New recruits at Marine Corps Recruit depots Parris Island, S.C., and San Diego will now get an initial brief on the GI Bill on the day they arrive. When they get to their company on the second day of training, they'll get a follow-on brief and make a decision about whether to opt in to the Montgomery GI Bill. (Lance Cpl. Aneshea Yee / Marine Corps)
MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — Drill instructors are changing the way they inform recruits about their GI Bill options to ensure all prospective Marines are given the same brief and the same amount of time to consider their choice for education benefits.
Marine Corps Times reported in early September that, in the first nine months of 2012, 90 percent of recruits across the armed services enrolled in the old Montgomery GI Bill, at a cost of $1,200 each, despite the fact that the Post-9/11 GI Bill is free and — in most cases — offers better benefits. And unlike the Montgomery plan, recruits don't need to opt in to be eligible for benefits.
But recruits aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., were far more likely than their counterparts at MCRD San Diego to decline enrollment in — or make no decision about — the Montgomery GI Bill.
Through Dec. 15, about 64 percent of Parris Island recruits opted out of the old Montgomery GI Bill program. But 97 percent of recruits in San Diego chose the Montgomery GI Bill. All but 414 of the more than 13,000 recruits who passed through the depot enrolled in the plan that cost them $100 per month during their first year of training.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill requires no contribution from troops and offers better benefits for most Marines who want to go to college. It provides a window five years longer in which to use the benefits than the original bill, includes money for books, tutors and testing, and — in some cases — even allows troops to transfer their benefits to dependents.
In September, a review board comprising about 30 officials from the two depots and Training and Education Command met aboard MCRD San Diego to examine curriculum differences between the two depots. One of their top priorities was to discuss how recruits are informed about their GI Bill options.
A member of that board, retired Maj. David Lance, who now serves as the training and education policy and doctrine manager here, said they found that the process for informing recruits about their GI Bill options needed to be streamlined.
"There were 19 total differences in the programs of instructions, and they resolved all 19 of those issues," he said. "Whatever one recruit depot was doing, the other depot would do the same thing."
For the GI Bill, he said that meant giving identical briefs and setting the same deadline for when recruits need to decide whether they will enroll in the Montgomery GI Bill, whether they were from Parris Island or San Diego.
"We're talking about civilians that are being integrated into the military, so there shouldn't be a big difference in how you look at recruits on the West Coast and how Parris Island looks at recruits on the East Coast," Lance said.
The law and Pentagon policy require recruits to make their GI Bill election within their first 14 days of basic training. The depots were counting that date differently, Lance said, so recruits were on a different timeline.
Those at Parris Island were briefed during receiving and then required to make their selection on training day two. But San Diego recruits got their initial brief early in training, then a follow-on brief on training day 14, when they were required to make their decision.
"Their rationale was that their schedule allowed them to squeeze in that extra brief, and it gave recruits more time to consider what their option might be," Lance said.
The review board decided that an official policy from TECOM was needed to clarify when the clock on that 14-day limit began ticking, Lance said. They found that recruits' travel time to the depots, as well as time in the receiving stage, should count. So they released an official policy Jan. 4 standardizing the process.
It went out to both depots and officially marked the guidelines by which all recruits will be required to select their GI Bill plan.
Now, soon after recruits stand on the yellow footprints during receiving, they'll get an initial brief on the GI Bill. Then when they get to the company, on training day two, they'll get a follow-on brief and make their election at that time.
"Receiving is really kind of a stressful period for recruits because their whole world was just turned upside down," Lance said. "So they give them time to transition to the training environment, where it's not necessarily less stressful but a different kind of stress, and they're now … a little bit more conditioned in the recruit environment."
Col. Sean Gibson, a TECOM spokesman, said that now that the policy has been streamlined, and since the depots see their highest number of recruits in the summer months, they expect the selection numbers at the depots to more closely mirror each other further into 2013.
Adjustments for DIs
Of course, whenever something changes for recruits, it means changes for the drill instructors who train them. Lance said the Corps looks at what the requirements are for recruits, then trains drill instructors accordingly.
"They will actually be trained and evaluated on their ability to provide that instruction before they get up on a platform or a locker box in the squad bay and provide that instruction," he said.
That means new drill instructors will learn the revised way to teach Marines at their schoolhouse. Existing DIs receive the instruction from a training package that the Recruit Training Regiment provides to battalions.
The GI Bill isn't the only area in which drill instructors will have to make adjustments, based on the board's findings. Because recruit training at both depots is so full, even 15-minute differences between programs of instruction at each of the depots were examined, Lance said.
As with the rest of the Marine Corps, sexual assault prevention and reporting is a focus of discussion in boot camp. For that to be added to an already tight schedule, something else needed to be taken out. The new training replaced what was a one-hour block of instruction on rape prevention training, Lance said.
"No increase in time and no other training was decreased to make time for SAPR," he said.
Another topic both depots agreed should be enhanced was absentee voter information, he added. Now recruits receive a presentation on the topic during the Core Beliefs Class, and the depots make sure each one receives absentee voter registration forms prior to graduation.