Second Honorable Mention, Vincent Astor Leadership Essay Contest
Retaining those essential Marines with expertise in technical fields presents a unique challenge to Marine Corps leaders.
Every year, the U.S. Marine Corps welcomes thousands of young men and women into its ranks while releasing thousands of Marines who have completed their enlistment contracts. The ebb and flow of personnel seems inevitable, but those trained in technical skill sets (command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence systems) often leave vacancies not easily filled. Sometimes the loss from a section of even one or two technically trained and experienced Marines has a negative impact on that unit's combat readiness and operational capability.
How can Marine leaders encourage more Marines who serve in lucrative, high-tech military occupational specialty (MOS) fields to remain on active duty? They must ask the tough questions, devise creative solutions, and have the courage to implement the required changes to reduce the loss of technical and tactical expertise in the operational units.
Lengthen Enlistment Contracts
With few exceptions, new Marines enlist for only four years of active duty. To extend short-term longevity in technically oriented billets, the Marine Corps should assign longer service contracts to more fields that provide high-tech training. These fields could take a cue from Marine aviation, where the six-year contracts of rotary-wing aviators and eight-year contracts of fixed-wing aviators begin after graduation from Pensacola. The Marine Corps should extend some of the more lucrative, high-tech MOS field enlistment contracts to reflect six or perhaps even eight years of initial active duty. These contracts should begin after MOS school graduation.
Discourage Early Marriages
In 1993, then-Commandant General Carl E. Mundy Jr. proposed that Marine recruiters stop enlisting married men and women. He also wanted to reduce the number of Marines getting married during their first enlistments to allow first-term Marines to concentrate on their new profession and to control the rapidly growing dependent population in the Marine Corps. Political backlash from then-- Representative Patricia Schroeder (D-CO), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, prevented Commandant Mundy from implementing the "singles only" policy.
Although I do not advocate the singles-only recruiting concept, the Marine Corps can initiate programs aimed at controlling the number of young Marines who choose to marry during their first enlistments. Not long ago, Marines had to receive their commanding officers' permission before getting married. Today, many religions require couples to engage in premarital education classes. Marine Corps leaders can take an active role by helping Marines make wise marital decisions. For instance, before deploying to foreign countries, Marines should receive lectures alerting them to schemes wherein foreign nationals attempt to get U.S. citizenship by seducing and marrying U.S. service-members.
Before granting permission to marry, Marine leaders would require prospective couples to attend classes detailing the stresses of military life on a marriage. These classes would present topical lectures and discussions incorporating role-playing scenarios and "what if" situations that paint a true picture of the difficulties of marriage.
They would present straightforward information tailored to military marriages, including statistics detailing how often military marriages fail. The classes would cover both the tangible and intangible costs of divorce, especially divorces involving children. While the intent of these classes would be to encourage young Marines to postpone getting married until they are older and in better financial positions, if Marines still decide to get married after attending these classes, the newlyweds should be better prepared to deal with the many changes that accompany marriage, reducing the incidence of marital strife and domestic violence.
Both technical and nontechnical MOS fields would benefit from fewer marriages. Imagine the camaraderie and unit cohesion if all the young Marines lived in the barracks. Without the added stresses of money management and time requirements that accompany spouses and families, Marines could more readily deploy or attend last-minute training opportunities. Without the demands of family, Marines who would have otherwise chosen to leave the Corps for family reasons could continue on active duty.
This design also benefits the Marine Corps financially. When all first-term Marines are single and living in the bachelor enlisted quarters, the money spent funding basic allowance for housing (BAH) and other expenses is greatly reduced. For example, a married lance corporal (E-3) living in San Diego, California, receives $1,132 per month from BAH. On an annual basis, the San Diego Marine brings home an additional $13,584 from BAH payments. When multiplied by the number of married first-term enlisted Marines throughout the Corps, the outlay for BAH becomes enormous.
