The Corps’ Light Armored Reconnaissance, or LAR, units are tasked with providing surveillance ahead of infantry landings in one of the Corps’ oldest light armored vehicles.
Light armor and weapons make them susceptible to enemy attack, but LAR mobility and swiftness has proven vital to the Corps’ operations in conflicts from Desert Storm to the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Marines of LAR operate out of nearly 40-year-old armored vehicles that the Corps is trying to up gun with TOW missile firing turrets and is currently in search of a precision firing system that could see the vehicle launching drone swarms.
But as the Corps pushes the limits of the aging vehicle, the unit is facing another problem — a manpower crunch, especially within its leadership.
According to data obtained by Marine Corps Times, LAR unit leaders, who hail from the 0363-job field, are only staffed at 62 percent. Out of 140 authorized billets for the 0363 field, the field tops out at 87 Marines.
But the reverse is true for the basic 0313-job field known as light armored vehicle, or LAV, crewman. That field is overmanned at nearly 113 percent, with 698 slots filled out of 616 authorized billets.
The manpower data obtained by Marine Corps Times is current as of Feb. 26.
Overmanning can complicate other issues and lead to promotion logjams, which can ultimately push Marines frustrated with lack of opportunity and development out of the Corps.
However, Capt. Karoline Foote, a Marine spokeswoman, says the Corps has enough 0363 Marines to “staff all associated operational LAR billets."
Moreover, Marine staff noncommissioned officers holding 0363 billets but carrying the 0313 job field actually nudge the manning of the LAR unit leader job field to 97 percent, according to Lt. Col. Mark D. McCarroll, the branch head for Integration Branch Manpower Management Division with Manpower and Reserve Affairs.
But while those Marine staff noncommissioned officers are holding 0363 billets, they have not actually obtained the military occupation specialty, or MOS, which requires those LAR leaders to attend the six-week Light Armored Reconnaissance Leaders Course.
“The delta is those Marines who are required to go to career progression training,” McCarroll told Marine Corps Times in an emailed statement.
On Tuesday the Corps pushed updated guidance on its 0363 field with warnings about future career progression and retention should Marines decide not to attend the leaders course.
The guidance warns that active-duty 0313 Marines who are in zone for promotion to gunnery sergeant will not be eligible for promotion if they have not obtained the 0363 MOS and “will be deleted from the promotion board population."
Also, active-duty staff sergeants with 24 months or more time in grade who have not completed the LAR leaders course will require an endorsement by their commanding general if they wish to be retained.
“This MARADMIN reminds LAR Marines and commanders it’s on them to get eligible Marines to the schoolhouse for career-progression training," McCarroll said.
Reserve Marine gunnery and staff sergeants will retain promotion eligibility through fiscal year 2021 even if they have not attended the LAR leaders course and earned the 0363 job field.
This is due to fact that Marine reservists “are routinely unable to obligate the six weeks of time required to complete the current LAR-LC program of instruction,” the MARADMIN noted.
“The recent MARADMIN highlights the 2017 MOS manual change that professionalizes the progression of LAR SNCOs [staff noncommissioned officers] and provides a two year waiver to Reserve Component Marines for the required PME [professional military education] in order to ensure an appropriate training course is developed for the Reserve Component that supports their unique active duty for training time constraints,” Foote explained.
The Corps is working to develop an LAR leaders course that addresses the needs of reservists. That course is expected to be validated by Sept. 30, 2020, according to the MARADMIN.
The six-week LAR leaders course is broken down into 30 training days and includes instruction on LAV operations, LAR unit fires, tactics and armored surveillance and reconnaissance.
The course helps mold future LAR leaders and hones their skills in leading and operating an LAR platoon.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.