1st Lt. Ashley Moore, Marine Barracks Washington assistant logistics officer, left, and Cpl. Ethon Daniels, a barracks motor transport operator, right, recite the Oath of Enlisment during a re-enlisment ceremony in August at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Cpl. Dengrier Baez/Marine Corps)
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MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, VA. — Attention first-term Marines: The Corps is fine-tuning its message about re-enlisting during the drawdown — and it’s good news for those who want to stay in uniform.
With the start of next year’s re-enlistment season just two months away, officials here with Manpower and Reserve Affairs are working to fill hundreds of billets that remain vacant for this year and lay the groundwork to prevent a similar predicament moving forward. The issue, they say, is that too many junior Marines incorrectly assume they don’t measure up and therefore don’t bother applying for re-enlistment when, in fact, there is broad opportunity for Marines — even some who’ve experienced physical, professional and, in some cases, personal or disciplinary setbacks.
Using a host of force-shaping measures and early-out incentives, the service is reducing its active-duty force by approximately 5,000 positions a year through 2016 as its authorized end strength falls from 202,100 to 182,100. It’s important to note, though, that it remains to be seen whether the federal budget crisis will dictate further, more aggressive manpower cuts, a possibility the commandant and other senior leaders readily acknowledge pending a resolution in Washington.
For many lance corporals, corporals and sergeants, this softer tone might come as a surprise considering the steady warnings about job competition becoming considerably tougher as a result of the drawdown. For months, the mantra has been that as the Corps contracts, only primo Marines will be retained. And while that remains the case, officials want to make sure troops aren’t “self-selecting” without understanding all of their options, how the landscape continues to evolve, and how they really stack up against everyone else.
What you need to know:
There are immediate opportunities. As of May 3, there were 746 vacant boat spaces spread across 74 military occupational specialties, said Maj. Shawn Haney, a spokeswoman for Manpower and Reserve Affairs. Of the Corps’ 172 MOSs, 98 are now closed, she said. Manpower officials are further from their retention goals than they were at this time last year, when Marines were scrambling to re-up first as the drawdown was rolling out.
Many of these openings are in chronically undermanned high-demand, low-density jobs, such as 0211 counterintelligence/human intelligence specialist, which continue to offer meaty re-enlistment bonuses. But other opportunities are in MOSs such as 3381 food service specialist and 2311 ammunition technician.
Officials are working to identify about 1,400 Marines to compete for these openings, said Lt. Col. Rory Quinn, the head of Manpower’s Enlisted Retention Section. That number could dip in coming weeks as officials review their first-term retention needs — taking into account new recruits — and adjust fire. Large fields like the infantry are likely to see a greater reduction in their retention goal and also fill more quickly than chronically undermanned fields like intel, Quinn said.
If Marines do find themselves shut out of their MOS, they should consider making a lateral move, he said. Doing so can come with a sizable bonus and better career prospects, in some cases.
To encourage junior Marines to apply, manpower officials are conducting career-planning roadshows and holding one-on-one talks to brief individual Marines on the options that remain this late in the re-enlistment season. They’ve also developed a targeted pop-up message for Marine Online, a one-stop site Marines use to track their military records and other important information. It publicizes open billets and encourages Marines to contact a career planner or call the Enlisted Retention Section where a specialist can walk them through current opportunities.
“I talk to Marines who thought it was too late because typically submissions begin in July,” said Capt. Jonathan Gayman, the First Term Alignment Plan Officer in the Enlisted Retention Section. “They think they are tainted because they didn’t make up their mind earlier.”
That doesn’t matter, he said. If there are open spots and Marines are strong performers, the Corps wants to keep them. Junior enlisted Marines shouldn’t feel nervous about talking to a captain at headquarters, Gayman said. Some are hesitant, he indicated, but they need to understand that even as their senior, he can’t and won’t force them to do anything. The Marines in his office simply provide detailed intel meant to help personnel navigate significant career decisions.
Additionally, manpower officials are approaching Marines who were offered re-enlistment but declined. They may have done so because of plans to attend school, because they had a sick family member they wanted to care for, or because the station where they wanted to serve didn’t have any open billets in their specialty. If personal circumstances have changed, or their station of choice now has openings, Quinn wants to see if they will reconsider.