Overhaul the Rank Structure
The Marine Corps should reorganize its rank structure by changing the ranks for technical MOS fields of sergeant (E-5) and above. This initiative would better reflect the technician specialty now resident in these fields by allowing Marines of the rank E-5 and above who carry the technician specialty an opportunity to remain in their MOS. When Marines with technology ranks come up for promotion boards, they would remain responsible for completing the appropriate professional military education (PME), but be exempt from mandatory "B-Billet" assignments as drill instructors, recruiters, or Marine security guards. Without a required three-year absence from their MOS fields, high-tech Marines not only would maintain their level of proficiency, but also would continue skill-set development in their particular fields.
Initiate Proficiency Pay
In addition to the reorganized rank structure, the technician fields should be subsidized with a form of proficiency pay (propay), similar to what linguists, Marines performing explosive ordnance disposal, and aircrew members receive. To ensure that only the most qualified technically trained persons receive propay, units with technical MOS Marines would both sponsor and conduct annual proficiency evaluations involving a Marine Corps-wide, rank-specific combination of written exams and practical application evaluations, similar to the annual testing of linguists. Only those technology-oriented Marines who successfully complete the annual training and testing would qualify for propay. To reward Marines receiving additional high-tech training, either on or off duty, propay could be adjustable. Marines showing higher proficiency than the baseline because of additional training and experience would receive more propay than their less-versatile peers.
Require Small-Unit Leaders to Invest in Enlisted Careers
Most Marine leaders are concerned with their Marines' quality of life (pay, housing, safety, health, physical fitness), but they are not as accountable when it comes to looking out for the related career issues of their enlisted Marines. Marine leaders must assess how they can best influence their junior Marines' careers. Enlisted Marines execute most of the Corps' tasks and missions. They need to know that their seniors are supervising their enlisted career tracks and looking for ways to enrich them personally and professionally.
Small-unit leaders no longer can rely solely on the unit's career planner, first sergeant, or sergeant major. Commanders need to help the chain of command monitor the progress of their Marines as they strive for their next promotions and take an active interest in their Marines' PME, additional MOS-related instruction (either associated off-duty education or formal MOS-related schools), and Marine-centric adventure training.
PME develops subordinates both technically and professionally. Leaders in the chain of command need to remain aware of any Marine Corps Institute (MCI) courses their Marines are enrolled in and ensure their Marines complete the courses in a timely manner. Leaders who establish periods in the weekly work schedule dedicated to working on MCI courses and other PME topics demonstrate to subordinates the value they place on PME. In addition to MCI courses, there are resident PME courses, such as the Sergeant's Course and the Staff Non-Commissioned Officer's Academy, that leaders should recommend their Marines attend.
Professional Marines understand the value of education. They realize that they improve not only themselves but also their Corps when they obtain skills, certifications, and degrees that relate to their MOSs. Commands should advertise opportunities for MOS-related development to all Marines, regardless of rank. These opportunities would include formal military schools and off-base/on-line courses.
Marine leaders need to coordinate Marine-centric adventure training for their subordinates. When young men and women join the Marine Corps, they envision participating in challenging and adventurous training that pushes them to the limits of mental and physical exhaustion. Examples of this rigorous training include day/night patrolling, weapon handling, rappelling, marksmanship, and combat field exercises. Marines in high-- tech MOS fields may sometimes forget their relationship to Marines performing the foundational skills traditionally associated with Marines. Leaders who organize extra training develop Marines with higher morale and improved communication skills, who reflect a stronger team identity, greater esprit de corps, and have an increased likelihood of remaining on active duty.
Going to war without your best-trained, most-experienced, and tactically knowledgeable Marines is like going into a firefight with partially filled magazines in your weapons. To be the best, the Marine Corps needs to keep the best in its ranks. The active role leaders take now to retain talented Marines with technical skill sets will augment the readiness and fighting capability of future generations of Marines.
Major Moore is a recent graduate of the Marine Corps Command and Control Systems School.