NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland ― It is time to start treating junior Marines better to keep more Marines in the Corps longer, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Troy Black said Tuesday.

The comments come as the Corps is re-evaluating and making changes to its retention, training and promotion policies as the force is re-shaped to faceoff against China and other near-peer militaries.

“We buy service members for a contract, I would offer we need to think a little longer,” Black said at the 2021 Sea Air Space conference at National Harbor, Maryland.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger sees the future Corps as a small, light, maneuverable force made up of small units widely dispersed across the future battlefield.

Those Marines will need to be more independent, better trained and more responsible than the Marines who currently make up the force.

The Corps is currently making changes to training to better prepare Marines for a future fight.

“We have so much invested in training and education right now in the first term of a Marine’s career, we need to keep that,” Black said on Tuesday.

The Marine Corps historically has had the youngest service members in the Department of Defense, with 73.6 percent of enlisted Marines age 25 or younger in 2018. That’s compared to 51.9 percent of the Army, 46.9 percent of the Navy and 45.2 percent of the Air Force who were 25 or younger in the same year.

Senior leaders should now take on the mindset that every Marine is a careerist and focus on the potential of 18-year-old privates more than their immediate value, Black said.

Senior leaders may see a young Marine coming to the end of their first enlistment as “just an E-4, you don’t trust him with anything,” Black said.

“That same E-4 22-year-old however, with all that experience, will be treated like a king or queen immediately after walking out that door,” Black said.

Though re-enlistment bonuses may help, “the dollar always speaks but, we’re never going to be able to outpace a corporation who wants to take that individual,” he added.

But the Corps is capable of improving how it values and treats its Marines.

“There is no money involved in that, that’s all attitude,” Black said.

He added that the Corps should increase its investment into the mental and physical health to drastically decrease the number of Marines who leave the Corps early.

If the Marine Corps can better take care of individual Marines, the investments into training, education and operational experience will be worth the return, Black said.

“There’s a retention incentive in there that we don’t fully appreciate, that is taking care of the individual,” he said.

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