In an effort to increase experience of noncommissioned officers, the Marine Corps is preparing to increase the time-in-service and time-in-grade requirements for promotion to sergeant and staff sergeant.
Starting in January, the Corps will double the time-in-service requirements for Marines looking to be promoted to sergeant, from 24 months to 48 months. For sergeants looking to be selected for staff sergeant, time-in-service requirements will increase from 48 months to 60 months, while time-in-grade requirements will be bumped from 27 months to 36 months, according to a recently released MARADMIN.
The change also adds a two-year-commitment requirement for promotion to staff sergeant.
“We need to get back to historical norms,” Col. Christopher Escamilla, branch head for the Manpower Plans, Programs and Budget section for Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs, told Marine Corps Times in an interview Wednesday in Quantico, Virginia.
The Marine Corps is considering major changes for a more nimble reenlistment process, and a retention policy that focuses on talent not promotion, as the force prepares for the future.
“Historically it’s the four-year mark plus or minus where you become selected to sergeant and for right now we are trending to be less than that ― for some MOSes quite less than that,” Escamilla said.
The move also is meant to standardize how long it takes to become a sergeant or staff sergeant regardless of how low the cutting score is for any particular military occupancy specialty. So, when a Marine comes across a sergeant, they will know that Marine is someone who has spent at least four years in the Corps and has some level of expertise in their field.
“I’m a sergeant but I’ve only got three years of experience, what’s the difference between me and a corporal with three years of experience? I’ve got an extra chevron,” said Col. Samuel Cook, the enlisted assignment branch head at Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs.
Marines who genuinely become experts in their MOS before the time-in-service requirements for sergeant or staff sergeant will still be eligible for meritorious promotions, Escamilla said.
The change makes the promotion process “more focused on experience and having that no-kidding subject matter expert at the tactical level,” Cook said.
In addition to standardizing what it means to be a sergeant or staff sergeant the Marine Corps said this change would help reduce the turnover at the two ranks by only promoting those Marines who have re-enlisted or made additional time commitments to the Corps.
Roughly 38 percent of sergeants left the active-duty Marine Corps within 12 months of being promoted, Escamilla said of fiscal year 2019.
By changing the requirement to 48 months ― the same length of the standard enlistment contract ― most Marines would have to re-enlist in order to be promoted to sergeant while on active duty.
Cook said the change would prevent Marines with no intention of re-enlisting from becoming sergeants, providing more promotion opportunities for Marines who have re-enlisted.
While the MARADMIN did come out with more strict promotion requirements, it also included changes to the re-enlistment process that seek to make the process easier for bright Marines in the hopes of improving retention.
“Marines across the service who demonstrate high levels of proficiency and talent must be given the most efficient means by which to request and be approved for reenlistment and subsequently be provided opportunities to excel in critical leadership roles,” the MARADMIN reads.
The order will allow many Marines to seek re-enlistment approval from their commanding generals without sending their package all the way to Marine headquarters, and will provide a select few with the opportunity to re-enlist up to a year early, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger earlier in October.
Once the Marine Corps determines how many open re-enlistment spaces each MOS has ― known as boat spaces ― quotas on how many enlistments can be approved by commanding generals will be sent out.
At that point Marines in tier 1 or tier 2 of the First Term Alignment Program will have the opportunity to seek approval of their re-enlistment packages from their commanding general. Tier 3 Marines will still have to send their packages to Marine headquarters for approval.
“The intent behind it is to push responsibility down,” Cook said, “But also ... decrease flash to bang of when a Marine submits for re-enlistment and when he gets approved.”
While most Marines will have the opportunity to see the benefit of the leaner re-enlistment process, only a select few will have the opportunity to re-enlist up to a year early.
The Marine Corps will not know the exact number of Marines eligible for early re-enlistment for fiscal year 2021 until next summer, but said the number will be similar to the Quality Marine Initiative that allows 100 Marines to be retained regardless of their MOS or any boat space limitation.
Once the exact quotas are determined and distributed it will then be up to the commanding generals on how they will choose which Marines are eligible for early re-enlistment.
“We’re not talking just an average tier one individual,” Escamilla said. “We’re talking the top tier 1 guy that the commanding general and the sergeant major chain recognize and identify, this is the guy or gal that we want to keep."
Disclosure: Col. Christopher Escamilla was Marine Corps Times reporter Philip Athey’s battalion commander with 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines, from Oct. 2011 to May 2013. They did not interact with each other directly during this time.