Your Marine Corps

What every Marine needs to know about the end of the drawdown

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — As the Marine Corps closes in on the end of a years-long drawdown that involved shedding thousands of troops annually, there aren't as many leathernecks to fill some of the most vital roles in the service. That means leaders will have to take a more active role in helping the Corps retain the best and brightest Marines. The end of the drawdown is finally at hand.

By October, tThe Marine Corps will reach its end goal of 182,000 active-duty personnel by October, marking the first time in years the service hasn’t had to make significant cuts since hitting its wartime peak of 202,000 Marines in 2009.

It’s a historic milestone for the Corps, and As the talent pool gets but it has changed the way the force looks to retain its best and brightest: a leaner and more competitive, talent pool means manpower officials need to work harder officials must more actively work to ensure the right Marines are in the right jobs in the right numbers.

On Feb. 23, Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs identified these specific jobs in Marine administrative message 100/16, which provided a mid-year assessment of its efforts to retain first- and subsequent-term Marines. Although the First Term Alignment Plan met 91 percent of its target thus far, a dwindling number of first-term Marines re-enlisting has made it challenging to fill some of the Corps' more technical positions. set to reach the end of their first term EAS this year means some help is required to cross the finish line.

The key is to challenge unit commanders to recognize and connect with talented Marines, especially those in their first enlistment, said Col. Rudy Janiczek, the head of Marine Manpower Enlisted Assignments.

"You no longer have this large mass of people that lines up against your retention requirement, so you have to pay more attention to how you’re going about this at the deck plate level," said Col. Rudy Janiczek, the head of M&RA's Marine Manpower'sEenlisted Aassignments branch. "It happens in the command because that is the level at which someone looks out and says ‘We’re the keepers.’."

Cpl. Kyle Taylor, a Hearns Texas, native with the Command Element, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, is promoted to his current rank of Corporal in the US Marine Corps during a ceremony aboard the USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7), Oct 1, 2012. The 24th MEU is deployed with the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group as a theater reserve force for U.S. Central Command and is providing support for maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Chad R. Kiehl)
Cpl. Kyle Taylor, a Hearns Texas, native with the Command Element, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, is promoted to his current rank of Corporal in the US Marine Corps during a ceremony aboard the USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7), Oct 1, 2012. The 24th MEU is deployed with the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group as a theater reserve force for U.S. Central Command and is providing support for maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Chad R. Kiehl)

Cpl. Kyle Taylor is promoted to his current rank of during a ceremony at sea. Marine manpower officials released a list of slow-filling jobs that commanders have been asked to help fill.

Photo Credit: Gunnery Sgt. Chad R Kiehl/Marine Corps

First-term Marines have been slower to sign on for another term in fiscal 2016 than in years past. In October, only 33 percent of targeted first-term boat spaces were filled, compared with 53 percent during the same time period the year before. That prompted manpower officials to task commanders with redoubling their efforts to encourage young enlisted Marines to stay in uniform.  [[Added this because we need to show that this is an ongoing trend. GH]]

Now commanders are again being pushed to identify first-term Marines who might be a good fit for some of the Corps' harder-to-fill or high-demand military occupational specialties, like critical skills operators and explosive ordnance disposal technicians.

The Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert Neller is leading the charge to emphasize this effort increased role for unit leadership. In January, he made retention of high-performing Marines a top priority when he released his priorities for vision of the Corps over the next four years in a fragmentary order to the 2015 planning guidance of his predecessor, Gen. Joseph Dunford.

"We’re going to put a bit more pressure on commanders to be involved in the retention process at all levels," Neller told Marine Corps Times in a January an interview this month. "We’re all recruiters; we’re all career planners."

Realignment plans First Term Alignment Program

As the Marine Corps gets closer to reaching its post-war end strength, manpower officials have highlighted about three dozen specific MOSs that need Marines now. The changes to the First- and Subsequent-Term Alignment plans The First Term Realignment Plan is the primary tool manpower officials use to inform commanders about Corps-wide for informing commanders on the Corps’ retention needs is Manpower and Reserve Affair’s First Term Alignment Program.

Manpower officials are stressing that opportunities still existThe take-away for for irst-term Marines interested in staying in the Corps that is that even in the more competitive environment created by the drawdown, many despite the drawdown creating a smaller, more competitive force.

"Any Marine wanting to be retained, any Marine wanting to re-enlist, those opportunities weren't taken away," Janiczek said.

