Every year the Corps needs to ship nearly 30,000 plus recruits to stand on the yellow footprints at its recruit depots in order to fill the void of the mass exit of first-termers and other Marines.
But headed into fiscal year 2019 the Corps will need to recruit roughly 38,500 new Marines to adequately man the force.
“This is the largest requirement in a decade, and the mission must be accomplished notwithstanding significant headwinds,” reads a letter from the Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert B. Neller dated Oct. 18.
At issue for the Corps is retention of the force. According to the letter, the Corps has the “youngest population” but “highest turnover,” with nearly 60.4 percent of the Corps in the rank of E-5 and below.
The Corps offers very few incentives for new recruits beyond the transformative process of becoming a Marine. But it's been working.
“It is more important than ever that we retain our best Marines, by grade and skill, across both the active and reserve components,” the letter says. “When in-year losses exceed planned losses, it directly impacts in-year accessions and increases the demand on our Recruiters and Drill Instructors.”
But a potential spoiler for the Corps’ ability to entice and train its young recruits is the “insufficient” number of volunteers in critical Special Duty Assignments like drill instructor and recruiter billets, Neller alluded in the letter.
“We must re-double our efforts to encourage, screen, and assign the highest quality Marines to SDA,” the letter states.
To bolster the number of qualified Marines in SDA billets, Neller says the Corps will continue to “reward those who successfully complete SDA tours.”
During the most recent promotion board, Marines who completed an SDA were more likely than their peers to be selected for staff sergeant or gunnery sergeant, Neller said in the letter.
Despite the challenge ahead, the Corps historically has reached its yearly recruiting goals.
In fiscal year 2013, the Corps met its accessions goal of nearly 37,900 Marines, just 600 less than the fiscal 2019 requirement.
But further complicating the Corps’ recruiting efforts are a shrinking talent pool and an American population where 75 percent of youth are unqualified for military service.
“That should scare you,” Neller told reporters at a media roundtable event in October.