Don’t believe the hype. Manpower officials are working overtime to refute what they say is a lot of bad gouge being spread among Marines about the drawdown and re-enlistment eligibility. If, for instance, you’re a junior Marine, don’t assume that just because your buddy didn’t make the cut, that you can’t either, Quinn said. Most cases are unique.
Another erroneous belief that officials want to knock down: Marines must be ranked “Tier One” under the FTAP Quality Comparison or else they are doomed come re-up season. Not so, officials say.
FTAP Marines vying for re-enlistment are assigned to one of four tiers based on a number of factors, including their:
■Fitness test scores.
■Proficiency and conduct marks.
■Martial arts belt.
Yes, to be retained, a Marine must work hard every day, Quinn said. But if his best effort lags a little behind other Marines at large, he still has a chance, especially if a commander vouches for him.
In fact, half of FTAP Marines are in Tier Three at any given time, and many make the cut, said Quinn.Only 10 percent and 30 percent find themselves in Tier One and Tier Two, respectively, he said. Another 10 percent are in Tier Four.
Officials approving Marines for re-enlistment consider an array of factors. A Marine in Tier Three may be a top performer in every way but is behind his peers on his Physical Fitness Test and Combat Fitness Test scores because of a knee injury. That type of Marine has a shot at securing an open re-enlistment billet, said Quinn.
The outlook is improving. For Marines determined to stay in a competitive MOS rather than make a lateral move, cutting scores are easing now that the drawdown is in full swing, and some Marines are voluntarily leaving the service, said Quinn.A prime example is the 0311 rifleman MOS, which was closed to promotion for sergeants from before the start of the fiscal year through February for a total of nine months. It reopened in March.
Frustration over not picking up rank has led some FTAP 0311s to decide to get out. Some sergeants may argue that the cutting score has remained high. But it has fallen steadily each month since then, from 1907 to 1871 today. That trend is expected to continue, Quinn said, meaning promotion rates should improve in the coming months and years.
Similar cutting score improvements should be seen in a number of other overpopulated MOSs. Because voluntary incentives to leave the service are carefully targeted by MOS, cutting scores should stabilize as backlogs are cleared. With programs like Voluntary Separation Pay and Temporary Early Retirement Authority — both intended to encourage Marines to leave on their own terms with cash incentives — expected for the duration of the drawdown, frustration among Marines who have struggled to pick up rank should ease.
Quinn expects the retention outlook to improve further as Marines who enlisted with the express purpose of going to war now begin to cycle out. For instance, the cohort who joined during the surge into Afghanistan in 2009 are hitting their four-year mark.
Those Marines checked the combat box, Quinn said, their primary motivation for joining, and officials expect many will not re-enlist. This could change again by 2015, he noted, as many of those who are up for re-enlistment then will have joined after the withdrawal from Afghanistan began, meaning they may have joined for different reasons and will be more motivated to stay in uniform.
Waivers are available for ‘quality’ Marines. Lastly, Manpower and Reserve Affairs continues to promote two programs to help those whose MOS has already closed to re-enlistment or those who have minor digressions on file. They are the Quality Reenlistment Program and the Quality Marine Identification Program.
QRP is for stellar Marines in MOSs that have hit retention goals and are closed to re-enlistment. If a commanding general vouches for them, those Marines can be re-enlisted in their current MOS regardless, said Quinn.
But opportunities are limited. The Marine must have an absolutely spotless record. Additionally, only 100 can be approved this year. The first QRP board which concluded in March selected 27 Marines. The next board is expected to convene in late summer as more MOSs close. The program is expected to carry over into future years.
QMI is for Marines who have a blemish on their records but have proved it was a one-time mistake and have otherwise served with distinction. These can include the “break-glass-in-case-of-war Marines,” Quinn said, men and women who are squared away but may have gotten rambunctious in garrison once or twice. That might include a page-11 entry for being late for duty or nonjudicial punishment for having alcohol possession as a minor. In some rare cases, exceptions will be made for a driving-under-the-influence charge, but Marines pursuing QMI option need the endorsement of a commanding general.