Marines See Early Successes in Retention Push—and Ways to Do Better
Meanwhile, the commandant wants to bring skilled people into the Corps at advanced ranks.
A bit more than a year after the Marine Corps decided to try harder to keep Marines, the service is taking stock of its efforts.
One early winner: the Commandant’s Retention Program, which allows top Marines to receive approval to reenlist in about 48 hours. The program has boosted first reenlistments by the group of outstanding performers by some 72 percent, said Gen. Eric Smith, the service’s assistant commandant.
“In the past, we would have said ‘just wait a while.’ Why would we do that? So we've kind of knocked down some barriers,” Smith told reporters on Friday.
Smith spoke ahead of the release of a 12-page update to “Talent Management 2030”, the November 2021 document that changed how the Marine Corps views its force: from a set of easily replaceable troops to skilled professionals who should be cultivated and persuaded to stick around.
The new focus on retention has Marines “responding with enthusiasm and a level of excitement that we're trying to match, frankly,” said Lt. Gen. James Glynn, the deputy commandant for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, to reporters ahead of the update’s release.
By February 7, the Marine Corps reenlisted 6,239 Marines who had finished their initial contract, meeting its goal of first-time reenlistments, Col. Eric Reid, the director of the Marine Corps Talent Management Strategy Group, said in a statement to Defense One.
Within two years, the Marines went from hitting their goal around September—the end of the fiscal year—to February, Glynn said.
The retention goal is not the limit, Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Troy Black said last month. “In fact, we have a process now where instead of having a ceiling on how many we are going to retain…we are making it a floor,” Black said.
Smith provided anecdotes of some of the policies that have been modified or eliminated because they cause hardships or hinder careers. For example, one Marine’s transfer to a new job field was denied because several meritorious promotions had given him too much rank.
“I think the removal of policies that are outdated, or no longer makes sense, is incredibly important…I think what's the most important is the commandant, Gen. [David] Berger, gave us the latitude to do it,” Smith said. Service officials are “going out and finding these policies, and they find it by asking Marines.”
Monday’s update highlights Berger’s dissatisfaction with the Corps’ progress toward what’s called “lateral entry”—enabling recruits with critical skills to come in at a rank that reflects their experience. The commandant wants the lateral-entry system to focus first on reservists and Marines who have left the service. This could help fill cyber jobs and others in which the Corps competes with the civilian sector, Glynn said.
In the meantime, the Marines are looking into lengthening the initial contracts for some jobs, particularly technical ones such as cyber and maintenance, Reid said. For infantry, which has increased its initial training, they already offer five- and six-year contracts, he said.
“Across a broad spectrum of [Military Occupational Specialties], we are providing more intense and longer training to correspond to the more complex battlefield that we're going to send Marines to be successful on. And so, as we make that longer investment, it's coming into tension with our normal…our habit of when we normally turn over Marines in the duration of our contracts,” he said.
The Marines are also looking at ways to improve barracks and to broaden food options on base, perhaps allowing meal plans to pay for commissary services or food trucks.
“We want to just make sure all the options are there for them. And so what you do on that is you invest more in them,” Smith said. “I won't reveal the budget…but you'll see a significant, and I can say it'll have a ‘B’ on the end of it, investment in things like barracks and chow halls to do just that.”
The service is still working on bringing to life its Talent Management Engagement Portal, which the update calls “a must-pay bill.” It is meant to improve career assignment selections with a transparent “marketplace” for Marines, units, and assignment managers, according to Glynn.
“I saw a demo of it earlier this week, the marketplace. So it exists. It's not quite at the point where we can beta test it. But I think that by the fall, what I hope to be able to do is apply it against an MOS or a couple MOSs to try and see without disrupting the entirety of the system, does the interface facilitate what it is we're trying to facilitate.”