The Marine Corps publicized its re-enlistment town hall on May 15 with this photo illustration on its Facebook page. (Lance Cpl. Matthew Bragg / Marine Corps)
There’s a brighter outlook for Marines who want to re-enlist this year, but the situation remains highly competitive.
As of March 14, 206 boat spaces remained for about 650 Marines hoping to re-enlist this fiscal year — a rosier scenario than in February when about 4,228 were competing for just 393 spaces. But uncertainty remains for many Marines reaching the end of their enlistment term.
Among those 4,000-plus Marines — now 650 — hoping to re-enlist were many who brought their “A-game” every day. In an effort to retain as many of these top performers as possible, Manpower and Reserve Affairs formed the End Strength and Retention Optimization Group, ESROG, at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.
The group’s goal was to leverage its expertise to help commanders find ways to retain solid Marines who looked like they might fall through the cracks, in part by pushing out substandard performers to create more openings. The ESROG could also help commanders do that by using existing guidance and regulations to extend service through waivers, special-duty assignments and lateral moves.
But even with the work they have done over the two months, the reality is not every top-notch Marine who wants to remain in uniform will be able to do so. That’s the harsh reality of a drawdown environment in which the service ultimately will cut tens of thousands of Marines, down to 174,000 by the end of 2017.
In an effort to give Marines the best information possible and to alleviate anxiety, the ESROG invited fleet Marines nearing the end of their enlistment term to ask the experts any re-enlistment — or separation — question they had during a town hall hosted on Facebook May 15.
In all, about three dozen Marines asked questions ranging from lateral moves to time-in-service waivers. Hundreds more Marines tuned in. Here are highlights from the session:
Q. I am a 22-year master sergeant with no looks at E-9. I submitted a RELM [Re-enlistment, Extension, Lateral Movement request] to stay with the beloved Corps. Are there any boards for this and what is the time frame for response on the RELM? I am up for re-enlistment in fiscal year 2015.
A. Look at the actions we’ve taken this year to ensure we retain the highest quality Marines. Expect similar actions next year, which may slightly delay the timeliness of your re-enlistment process. You seem very competitive. Submit for re-enlistment, let the process work and you should be fine.
Q. I’m a sergeant with one non-judicial punishment from more than five years ago. I have good physical and combat fitness tests, picked up sergeant and went on recruiting duty three months later. My RELM is still at headquarters. I just signed a one-month extension, pushing my EAS back. I have one year left of recruiting duty and was told the board may need more time to review since my latest fitness report was just completed. Is my extension a good or bad sign?
A. Your extension is absolutely a positive. If the service didn’t think there was potential retention in your future, you would have been notified by now. The staff sergeant selection board is rapidly approaching and the extension will ensure you have an opportunity to be viewed for promotion.
Q. I have more than 12 years in service. At the time of my re-enlistment in fiscal year 2015, I will have 14 years on active duty. Would I be able to extend to retire using the FY15 Temporary Early Retirement Authority? I would need an additional year to be compliant with the 15-year requirement. If I can’t, would I be eligible to request Voluntary Separation Pay?
A. You cannot utilize TERA until you have 15 years exactly on the day you exit. Since you have a FY16 EAS, you will have to wait until the FY16 TERA program is announced in about a year. We generally don’t grant one-year extensions just so you can get out. You either stay or you go. VSP is an option for you, at any time, but obviously you get less money. What I would recommend is that you raise your performance to the highest level possible and apply for a four-year re-enlistment. Then, if approved, you would be entitled to utilize TERA at your 15.0 mark if you desire.
Q. When putting in a package for re-enlistment, is the status “awaiting further determination” considered good or bad?
A. Bottom line: We want these Marines. The issue is the Corps’ end-strength constraint. There are not enough spaces for us to take those Marines right now. As “trade-space” opens up through cross fiscal year programs like the Voluntary Enlisted Early Release Program and the Temporary Early Retirement Authority, we will release these RELMs back to the commands.
Q. I have FY15 subsequent term alignment plan Marines in critical MOSs who are eligible to submit for re-enlistment now (12 months out) but have been holding out until June to see if there will be any bonuses. Are there going to be any available this year?
A. Yes, there will be bonuses. But not many, and I don’t know how much they’ll be. Much of this is still being solidified. My recommendation is to apply for retention when able.
Q. Can you explain what happens when a staff sergeant isn’t promoted to gunnery sergeant? I’ve heard of Marines being separated, but is that only for those who are up for re-enlistment this year?
A. Many Marines know the process you are referring to as the 2P Staff Sergeant Retention Board. The 2P term refers to twice passed for promotion to gunnery sergeant. You should see a MARADMIN on this in the next week or so, but the basic answer is that if a particular Marine is 1P, and in a few weeks he or she becomes 2P when this gunnery sergeant selection board releases its approved list, then only those 2P (or more senior) Marines will be considered for a yes or no retention decision. The Marine Corps will only consider those 2P or more senior Marines who also would end up being qualified for early retirement, if they were to be designated for separation.
Q. Is the Corps only retaining Marines with perfect records, or is there room for Marines who’ve had situations and corrected their past hiccups?
A. We definitely take Marines who have recovered, as you describe. Now, it isn’t easy. Those with documented misconduct like Page 11, or 6105 entry, of NJP do have to demonstrate that they have re-established their conduct. They can do so through fitness reports, or from awards earned, and so on. Commander comments are very important, as are senior enlisted evaluations. For example, about 10 percent of first-term re-enlistments approved this year have had an NJP on this current contract. It demonstrates that we look at each case and we keep the Marine we find has enduring value.
Q. I am a sergeant and motor vehicle operator with nine years and 11 months in service — with six years and five months at my current rank. I was in the bottom of the below zone last year and I’ve seen instances where Marines will be in the below zone twice in my MOS. My EAS is May 15, 2015, so if I don’t hit the promotion zone this year, will I be able to extend in order to be looked at for promotion the next year with no negative paperwork and above average fitness reports?
A. You should definitely apply. The particular answer in your case can’t be predicted here as we have to look at what factors apply. If you have no negative performance, it could work. We would have to see if there is a service need and combine that with our desire to keep faith with you, since it seems you have kept faith with us. Marines with your profile can extend past the 10-year Enlisted Career Force Control. If you have never been reduced in rank or viewed for promotion, then we would look for a billet you could fill during that additional time.
Since your field is over-populated, we might look at the MOS and see whether you’re projected to come into zone. If you seem likely to come into zone prior to 13 years, we could do a five-month extension to keep you in the Corps until September 2015, when that year’s staff sergeant list comes out.
Q. Will an infantry sergeant with 11 years in the Marine Corps be able to extend for next year’s board if he is not in zone this year?
A. That’s hard to answer given little specifics, however, I would refer you to MARADMIN 585/13. There are many specifics outlining Enlisted Career Force Controls for sergeants. There were many changes in this year’s ECFC MARADMIN. The announcement of the staff sergeant promotion zones will be released in the very near future.
Q. I have one average fitness report, and four or five below average. I have a 239 PFT at my max weight of 180. I received an NJP when I was a corporal in 2009, didn’t use a rank. I’m a motor vehicle operator and been in more than 10 years and have been a sergeant for three years, four months.
A. Thank you for your candor. To provide honest feedback: your chances are not good. If you have an FY14 EAS, then reread MARADMIN 026/14, which states that you have to prepare to transition during the entire calendar year of 2014. Based on your performance statistics above, I predict you will not receive an extension. But you should still apply. I really have to look at each and every case.
For example, your MOS is extremely overpopulated, so it’s more understandable that you took seven years to make sergeant. But I would need to see the details.■