Cpl. Conner Reese, a reconnaissance man with Force Company, 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, stands guard while other Marines move on to their observation posts during a training exercise. Reconnaissance is one of the select fields that will continue to see healthy career prospects and generous bonuses. (Cpl. Austin Long/Marine Corps)
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Cpl. Giovanni Lacey, a supply administrative chief with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response, recites the oath of enlistment in August during his re-enlistment ceremony at Moròn air base, Spain. After taking a dip, re-enlistment opportunities rise in fiscal 2015. (Cpl. Michael Petersheim/Marine Corps)
Following a chill in re-enlistment opportunities this year, those vying to remain in uniform can expect a resurgence for fiscal 2015, with significantly more boat spaces on the horizon for first- and subsequent-term Marines.
A Marine Corps Times analysis of figures contained in the Navy Department’s proposed FY2015 budget reveals that the percentage of first-term Marines able to remain in uniform next year will reach its highest level in half a decade even as the service continues cutting an average of 5,000 Marines each year through 2017,when it will hit 174,000,
Competition will remain difficult, however, as Marines move quickly to secure open spaces and the caliber of Marines retained climbs, according to Commandant Gen. Jim Amos.
“We are on our way down hopefully to [182,000] as a result of the secretary of defense’s budget roll out this week — but we are on our way down. And when you do that, the opportunity to re-enlist becomes more competitive,” Amos said in a MarinesTV video interview, released March 13, in which he answered questions posed by rank-and-file Marines on social media. “So we are being very, very selective on those that re-enlist and I am absolutely confident … that we are keeping the best NCOs that we’ve got. If somebody that is subpar slips through, then shame on the leadership of that Marine’s unit, because they are the ones who are that five-micron filter, that help determine whether this is a quality Marine — a Tier 1 or Tier 2.”
That competition may be tempered somewhat by the uptick in boat spaces. A look at the cohort of 29,773 Marines who enlisted four year ago in FY2011 reveals that there will be enough boat spaces in FY2015 to accommodate about 21 percent.
By contrast, there are just enough boat spaces for about 17 percent of the cohort that joined a year earlier, in FY2010,to re-enlist this fiscal year. For the cohorts that joined in FY2009, 2008 and 2007 — and came up for re-enlistment in FY2013, 2012 and 2011, respectively — the percentages of Marines who did re-enlist were 18.8, 18.4 and 19.3.
Those are conservative estimates since a portion of each cohort has been culled by the end of a four-year enlistment term because they washed out in boot camp, were booted from the service for misconduct, were discharged for medical reasons or separated for some other reason. While the majority of Marines do make it to the end of their first enlistment, the population that ends up competing for re-enlistment is smaller than the original cohort.
The percentages of first-term Marines able to re-enlist were calculated based on the number of Marines who shipped to boot camp each fiscal year — a figure published in annual Defense Department statistics — compared to the number of re-enlistment boat spaces published in the Navy Department’s annual budget proposals.
Marine Corps Manpower & Reserve Affairs officials declined to comment for this story.
Prospects remain measuredly positive for subsequent-term Marines as well. While there was a 26 percent drop in boat spaces between last year, when there were 9,400 slots,and this year, when there were only 6,930, a significant uptick is expected for the FY2015 re-enlistment season, which begins in July. There will be 1,637 more spaces —a total of 8,567, — which amounts to a 23 percent increase.
The moderately positive outlook for both first-term and subsequent-term Marines is likely the product of carefully targeted force-shaping measures, which manpower officials have used to clear backlogs in overpopulated specialties and ranks in an effort to preserve upward mobility for junior Marines aspiring to a career in the Marine Corps. Those have included mostly voluntary measures like the Officer Voluntary Early Release Program, the Voluntary Enlisted Early Release Program, lump-sum buyouts like Voluntary Separation Pay or early retirements through the Temporary Early Retirement Authority program. Involuntary measures include selective early retirement boards that target retirement-eligible colonels and lieutenant colonels.
With regards to promotion, manpower officials have said those measures would not necessarily speed times to pick up rank, but they would at least prevent them from grinding to a halt during the drawdown.
For those seeking to re-enlist, competition has continued to rise.
“The average [Physical Fitness Test] of [First Term Alignment Program] Marines, for example, rose from 254 in FY12 to 258 in FY13,” according to Marine administrative message 315/13, which announced the FY14 Enlisted Retention Campaign on June 27.
An analysis of re-enlistment boat spaces and overall competition, however, does not offer a picture of competition within individual MOSs, which can vary widely. For that, a look at recent trends in re-enlistment bonuses offers insight into which jobs may offer the best career prospects as manpower officials work to encourage Marines to join high-demand, low-density specialties that, despite their critical importance, remain chronically undermanned. Those include jobs in intelligence, explosive ordnance disposal, and the burgeoning cyber and special operations community.
While Marines can expect to see fewer MOSs eligible for a bonus, and less money when re-up bonuses are announced this summer, those re-enlisting in select critical fields will continue to receive payouts, indicating they are a good bet for a healthy career with upward mobility.
Manpower planners had $79 million to hand out in 2014. That will shrink to just $55 million for 2015 — and about 80 percent of that will go to Marines re-enlisting in one of five MOSs: 0211 counterinelligence/human intelligence specialist; 0321 reconnaissance man; 0372 critical skills operator; 0689 cyber security technician, and 2336 explosive ordnance disposal technician.
The highest re-enlistment payout in 2014 is for 0689 cyber security technicians, according to MARADMIN 319/13, signed June 28. Zone A sergeants — those with between 17 months and 6 years of service — who either are in the job or made a lateral move into the MOS took home $60,750. The bonus reflects the Corps’ increasing emphasis on cyber security and its desire to rapidly grow Marine Corps Forces Cyber Command.
Marines re-enlisting as an 0321 reconnaissance man or 0372 critical skills operator with Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, both of which are eligible for lateral moves, were offered between $40,250 and $50,500, depending on rank. Also, 0211 counterintelligence/human intelligence specialists were able to take home $45,500.
By contrast, jobs likely to offer the most difficult re-enlistment opportunities are those in chronically overpopulated jobs like infantry unit leader. Also those jobs tied to platforms that are being phased out, like the CH-46 helicopter or the EA-6B Prowler, have proven highly competitive.
No matter a Marine’s MOS, or the expected uptick in boat spaces for first- and subsequent-term Marines in the next fiscal year, all who wish to remain in uniform are encouraged to apply for re-enlistment early this summer.
When the FY14 enlisted retention campaign was announced, Tier 1 Marines — the top 10 percent of Marines, by MOS, in their cohort, based on an array of factors including Physical Fitness and Combat Fitness Test scores — were approved for expedited re-enlistments. They could apply July 1 and would receive approval within the month.
Those not considered Tier 1, however, were also encouraged to get their packages in before re-enlistments officially opened Oct. 1. That is because some of the most competitive MOSs hit their strict first-term boat space caps just days into the new fiscal year.
This year many MOSs closed quickly and most boat spaces across the service are filled.
“We are probably 85 percent already complete with re-enlistment opportunities for this year and we are not even half way through the fiscal year,” Amos said in the video. “So there are plenty of Marines who want to stay. The clear majority of those Marines are Tier 1 and Tier 2 Marines. So we are not having problems keeping the best Marines.
For Marines who apply too late and are frozen out, a lateral move is their only remaining hope to stay in uniform.
A lateral move may be a good decision, even for Marines who aren’t frozen out, if they are looking for better career prospects in a job with more upward mobility and, perhaps, a cash incentive. Career planers can help individual Marines determine what new jobs might be a good fit for their personal interests and career aspirations.