It’s time for the military’s aptitude test to take a smaller role in the enlistment process as the Corps looks to recruit fewer and better Marines, Commandant David Berger said.
The Corps will keep the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, which tests potential recruits on basic classroom knowledge, but it also will add psychological evaluations in an effort to better determine who will make a good Marine, and better match that recruit to a job field they will excel in. The Marine Corps also will tighten up on waivers and allow for civilians to join the Corps at a rank that fits their experience ― all in an effort to find and keep the best Marines.
Recruiting challenges have been amplified in a world where young Americans seemingly have more options and are less likely to choose the Marine Corps.
“The technology is changing, the human marketplace is changing at such a rate that, at our estimation, our system will break on itself,” Berger told reporters Tuesday at a Pentagon briefing of a new document outlining the changes.
The Marine Corps is looking to overhaul its manpower management system to create a force capable of fighting China while dispersed on small bases in the Pacific.
“We’re going to have to ask of Marines more going forward if they are going to win,” Berger said.
The manpower model will move away from one based on processing a large number of unskilled teenagers and young adults into one more capable of identifying and nurturing talent from the experienced civilian population.
The new recruitment tools ideally will increase the number of Marines who successfully complete their first enlistment without being separated for disciplinary reasons or simple failure to complete training.
“Every year we separate thousands of Marines before they complete their initial contracts … costing the service hundreds of millions of dollars annually, with significant impacts to readiness across the Corps,” Berger said in a document outlining the changes. “The service must also do more to evaluate each applicant’s career interests, talents, personal and intellectual strengths, experience, motivations, and propensity to continue in service after their first enlistment.”
The Corps already has collected data on the type of recruits who will make it through a first enlistment and plans to use that data to identify and specifically recruit those who fit that mold, the document said.
A better match
Beyond becoming pickier, data and psychological evaluations will be used to better match potential recruits with Marine Corps jobs that will best fit them.
Currently recruits sign contracts that allow them to be sent to various jobs within an occupational field.
For example, very few recruits sign up to be an 0311 rifleman. Normally they sign up to be in an infantry job and their specific job would be determined based on the needs of the Marines Corps while attending the school of infantry.
Some contracts have jobs that are only vaguely related, like the combat support contract, which can push recruits into the 0811 cannoneer military occupational specialty, or as an 1833 assault amphibious vehicle crewman or 7212 low altitude air defense gunner.
The actual job received after completing initial training entirely would be based on the timing of their graduation from Marine Combat Training.
The current manpower model is an “industrial model where you and me are treated like inventory,” Berger told reporters Tuesday. “Put a person in a billet equals success and that’s not the managing of the talent we have to do going forward.”
Neither the commandant nor the document specifically outlined what the new enlistment contracts would look like, but both said the process would remove the randomness from the assignment process.
“We need a new, data-driven model that assigns recruits to specialties where they can develop their talents, best contribute to the success of their units, find career satisfaction, and re-enlist,” the document said.
“In 2022, we will begin experimenting with a new process.”
Tightening up on waivers
In addition to increased testing prior to enlistment, the Corps said it will be stingier with waivers related to “more than minor” criminal activity.
“Specifically, I am instituting a blanket prohibition on waivers for any applicant previously convicted of sexual assault offenses or sexual related crimes and offenses, domestic violence, or hate crimes, effective immediately,” Berger said in the document.
The Marine Corps has denied all waiver requests in the past 10 years for those convicted of “sexual assault offenses or sexual related crimes and offenses, felony domestic violence, or hate crimes,” Marine Corps spokesman Maj. Jim Stenger told Marine Corps Times on Wednesday.
In the past 10 years, there have been 16 waivers for misdemeanor domestic violence convictions, he said.
Neither the document nor Berger defined what other offenses constituted a minor crime.
“The Marine Corps maintains the strictest waiver policies, requiring the highest level charged offense to be waived, regardless of pleas to lesser charges or adjudications of no conviction,” Stenger said.
Between reduced waivers, psychological tests and a look at the data on who succeeds in the Corps, fewer recruits may be heading to the Marine Corps Recruit Depots at Parris Island, South Carolina, and San Diego.
But the reduction in recruiting would be made up by the increased retention rate, Berger said.
Currently the Corps only retains 25 percent of Marines, a number that Berger finds unacceptable.
To fill specific positions, the Corps will consider lateral entry to make enlisting or commissioning into the Corps more attractive to people in the civilian world with skills the Corps needs.
“While we will always seek to attract young Americans to our ranks, we do not have an effective vehicle for finding, recruiting, and onboarding talented Americans who already possess critical skills,” the document said. “We should have an open door for exceptionally talented Americans who wish to join the Marine Corps, allowing them to laterally enter at a rank appropriate to their education, experience, and ability.”
The so-called lateral entry program will allow people who already are experts in the cyber field or who have spent years working on jets in the civilian world to join the Marine Corps at a higher rank that matches their skill level.
“We’re convinced there are people out of college or out of high school, went into the workforce and developed skills and experience, some of which we may need. Right now the only way to come into the Marine Corps for her, if she’s 26, 27, is to become a private ― that’s our system,” Berger said Tuesday.
“That is stupid of us … she’s not going to come into the Marine Corps, she’s been working for seven years got a house, why would she start as a private and live in the barracks?”
Lateral enlistment also will be open to prior service Marines who left the Corps at lower ranks and then went on to gather skills in the civilian world.
“I can envision a Marine who left active duty as a captain or corporal rejoining our ranks as a lieutenant colonel or gunnery sergeant, respectively, after spending 5–7 years working in a cyber or IT field where the service currently lacks capacity,” Berger said in the document.
The Marine Corps plans on standing up a special office within Marine Corps Recruiting Command that will exclusively seek those specially skilled civilians.
The recruiting office will be online and modeled after recruiting offices for big tech firms, Berger said in the document.
Not every field will be open to lateral entrants, and the Corps still plans on most recruits coming in the traditional way and starting out as privates, private first classes or second lieutenants.
Those looking to become Marine grunts, shoot cannons or drive amphibious assault vehicles will still have to start from the bottom.
While some of these plans will be instituted in 2022, Berger said it will take years to fully overhaul the recruitment process for the Marine Corps.
“Human resources doesn’t turn on a dime,” he said.
And, while the Marine Corps is becoming pickier in some ways ― it is relaxing some of its other tight-held entry bars. The service recently loosened its stringent tattoos restrictions in another effort to attract and retain talent.