With the Corps expecting get smaller in 2015, many Marines are thinking about how to successfully transition back into civilian life.

The drawdown calls for the service to hit 174,000 by the end of 2017, meaning up to about 5,000 Marines must be trimmed each year. With a solid drawdown plan in place, officials are working to ensure the right Marines in the jobs and ranks are in the right billets.

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Simultaneously, they are creating a detailed manpower plan if sequestration, which is one of the budgetary forces driving the drawdown, is lifted.

Here's what the Corps is doing for Marines preparing to take off the uniform next year:

Getting out

In compliance with Defense Department transition assistance priorities, the Corps has introduced a number of new programs and requirements to help service members prepare for civilian life. While the Corps' programs have fulfilled DoD requirements, the service continues to tweak and develop additional tools, including Credentialing Opportunities On-Line, a website designed to help transitioning Marines enter the next phase of their lives.

COOL, available at https://www.cool.navy.mil/usmc, offers Marines a place where they can determine how their MOS skills, or leadership skills they've gained while in the Corps, translate to the civilian job market. The program can even link the departing Marines directly to credentialing authorities and testing centers that can certify them in anything from welding to a commercial driver's license.

While it was unveiled in October and is operational, officials will continue to expand its offerings in 2015 to include more credentialing programs.

The best case scenario

Marine leaders are hedging their bets that Congress will lift the sweeping spending cuts known as sequestration, allowing the service to halt its active duty drawdown at about 182,000 in 2016. That would replace the Corps' former plan to drawdown to 174,000 through 2017, which was based on austere budgets projected to last a decade.

But there is one huge caveat: Lawmakers have shown neither the ability nor willingness to stop sequestration.

To hit 182,000, another 4,000 Marines will have to leave uniform in fiscal 2015, taking the service down to 184,100. Then, in fiscal 2016, about 2,000 will be cut.

With manpower cuts on schedule, service leaders are now beginning to look more at shaping, rather than downsizing the force to ensure they have Marines in the specific ranks and jobs where they are needed. Units are unlikely to be shifted or created if the service is allowed to retain more Marines. Instead, additional manpower will be used to bolster operating forces.

Derrick Perkins contributed to this article.

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