There are still 35 MOSs that which remain "under-executed," though, meaning not enough Marines have submitted packets to meet the number of billets the Corps still needs. These jobs are from across the Marine air-ground task force, to include  spectrum of combat arms, combat service support and aviation roles, said Lt. Col. Michael Motley, who heads retention for the enlisted assignments branch.

"It's everything;: you have counterintelligence, grunts, data communications, artillery, linguists, communications electronics for aviation and then aviation" he said. "So, it’s every facet of all three elements of the Marine Corps."

Lance Cpl. Daniel Tribell, a student with the Infantry Squad Leader Course, School of Infantry West Ñ Detachment Hawaii, and fellow students pause on a security patrol during the offensive tactics and techniques portion of the course at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows Aug. 24. Over ISLCÕs 45 training days, the students also learn advanced patrolling, military operations in urban terrain, demolitions, land navigation, combat hunter, fire plan sketches, and conduct unit training management.
Lance Cpl. Daniel Tribell, a student with the Infantry Squad Leader Course, School of Infantry West Ñ Detachment Hawaii, and fellow students pause on a security patrol during the offensive tactics and techniques portion of the course at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows Aug. 24. Over ISLCÕs 45 training days, the students also learn advanced patrolling, military operations in urban terrain, demolitions, land navigation, combat hunter, fire plan sketches, and conduct unit training management.

Lance Cpl. Daniel Tribell, a student with the Infantry Squad Leader Course, pauses during a security patrol in Hawaii. Infantry squad leader is one of 35 military occupational specialties manpower officials recently labeled slow filling.

Photo Credit: Sgt. Reece E. Lodder/Marine Corps

[[Matt -- please double check your figures against the final MARADMIN to make sure nothing was updated. GH]]From July 5 to Feb. 17, 5th to Feb. 10ththe Marine Corps hitmet  91 percent of its first-term re-enlistment target when of 4,497 boatspaces out of 23,948 Marines approaching the end of their first term signed on for another contract. slated to end their first enlistment.

While Although only aboutapproximately  460 boat spaces still need remain to be filled by Sept. September 30 — with 566 requests still pending — in order to meet 2016 the FTAP’s goals for this year, leaders must continue trying to convince the task is convincing young Marines who might be on the fence about re-enlisting to either make a lateral move or stay in jobs where they’re needed.

"We need [these Marines], so we’re balancing the needs of the force with the needs and desires of the Marines who are seeking retention," said Lt. Col. Michael Motley saidMMEA. "This is the ongoing saga where you’re trying to look at all things in balance and make policy and end strength work."

The STAP, however, targets Marines re-enlisting for a third or higher term. As of Feb. 17, some 5,599 out of 6,193 re-enlistment packets were approved; the other 601 either need more information or higher-level adjudication. Officials anticipate completing these by Feb. 29.

[[Matt, can we include a bit of data/info on the STAP now, too, since that is also part of this MARADMIN? GH]]

Several of the in-demand MOSs also offer good opportunities for Marines looking to make a lateral move. Since some of those jobs is that they tend to be more highly specialized, meaning more time and resources are required to train Marines up for them. For Marines in slower-to-promote fields, lat moves can be a good career enhancersmove.   

Manpower officials are pressing commanders to encourage talented and eligible Marines who that didn't receive a boat space in their primary MOS to consider fields like counterintelligence, reconnaissance or explosive ordnance disposal. Some of those specialties come with re-enlistment bonuses, and Janiczek said Marines shouldn't be hesitant to submit a packet because they think they're lacking the proper qualifications. 

Six of these MOSs, in addition to reconnaissance men and explosive ordnance disposal technicians, are still open for lateral moves, although their level of specialization might make some Marines – or their career counselors – hesitant to submit a re-enlistment packet, Janiczek said.

"They don’t submit because they think they’re not qualified, but the reality is they don’t know until they submit," he said. "It’s not asking for a no; it’s asking for a yes."

Sgt. Tony Garcia, an infantry squad leader with 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, made such a lat move.

Now on his third enlistment — he lat moved to the squad leader MOS from being a rifleman — Garcia said he wasn't thinking about re-enlistment until he was approached by his command and encouraged to submit his packet.

"I felt like I wasn't finished with the Marine Corps, or the Marine Corps wasn't finished with me," he said. "I felt I had a lot more to offer, and also I felt I had a lot to offer the Marines under me."

