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The United States Marine Corps is in the midst of a drawdown, and retention specialists had a clear message for Marines seeking to stay in during an Aug. 19 visit to Henderson Hall: be professionally competitive.

In the wake of sequestration cuts, Marine Corps leadership has enacted a plan to draw down manpower to 175,000 Marines by the end of Fiscal Year 2017.

According to an April 2014 statement from Sgt. Maj. Micheal P. Barrett, sergeant major of the Marine Corps, to the Senate Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on personnel, there were 195,687 Marines in the force at the end of FY 2013. Barrett said the Corps would be conducting a “measured drawdown” with the goal to reduce end strength by no more than 7,500 Marines per year.

Marine Corps leadership has a FY 2014 end strength goal of 188,800 Marines and hopes to reduce the force by roughly 4,000 Marines per year until reaching the 175,00-mark by FY 2017’s end. That means retention will become more competitive for Marines.

Representatives from Marine Manpower Enlisted Assignments (MMEA) held a series of briefs in the Joe Rosenthal Theater on the Henderson Hall portion of the joint base to educate first-term Marines, staff noncommissioned Marines and officers on a wealth of information to improve Marines’ chances of being retained.

Gunnery Sgt. Donald Miller of MMEA’s enlisted assignments branch told first-term Marines that even if they weren’t sure they wanted to stay in the Corps, they should at least submit reenlistment requests. That way, Marines are more likely to procure a “boat space” – an enlistment vacancy based on the Corps’ future manpower needs in specific career fields.

Boat spaces are filling up, and if a Marine decides too late that he or she wants to reenlist, they risk losing their spots, Miller said.

The submission deadline for reenlistment requests is Oct. 1. Once approved, a Marine has 15 days to actually reenlist.

Tier One Marines, Marines in high-deploying MOSs and high-demand or undermanned MOSs can expect their reenlistment requests to be processed faster, Miller said.

And Miller stressed that not everyone is going to be able to stay.

“The commandant is asking for us to retain only the best and the brightest – the most highly-qualified Marines,” he said.

Reenlistment approvals for first-term Marines will heavily depend on commanders’ recommendations and the tier evaluation system. It is Marines’ jobs to ensure that individual performance and conduct records make them professionally competitive to stay in the Corps, Miller said.

“Your decision on reenlistment, believe it or not, started a long time ago,” Miller told Marines during the briefs. “For some of you, that decision is going to be made for you.”

Low rifle range and physical combat fitness test scores will negatively impact a Marine’s chance to reenlist, Miller said.

Sgt. Maj. Julio Meza of MMEA gave officers similar news: The drawdown will make promotions tougher to obtain. He stressed the importance of Marines working with their monitors to explore their careers options.

“If you’re going to a promotion board and you fail selection, the next year, it’s probably not very likely that you’re going to get promoted, because the best chance for promotion is the first year that you go in,” Meza said. “The higher you move up, the more competitive it is.”

The drawdown also means that misconduct has a higher chance of ending a Marine’s career. According to the brief, Marines retained with one non-judicial punishment plummeted from 910 in FY 2010 to 230 in FY 2014.

With new retirement programs, there are Marines who are eligible for retirement after 15 years of service instead of 20.

“Make sure that you always have reality staring you in the face and make sure that you understand that everybody’s going to be out of uniform at some point,” Meza said.

Lt. Col. Rory Quinn, head of the enlisted retention section, said that, ultimately, Marines’ actions make them “qualified inventory.” The Corps has constraints, and leadership intends to meet staffing goals with the most highly qualified personnel possible, he said.

For more information on retention and promotion, see the FTAP and STAP guidelines at www.manpower.msmc.mil or talk to your career counselor or monitor.