Your Marine Corps

The Marine Corps desperately needs people to fill its most high-profile assignments

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — Motivated Marines looking to move up the ranks faster — and get paid more doing it — should take on one of Marine Corps' most prestigious assignments.

The Corps is putting out the call for more volunteers for its special duty assignments — jobs that have proven to give Marines a big promotion boost and pay as much as $3,600 more a year.


SDAs give Marines experience outside their MOS at the heart of the Corps' mission: bringing fresh bodies into the fold as a recruiter, forging them into new Marines as a drill instructor, wading through the muck as a combat instructor to teach them the skills they'll need to stay alive, keeping watch as a Marine security guard over America's embassies in distant lands, or deploying at a moment's notice to engage the enemy with your anti-terrorism security team as a security forces security guard.

These are some of the Corps' most demanding jobs, ones that will define the rest of Marines' careers.


The three-year assignments have long been viewed as the fast-track for competitive Marines serious about a career in the Corps, the deputy commandant for Manpower and Reserve Affairs said.

"Making Marines, training Marines, guarding our embassies and protecting the nuclear stockpile, these are fundamental Title 10 [U.S. Code] responsibilities," Lt. Gen. Mark Brilakis said in a recent interview. "Because of that, the promotion opportunities for those that are either currently serving or have served in special duty assignments, those Marines get promoted at a faster rate than their peers do not."

Here are four reasons Marines should consider taking an SDA.

U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Joseph Canty, combat instructor, Advanced Infantry Training Battalion, School of Infantry - East, posts security as part of a military operation in urban terrain training exercise during the Infantry Small Unit Leaders Course (ISULC), Camp Lejeune N.C., Sept. 11, 2016

Photo Credit: Lance Cpl. Careaf Henson, USMC

New volunteer rules. With the Marine Corps adjusting course in the post-Iraq and Afghanistan world, getting 'back to the basics' becomes increasingly necessary.

"Since we have been in combat for so many years, the emphasis naturally swung towards combat operations and less towards some of the other stuff that the Marine Corps did," Brilakis said.

"After a period of some twelve years of combat operations, we have an entire generation of Marines who are not familiar with special duty assignments, who do not understand or consider special duty assignments as a necessary component of what we would consider to be a successful career."

This means a greater emphasis on getting the right Marines in the right positions, and this year manpower officials are trying something new.

In August, M&RA announced a voluntary submission period for Marines to put in for an SDA by Dec. 15, d etailed in Marine administrative message 415/16.

Eligible Marines who step up will be given assignment preference once the normal selection process begins in January, according to Col. Rudy Janiczek, head of the Enlisted Assignments Branch at M&RA.

"The reason that we did that is we like to see the Marines that want to do these duties come forward with more clarity to us as we look to make these assignments with what they would like to do," he said. "We felt that we needed to be more deliberate about it and give them an opportunity to step forward before we begin the annual selection process in earnest."

Giving Marines the chance for first priority in the billets of choice rather than being "voluntold" will go a long way towards front-loading the future force.

"The fact is if a Marine volunteers for a special duty assignment then he can request what he is interested in. After that period, when we start looking for individuals if we find them qualified, we will start making those assignments and we would rather a Marine go to a place they wanted to go," Brilakis said.

The period runs until Dec. 15, but Marines can still volunteer after that.

"This was just an opportunity that we put out to kind of remind them, 'hey, if you would like, tell us what your desires are and see,' said Sgt. Maj. Grant VanOostrom with M&RA. "It's about requirements and demands and how we can best fit your desires with what the Marine Corps needs."

A drill instructor from Charlie Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, corrects a recruit during pick up at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Oct. 14. The recruits will spend each day with their drill instructors getting faster and stronger during their transformation into United States Marines. Annually, more than 17,000 males recruited from the Western Recruiting Region are trained at MCRD San Diego. Charlie Company is scheduled to graduate Jan. 6.
A drill instructor from Charlie Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, corrects a recruit during pick up at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Oct. 14. The recruits will spend each day with their drill instructors getting faster and stronger during their transformation into United States Marines. Annually, more than 17,000 males recruited from the Western Recruiting Region are trained at MCRD San Diego. Charlie Company is scheduled to graduate Jan. 6.

Drill Instructor Staff Sgt. Michael R. Smalls, Platoon 3037, India Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, yells commands during an initial drill evaluation March 7, 2016, on Parris Island, S.C.

Photo Credit: Sgt. Jennifer Schubert, USMC

Pay bump. These tough jobs come with enticing incentives.

The long hours and intense responsibility demanded of Marines on special duty assignments are reflected in supplemental pay each paycheck.

"That is identified based upon a combination of the remoteness of the assignment, the support provided to the individual Marine and his family and the criticality of the duty assignment," said Brilakis. "All Marines on special duty assignments receive some form and fashion of special duty pay."

Currently, recruiters bring in an additional $300 per month, drill instructors $150 and combat instructors $75, according to Manpower and Reserve Affairs.

For Marine security guards, the take is $75 per month for the first post, $100 for the second and $150 for the third.

Marines may also re-up in their MOS and receive a re-enlistment bonus on top of the special duty pay.

U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Gregory L. Peppers II, a Combat Instructor with Hotel Company, Marine Combat Training (MCT) Battalion, School of Infantry-East, hikes down the middle of the company formation while conducting a 15 kilometer conditioning hike on Marine Corps Air Station New River, May 19, 2015.

Photo Credit: Cpl. Andrew Kuppers, USMC

Promotion boost. Completing an SDA is a way to supercharge your career.

The Marine Corps recognizes the personal and promotional growth gained through an SDA, reflected in an accelerated rate of promotion, Brilakis said.


"We precept enlisted promotion boards for special duty assignments," Brilakis said. "The Marine Corps believes these to be important, high quality jobs that make Marines competitive for promotion."

The precept, authorized by the Marine Corps commandant, designates the Marine as "highly qualified" before they even walk into the promotion board. So while it is possible to go through a career and not serve in an SDA, it often becomes a big downside.

"Promotions to master sergeant/first sergeant, master gunnery and sergeant major become increasingly more difficult if you are doing it without an SDA," Brilakis said. "The percentages are actually pretty significant between those Marines that have an SDA in their experience and those that do not."

Over the past five years, more than 60 percent of in-zone Marines marked as "highly qualified" have been selected for promotion by the board, according to data provided by M&RA.

In 2016 promotions to gunnery sergeant, for example, 69 percent of selectees with an SDA under their belt were promoted, versus 53 percent without.

Marines with an SDA account for 24 percent of meritorious promotions for junior Marines and 23 percent for staff sergeant and gunnery sergeant.

Those at School of Infantry or Marine Security Group also net 100 points towards their cutting score upon graduation.

Drill instructors of India Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, yell at a recruit for not responding loudly enough during pick up at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Dec. 18.

Photo Credit: Sgt. Tyler Viglione, USMC

Location, location, location. This is a great way to land a hard-to-get duty location.


Security forces have the opportunity to go overseas and embassy security guards around the world.

Recruiting stations are located throughout the United States and territories in the Caribbean and across the Pacific.

This means the opportunity to see a different side of the Marine Corps you might not otherwise, Brilakis said.

"Frankly, for most first-term Marines, it looks like a pretty small Marine Corps," he said. "But it's a big world, a big country out there, and Marines are serving everywhere; special duty assignments give them the opportunity to serve in those places."

Staff writer Sam Fellman contributed to this report.

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