Since Historically, only about 25 percent of first-term Marines re-enlist in the Corps, and the FTAP helps is geared towards keeping those who stay in matched to the right MOSs jobs to meet the force's end strength target.

"Here are the MOSs that are filling up quickly, here are the MOSs we need commanders to spend a little more time and here's a suggestion of where you can nudge him or her for a potential lateral move if their MOS is full," Janiczek said. "It's really just a tool to help commanders see the big picture.

On [when?], M&RA released its mid-year assessment of the FTAP in Marine administrative message XXX/XX.

[[Matt -- please double check your figures against the final MARADMIN to make sure nothing was updated. GH]]From July 5 to Feb. 10, 5th to Feb. 10th [[watch your AP style on dates]], the Marine Corps hit met 89 percent of its first-term re-enlistment target when of 4,957 boatspaces out of 23,948 Marines approaching the end of their first term signed onto another contract. slated to end their first enlistment.

While Although only about approximately 500 boatspaces still need remain to be filled by Sept. September 30 — with 821 requests still pending —– in order to meet 2016 the FTAP's goals for this year, leaders must continue trying to convince the task is convincing young Marines who might be on the fence about re-enlisting to either make a lateral move or stay in jobs where they're needed.

"We need [these Marines], so we're balancing the needs of the force with the needs and desires of the Marines who are seeking retention," said Lt. Col. Michael Motley, who heads retention for MMEA. "This is the ongoing saga where you're trying to look at all things in balance and make policy and end strength work."

The only similarity across these slower-filling MOSs is that they tend to be more highly specialized, meaning more time and resources are required to train Marines up for them.

Six of these MOSs, in addition to reconnaissance men and explosive ordnance disposal technicians, are still open for lateral moves, although their level of specialization might make some Marines – or their career counselors – hesitant to submit a re-enlistment packet, Janiczek said.

"They don't submit because they think they're not qualified but the reality is they don't know until they submit," he said. "It's not asking for a no; it's asking for a yes."

The take-away for first-term Marines interested in staying in the Corps is that even in the more competitive environment created by the drawdown, many opportunities still exist.

For exceptional Marines who find their MOS already filled up, their commanders can also request an exception through the Qualified Marine Identification program.

Retention and the drawdown 

The end of the drawdown is changing the way service leaders look will mean a sea change in how the Marine Corps looks to retain first-term Marines.

At the height of sustained combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, manpower officials did not hurt for bodies in filling boat spaces. With the drawdown almost complete, though however, Marines accustomed to the constant force reductions over the lpast several years now face a new normal that resembles  which looks a lot more like conditions life in the Corps before the 2006 manpower surge force build-up began in 2006, said Master Gunnery Sgt. Donald Bird, operations chief for enlisted assignmentsMMEA.

"We know where we're at now, where our end state is," he said. "We need to redefine how we keep and retain Marines, get re-engaged and back to active retention — that's a key thing: It's about talking to Marines again and going back to the basics."

A 2015 Marine Corps retention survey found that 38 percent of 4,200 Marines polled who were up for re-enlistment said they were unlikely to sign on for another term. That percentage was up from 33 percent in fiscal 2014 and 31 percent in fiscal 2013. Respondents cited stagnating pay, a decline in job satisfaction and a desire to attend college as reasons for wanting to leave the service.

While the approximately 25 percent retention rate is expected to remain constant at the lower force level, encouraging more Marines to think about staying in has become more important.

With fewer out more Marines submitting for re-enlistment, encouraging more Marines to think about staying has become crucial in the ongoing battle to ensure that in has become more important. Specifically because it’s harder to make sure that the most talented and qualified Marines men and women are where they need to be, Motley said.

That's why the FTAP and STAP mid-year updates come. Only about 25 percent of first-term Marines, for example, stay in the Corps. But getting more of them attempting to re-enlist would give mean manpower officials would have a better pool from which to choose from. [[Is this accurate? GH Yep! MS]]

"As we get closer to the end of the [fiscal] year, the cohort shrinks," Motley said. "Marines get out, and unless they submit we can’t assess them." ," he said. "When we talk about 75 percent, those 75 percent are Marines that did not submit for retention. Had 100 percent of the Marines submitted for retention then we would have a better look at the entire cohort."

