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Marine Corps: Guaranteed careers for staff sergeants at risk

Dec. 18, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Infantry Unit Leader's Course, Fort Pickett
A staff sergeant leads his platoon through the Infantry Platoon Battle Course at Fort Pickett, Va., as part of the Infantry Unit Leaders Course at the School of Infantry-East. Staff sergeants with between 15 and 18 years of service who have been twice passed over for promotion could be at risk for an involuntary early retirement in 2014, according to Marine officials. (Chief Warrant Officer Paul Mancuso / Marine Corps)
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Staff sergeants may no longer be guaranteed a 20-year career and full retirement benefits, according to Manpower & Reserve Affairs officials.

Staff sergeants may no longer be guaranteed a 20-year career and full retirement benefits, according to Manpower & Reserve Affairs officials.

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Staff sergeants may no longer be guaranteed a 20-year career and full retirement benefits, according to Manpower & Reserve Affairs officials.

If a new draft policy is approved for fiscal 2014, all staff sergeants with between 15 and 18 years of service who have been twice passed over for promotion will go before a retention board and potentially face an early retirement, said Col. Bill Tosick, head of the Manpower Plans, Programs and Budget Branch at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.

The board would be authorized to select up to 30 percent of the E-6s it considered for an early end to their careers.

In years past, all staff sergeants — even those who were noncompetitive and passed for promotion multiple times — were permitted to remain in uniform through at least 20 years of service, barring any career-ending digressions, like those resulting in a court-martial.

The new plan would end that practice. While it has been briefed to Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Mike Barrett and received positive feedback, it must still be approved by Gen. Jim Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps, Tosick said.

Because the retention board will only consider twice-passed staff sergeants who have at least 15 years of service, all those who go before the board will be eligible for the Temporary Early Retirement Authority program. As a result, Tosick said, it will likely meet the commandant’s definition of keeping faith with Marines during the drawdown, which includes providing a retirement opportunity to all majors and staff sergeants.

TERA provides retirement benefits at a reduced rate, based on a Marine’s years of service.

Most staff sergeants would be safe from the boards. Only about 1,200 staff sergeants with 15 to 18 years of service have been passed over twice for promotion. Even if the board exercised its full authority to select 30 percent of the E-6s who came before it, just 360 staff sergeants would have to leave the service early. The board has the discretion, however, to select fewer than 30 percent.

A similar guarantee of service through 20 years was in place for majors until August, when the policy was rescinded as part of Manpower & Reserve Affairs’ efforts to trim the force to 174,000 by 2017. The major and staff sergeant ranks have been persistently overmanned, which has frustrated Marines at lower ranks who are anxious to move up. Some Marines waited more than a year to pin on rank, even after selection.

In the case of majors, the vast majority being separated by retention boards are also eligible for TERA, Tosick said.

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