CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- "Every time I hold my thumb up, you say re-enlist," said Gunnery Sgt. Melissa A. Grant, a retention liaison with Manpower Management Enlisted Assignments-6. The Headquarters Marine Corps representative said this to a group of less than 30 Marines attending a brief for the First Term Alignment Plan at the Base Theater here Jan. 8.
It is Grant's job to spark an interest in Marines approaching their end of active service date with monitors accompanying her during a three-day visit to the base. Though most of the young Marines obliged Grant, she said she was cynical about how many of them would follow through with a re-enlistment package.
Grant's skepticism came when the Marine Corps released an administrative message earlier that day informing all Marines of a Stop Loss plan in effect as of Jan. 15. In the plan, authorized by Secretary of the Navy Gordon R. England, most Marine Corps personnel, active and reserve, will be extended no more than 12 months beyond their current contract commitments, and permanent change of station orders are on hold. Grant said with Marines already involuntarily extended, she is afraid many of them will decide to wait for the Stop Loss to end rather than re-enlist now.
These Marines realize whether they re-enlist now or not, they are staying on active duty status, said the Clinton, Md., native.
Another hard blow to the retention process is the effect Stop Loss has on incentives offered to re-enlisting Marines. During Grant's brief, she told attendees about their options to lateral move into another military occupational specialty, choose their next duty station or attend special schools, such as the Airborne Course; Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape Course; Summer and Winter Mountain Leader's Course; and the High Risk Personnel Course.
"Everything I just told these Marines is dependent upon the situation after the Stop Loss is over," said Grant. "Right now, Marines just have to stay because they want to be a Marine."
Gunnery Sgt. Harold J. Turner Jr., 2nd Marine Division career planner, said these incentives will now be written in a re-enlistment contract as deferred. He said he is worried Marines will delay re-enlisting or even decide not to. He said if a Marine delays putting in a package there is a good chance they might not be able to re-enlist at all.
"As of today, any Marine who doesn't re-enlist before their end of active service date will be moved into the Fiscal Year 2004 category and will not be competitive for a boat space (or position) in their military occupational specialty," said Turner. He added that Marines already due to re-enlist or get out of the Marine Corps in 2004 will have priority over anyone who delays submitting a package. He said even if another message is released authorizing Marines moved into the 2004 category to re-enlist, those who already fall into that fiscal year will take priority when it comes to incentives.
Corporal Joshua A. Harpster, a computer programmer with Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Base, is already feeling the effects of waiting too long to submit a package. Harpster just hit his 3.5-year mark on his current contract and said he would like to re-enlist, but his MOS is already full. To do so, he is forced to make a lateral move. The Stafford, Va., native, said even though he may have to wait 12 months for the Stop Loss to end before he would go to his new MOS school, it is worth the wait.
"I've been sitting behind a computer too long now, and quite frankly, I'm ready for a new job," said Harpster. "It will be a long wait for my lateral move, but it is worth it to stay in the Marine Corps and defend my country."
Grant, who said the goal is to retain 25.2 percent of first-term Marines this year, said she hopes there are many more like Harpster. She said it takes a special kind of person to re-enlist with so many overseas conflicts currently taking place.
"This day in time, it's not just what you can get for yourself, it's what you can do for your family, friends and country," said Grant. "The motivation has to come from your heart, not your pay."