Cpl. Shannon McMillan raises her right hand during her re-enlistment ceremony at Camp Pendleton, Calif. First-term Marines have been slower to re-enlist in 2016 than in years past.

Photo Credit: Lance Cpl. Daniel Boothe/Marine Corps

Calling on more Marines to re-enlist is not just an issue for the current fiscal year, however; adjusting fire now is crucial in setting the standard for 2017 and beyond.

The 2017 FTAP for next year begins in July, and even if the boat spaces in a Marine's MOS needed change, the timeline to secure an open spot will be the same, Motley said.

"If the young [Marine] is a ’17 guy, he’s looking to re-enlist in ’16," he said. "These [requirements] may shift left or right or may be more or less, but t...To get ahead of the game, you have to start looking now at your MOS."

'The business of commanders' 

The shift to a more active retention approach to retention means unit commanders across the force will be called on to directly engage with their Marines on re-enlistment. [[This intro repeats too much of the previous section. How about something like......]] With fewer Marines to choose from as the drawdown winds down,  Janiczek said These leaders are in the best position to identify the people Marines who have the right leadership traits, talent and skills to move the Corps forward, Janiczek said. , according to Janiczek

"It's the business of commanders … they know Marines," he said. "Certainly, we see it on paper, but the real story is the people who work with that Marine every day."

Colonel Stephen Liszewski, commanding officer, 11th Marine Regiment, briefs Marines serving with India Battery, 1st Battalion, 11th Marines, on their performance during a 10-day artillery training exercise here, Aug. 23, 2013. Marines with the entire regiment conducted the live-fire training exercise from Aug. 19 through 28.
Colonel Stephen Liszewski, commanding officer, 11th Marine Regiment, briefs Marines serving with India Battery, 1st Battalion, 11th Marines, on their performance during a 10-day artillery training exercise here, Aug. 23, 2013. Marines with the entire regiment conducted the live-fire training exercise from Aug. 19 through 28.

Col. Stephen Liszewski briefs members of 1st Battalion, 11th Marines during an artillery training exercise here. Commanders are being urged to help encourage their Marines to re-enlist.

Photo Credit: Lance Cpl. Christopher J. Moore/Marine Corps

During the drawdown, Janiczek said, commanders had to make difficult decisions about who should remain in the Corps. Now that there are fewer Marines all around, leaders need to be far more proactive in recognizing the strongest Marines in their units, and take steps to ensure they stay in uniform.

"Even before they are due to be retained, [commanders need to] go and say, 'Hey, I know you don't re-enlist until next year ... but I've got to tell you, I've seen what you do on the gun line or in the squad or wherever, and I think you should very seriously consider making this a career,'" he said.

With a focus on thinning the ranks during the drawdown, commanders' engagement with their Marines' retention was not emphasized across the force.

Manpower officials at the time cautioned commanders to make careful choices about who should stay or go in order to meet the drawdown's demands, Janiczek said.

"What has changed and what we are trying to communicate is now you need to go out there and make sure you are connecting with your talented people that you want to stay," he said. "At this point, you're no longer an audition person."

The call for commanders’ to get more involved in retaining good Marines greater involvement in retention is not only coming from manpower officials, however.

The commandant announced in his FRAGO that lance corporals and corporals up for promotion would soon be facing new review boards. In prioritizing retention in his FRAGO, the Commandant of the Marine Corps announced the forthcoming establishment of promotion review boards for corporals and lance corporals.These panels will allow units to have a chance to speak to every Marine up for promotion from across their command. be conducted by unit leadership as a means to directly mentor junior Marines’ careers.

"This is basically kind of a quality control and it also is an opportunity for the chain of command to see and talk to these Marines," Neller said. "The Marines know they have to show they are qualified. The mentors have to prepare, the leadership has to review, so tThe goal is not to deny people a promotion, but just to make sure everybody understands we all have equities in this," Neller said. "I think everybody wins."

Such engagement by commanders with their Marines has a direct impact on retention: Lleaders are able to encourage the strongest troops to re-enlist.

When first-term Marines then enter the re-enlistment process, commanders' input goes a long way in ensuring their success when manpower officials evaluate submission packages, Bird said.

"The individual Marine's record sells him, but the commander can sell him, too," he said. "It's the comments [the commanding officer] puts in there, small or in-depth, that help or break the Marine. The CO's comments are the biggest piece and give us a better picture to assess the Marine."

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