Do something new. Other lat-move candidates include more seasoned Marines for whom the luster and excitement of their job has worn off.

Maybe you're a combat engineer who's looking for more of the "Jason Bourne" experience, Quinn said, alluding to the Hollywood action films that chronicle the high-speed experiences of a spy on the run. Or maybe you're an infantryman who has done a few deployments and is done kicking in doors. A job in intel might be more of a fit for you and for the Corps, he said.

Even if the average grunt does not realize it, time in the field makes him a valuable asset in other disciplines.

Make rank, cash in. For enlisted Marines hoping to serve 20 years or more, failure to pick up rank puts them at risk of hitting up-or-out service limits. But if they move to an undermanned field, their chances of being promoted can increase substantially, officials say. For example, the 6213 MOS fixed-wing aircraft mechanic for EA-6B Prowlers is closed to re-enlistment. But an aviation mechanic could consider making a lat move to the 6218 MOS, and support the new F-35 instead.

Money can be another motivator. Intel MOSs, for example, often come with some the Corps' most generous bonuses. A sergeant who re-enlists into the 0211 counterintelligence/human intelligence specialist MOS can take home nearly $70,000.

Even contract specialists can clear up to $15,000 in bonus cash.

Attention staff NCOs, senior enlisted Marines. First-term Marines fighting to be among the 25 percent who make it to a second term are, by no means, the only ones who should look at lat-move opportunities, Marine officials say.

Staff sergeants, gunnies and higher ranking subsequent-term Marines may not face the same boatspace caps that restrict the numbers who can stay in a given MOS after a first term, but competition for them never lets up. In fact, promotion opportunities have stagnated for senior enlisted Marines even top performers in overpopulated MOSs.

Have confidence. Yes, the Corps is shedding thousands of Marines a year as part of the drawdown, but officials say there will always be a place for top performers.

"If a Marine brings his A-game, I don't think a single one has been turned away," Quinn said.

Many don't seem to understand that, he said. During a recent tour of the fleet to encourage Marines to consider lat moves, Quinn saw even strong performers approach him meekly, convinced they are likely to get the boot.

"They are like ‘I'm a 300 PFTer, but if I sneeze, I might get kicked out,'" Quinn recalled, referring to those who possess a perfect score on the the Physical Fitness Test. "It is the opposite. If you are a 300 PFTer, that's indicative of discipline. That's indicative of proper planning, which probably translates to how you conduct a combat order."

Show initiative. It can be difficult for some Marines to self-assess, Quinn said. They may think they're mediocre, when in fact they might be assigned to one of the Corps' most squared-away units. These individuals have a good chance at a good career if they take the initiative to pursue a lat move, he said.

Your CO can weigh in. Increasingly, commanders are encouraging solid performers in overpopulated MOSs to pursue lat moves so the Corps can retain them in some capacity, even if in another job. Today, anywhere from 10 to 15 percent of lat moves are being influenced by Marine Corps Recruiting Command or Headquarters Marine Corps, Quinn said.

NJPs and other infractions. Marines with blemishes on their records, like a nonjudicial punishment, should at least try a lateral move as a potential career-saver provided they corrected the problem and are willing to fill a badly needed position. If a commander is willing to vouch for their reformation and job performance, even better. It isn't a guarantee, but a personal endorsement is one of the strongest factors that can help your career, Quinn said.

Think now about 2014. If you'll be re-enlistment-eligible in 2014, officials say you should start thinking about a lat move now. Talk to your career planner this spring to ensure your packet can be submitted in July.

Lat moves for 2014 don't open until Dec. 1, 2013, but for some high-demand/low-density jobs, officials may grant the move early. And even if they don't, you'll be way ahead of those who wait.

Keep your options open. Still undecided about your next career move? Although officials don't want Marines who plan on leaving the service to clog up the process with unnecessary applications, Marines struggling with whether to stay or go should not wait to apply, Quinn said.

If, for example, a Marine wants to stay in uniform but has an ill family member and feels obligated to leave the service to care for them, the Marine should still apply for a lat move. Should the circumstances change, and the sick family member recovers, it could be too late to put in a packet and reverse course.

No obligations. A common misconception is that if a Marine applies for a lat move and is selected, then he must accept the offer. That's not true. You can still decide not to re-enlist.

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