Thanks to unusually high retention, the Marine Corps is set to meet a slightly adjusted goal for its number of troops — likely making it the only major branch that won’t fall short this fiscal year, military leaders told Congress Wednesday.
The Air Force and Navy each hit goals for active-duty recruitment but will not reach reserve goals, the branches’ heads of manpower told senators at an Armed Services Committee hearing on recruitment and retention. As of the end of July, the Army was lagging even further behind the Air Force and Navy on recruitment.
The Space Force, which will take in only a few hundred new Guardians this year, also was on track for recruiting, according to Pentagon news releases.
“While we had to reduce our original fiscal year accession mission, an exceptional retention year enabled the Marine Corps to adjust its FY22 accession goal only slightly, which our hard-working and dedicated recruiters are on track to meet while sustaining our high-quality standards,” retired Lt. Col. Michael Strobl, the Corps’ acting deputy commandant for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, told senators Sept. 21. “We are fortunate for the amazing youth who want to step up and experience the honor, courage and commitment of being a Marine and part of our Corps.”
The service was able to lower its fiscal year recruitment targets in June because of high retention, Maj. Jordan R. Cochran, a spokesman for the Corps’ Manpower and Reserve Affairs, told Marine Corps Times via email.
The Corps had planned to recruit 30,100 active-duty and 5,502 reserve troops, for a total of 35,602, but it reduced that goal by 2,400.
The Marine Corps already has met its Reserve component goal and it expects to meet its active-duty goal by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, Cochran told Marine Corps Times.
In July the Marine Corps surpassed its retention goal for fiscal year 2022 ― the first time it has achieved this in nearly ten years.
Over the previous nine years, the Marine Corps averaged 97.21% of its retention mission but as of July already was at 101.14% and climbing, according to a press release from Cochran.
The Marine Corps has been working to offset the recruiting challenge and overhaul its personnel model through new programs and incentives aimed at keeping more enlisted corpsmen within its ranks.
“My initial assessment is we’re meeting Marines on their ground,” said Col. Robert McCarthy, the Branch Head of Manpower Management Enlisted Assignments, the division responsible for Marine retention.
“There’s a shift in mindset in how we approach the conversation with the individual Marine, and it’s more of a coaching mindset that lays out where their personal goals and interests lie and how we marry that up with the needs of the Marine Corps,” he told Marine Corps Times.
The service’s retention goals are set by Manpower and Reserve Affairs and are based off a percentage of each year’s fiscal year cohort, which typically ranges between 23,000 and 25,000 for first time enlisted Marines, said McCarthy.
It also has to do with the Marine Corps’ ability to meet its overall end strength numbers for enlisted personnel that are mandated by Congress, which this year was around 175,000 total.
“It’s more competitive, there are challenges out there in regards to propensity to serve across the U.S. population in addition to who’s qualified to come and serve in the military,” said McCarthy. “So as that pool of perspective young recruits becomes smaller that naturally shifts to how do we retain those individuals who’ve already committed to military service, specifically in the Marine Corps.”
The Marines’ previous personnel model had been “overly focused ― and, in fact, dependent ― on recruiting rather than retention,” according to the Marine Corps’ Talent Management 2030 strategy, which was released in November 2021.
Now the service is aiming to transition out of the bottom-heavy personnel model it had used over the past three decades, which saw heavy recruitment and 75% of first-term Marines exiting each year, according to the report.
“The whole point of talent management is that we cannot recruit our way out of our future challenges, but we can retain our way out,” said Gen. Eric Smith, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, during an event on July 18 with the Center for Strategic & International Studies.
Smith shared that under the former model Marines had to go through a 22-step process to complete their reenlistment, but now qualified Marines interested in continuing their service are being given an immediate all clear to stay on.
McCarthy and his team began executing this streamlined approach through the fiscal year 2022 retention campaign that began in 2021, in partnership with Fleet Marine Force. He noted that to grow its capability as a force, understanding that a 27-year-old corpsman is likely physically more qualified than an 18-year-old was a good start, but the Corps needed to continue to shift away from the recruit and replace model.
The Corps already is working on this new approach for the next fiscal year.
The Commandant’s Retention Program that began on July 7 is looking to streamline the enlistment process and provide service members with incentives to continue their service.
Sgt. Justin Hubbard, 24, an air traffic control communications technician at Marine Corps Air Facility Quantico, Virginia, was selected for the new program. Hubbard, originally from Ludowici, Georgia, enlisted in 2017 but wasn’t always sure he would remain in the Corps.
“There was a point where I thought I was going to get out,” he told Marine Corps Times.
Hubbard was in the midst of interviewing to join the Secret Service until a conversation with his career planner on the retention program convinced him to stay. He is soon transitioning to Iwakuni, Japan, which he shared was his “first choice.”
Another volunteer initiative allowing Marines to serve as recruiters provides service members not only with a monetary motivation to stay in the Corps but offers them predictability about where they will be stationed, according to McCarthy.
He and his team went on a public road show to speak one-on-one with service members.
Their first stop was III Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa, Japan, then I Marine Expeditionary Force in California, and II Marine Expeditionary Force on the East Coast.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.