The demanding world of U.S. Marine Corps recruiting duty forces leaders to place their subordinates in ethically compromising situations. A zero-defects atmosphere and high incidence of micromanagement combine to create an unhealthy environment—“accomplish the mission or else.’ Recruiters are ordered to make their assigned goals no matter what the cost. This pressure to make quota begins at the commanding general level and pushes down through the chain of command to the sergeant manning the recruiting sub-station. The drive to succeed lures too many Marines down an unethical path, ultimately leading to their relief for cause and a bad reputation for the recruiting service. How long can the recruiting service continue to treat high-quality officers and staff noncommissioned officers as though they are expendable? The Marine | Corps should eradicate this zero-defects environment, and make room for sound leadership.
Nowhere else in the Corps is zero-defects pressure prevalent than within the recruiting service. Anyone who has served a tour as an enlisted recruiter (MOS 8411) or as an officer selection officer has heard the following statement: “I don’t care how you do it; just don’t come back until you’ve found a warm, breathing body qualified to be a Marine.” The recruiter takes this to heart, and—unwilling to fail in his mission or let down the commanding officer—he will go to the ends of the earth to make it happen. More often than not, the recruiter returns with his prize—and with his ethics intact, no regulations broken, and no impossible-to-keep promises tendered.
If the recruiter fails in his mission. however, he becomes a detriment to the command. Immediate steps are taken to eliminate either the problem or the recruiter. The first failure places him in the “Zero Hero Club” and results in an early Saturday-morning drive to the recruiting station to explain his dismal failure to the executive officer. This is followed by an extremely stern reprimand and remedial Professional Selling Skills (PSS) training, to put him back on the path to success. A second failure brings an official letter of caution and additional remedial PSS training. A third failure brings probation, a severe reprimand from the commanding officer, and a great deal of micromanagement from the operations officer in an effort to place him back on track. A fourth and final failure brings relief for cause. Somewhere between the second and third failure, however, the Marine becomes desperate, working 20 hours a day, seven days a week, doing everything he can to succeed. He is under pressure to produce or be fired. This is when a recruiter is most likely to commit a breach of ethics.
The zero-defects mentality has created the most extensive micromanagement system in existence today: systematic recruiting. Systematic recruiting is designed to make even the most inept Marine recruiter successful. A recruiter contacts everyone in his assigned area in hopes of persuading at least one individual to enlist. Systematic recruiting plans the recruiter’s month down to the last minute. Superiors are provided a daily report card on his activities, allowing the operations officer to identify problem areas and keep the recruiter working at 100% efficiency. For example, each morning, the recruiting substation noncommissioned officer-in-charge reports his station’s numbers—including telephone calls, home visits, interviews, and contracts performed by each recruiter—from the previous working day to the operations officer. This provides an hourly record of what each recruiter did all day long and informs the noncommissioned officer- in-charge and the recruiting station commanding officer of exactly how each recruiter spent every day of every week.
Why does so much control need to be exerted on a group of staff noncommissioned officers and noncommissioned officers? What became of trust and initiative? Are recruiting station commanding officers under so much pressure that they will not allow their subordinates any room to make decisions or mistakes? Do district directors fear failure so much that they will not give majors and captains any latitude to use their own initiative or creativity? How can we place our Marines in such do-or-die situations? How can we expect perfect recruiters and not give them a chance to fail without ruining their careers?
Without this micromanagement there might be a severe drop in new Marine recruits. However, a better-quality recruit who enters the Corps honestly and with less pressure from the recruiter stands a better chance of completing a first term, as well as a better chance of reenlisting. More than 30% of male Marines and approximately 50% of female Marines leave the service before completing their first enlistments. This drop in new Marines could be corrected if higher quality Marines stayed longer.
When Marines are first assigned to a recruiting substation, they are given three months “off production,” during which time they are not held accountable to make quota. These three months allow a recruiter to establish a data base of activity within the systematic recruiting system and to learn the ropes from fellow recruiters. Once placed on production, he or she is required to recruit two Marines every month for the next 33 months. No excuses, short of physical incapacitation, will relieve him or her of this responsibility. If a recruiter should happen to secure only one contract in a given month, he or she is required to sign three the next month to make up the difference.
What if the staff noncommissioned officer has a candidate who wants to enlist but is not qualified? By bending the rules, he can get the applicant through the military entrance processing station, get the command group off his back, and have a successful month. Most recruiters don’t succumb to the pressure—and would rather fail than compromise their integrity. Others, unfortunately, are not as steadfast. During my three years on recruiting duty within one recruiting station, at least ten staff noncommissioned officers and noncommissioned officers from a command of only 70 Marines chose the path of least resistance, were subsequently caught, and ultimately relieved.
Anyone who has served a tour as an enlisted recruiter has heard the following statement: "I don't care how you do it; just don't come back until you've found a warm, breathing body qualified to be a Marine."
Removal of the zero-defects mentality embodied in systematic recruiting certainly would cause major initial shocks within the recruiting service. The number of new contracts would drop dramatically, once the pressure was taken off the recruiting force. However, the numbers would climb back to acceptable levels after good Marine Corps leadership had a chance to take root. As more Marines completed their first terms and reenlisted, the quality of our force would increase. Such an initial reduction in recruiting could be best tolerated in today’s military climate, while the Marine Corps already faces major force cuts.
These statements might seem like a lot of whining, bellyaching, or exaggeration. After all. Marines are expected to accomplish with enthusiasm and the utmost dedication any mission assigned them. As the recruiting station itself stated several years ago, “We don’t promise you a rose garden.” And those who have served as recruiters say that recruiting duty is as close as you can come to actual combat while serving in peacetime. Marine recruiting has always been tasked with finding those few civilians within our populace who have the mettle to be Marines—but at what cost to the officers and staff noncommissioned officers who are tasked with this demanding mission?