CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Time is running out!
Forty-six Military Occupational Specialties are already full and another 22 are about to close for Fiscal Year 2003. By the time Marines get through this story, their MOSs may be closed too.
The Marine Corps has set aside about $31 million for re-enlistment bonuses and is offering school seats in three highly sought-after courses and duty station preferences to encourage junior Marines to sign up for another four years. Some units here are also adding permissive leave to the package for first-termers.
However, Marines should not assume these incentives are available because the Corps can't meet its retention goals. On the contrary, this fighting machine has met its first-term re-enlistment goals for at least the last 10 years and continues to succeed where other services are having difficulty, according to Capt. Alexander H. Snowden, First Term Alignment Plan officer at Headquarters Marine Corps.
"Since we began accepting re-enlistment packages in July, we have received hundreds of requests each day," said Snowden. "As of September 27, we have already received more than 4,700 requests for re-enlistment, and 3,500 are already approved."
The Marine Corps only needs about one out of four first-term Marines to re-enlist to meet its goal of retaining approximately 6,000 hard chargers. This means re-enlistment opportunities, called boatspaces, fill up fast, particularly in certain MOSs.
"Specialties such as administration, motor transportation, water purification and those in the aviation community fill up fast because Marines really like them or because they only have a few boatspaces," said Snowden, who hails from Memphis, Tenn.
According to the alignment plan, first-term Marines must wait until the fiscal year in which their end of active service date occurs to re-enlist. A 1995 all Marine message regarding enlisted career force controls explains the FTAP helps ensure first-term re-enlistments are controlled and prevents promotions from stagnating in MOSs that are over strength. It also allows under-strength MOSs to increase their manning by forcing some Marines to do lateral moves to other MOSs if they wish to stay in the Corps.
Marines at Headquarters Marine Corps review each re-enlistment package by hand in the order they receive them, according to Snowden. As boatspaces fill up, Marines who have been approved go on a waiting list for their MOSs. If a Marine who has been approved decides not to re-enlist after all, headquarters approves the next Marine in line for that MOS.
The only Marines who get a brief reprieve from this October time-crunch are those requesting a lateral move. Their packages are not approved for re-enlistment until the second quarter of the year. This allows first-termers who wish to re-enlist in their MOS a head start and keeps experience in the career fields. However, those who wait too long will compete with "lat movers" for boatspaces.
"The biggest error I see is Marines who have an EAS in the fourth quarter because they tend to wait too long to make their decision," said Snowden. "Last year, the boatspaces were filled by June 30. They really need to know a year ahead of time what they want to do."
A year may seem like a long time for young Marines who don't know what they want to do, but career planners here advise Marines to cover their options.
"Marines here need to realize boatspaces are going away, and they need to come in to see (their career planner) as soon as possible," said Gunnery Sgt. Patrick M. Hansen, a career planner with Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Base. "I encourage Marines to put in re-enlistment packages if they don't know what they want to do."
Sergeant Andrew Mejia, from Maplewood, N.J., agreed.
"I encourage Marines to submit packages as soon as possible," said the career retention specialist for Headquarters Battalion, 2nd Marine Division. "They can submit a package and still decline the re-enlistment when it comes back if things don't work out. The most important thing is to make sure they are educated about their decision."
Part of that education may include learning more about what the Marine Corps has to offer and what awaits those who choose to get out.
Mejia said opportunities for Marines are better than ever. He pointed out the medical, dental and commissary benefits, but also emphasized the education and officer programs available, as well as the various special duty assignments, such as embassy duty, recruiting and the drill field.
"You can't beat the benefits. Promotions are also better in the Marine Corps since we started the FTAP program," added Hansen.
"I see Marines every day leave the Marine Corps and leave a good job and good benefits," the Toledo, Ohio, native continued. "I don't understand why. A lot of them leave because they think the grass is greener on the other side, but you can't find a company that would offer you the same benefits the Marine Corps offers right from the beginning."
Many Marines here have already been approved for re-enlistment and raised their hands today in a mass re-enlistment ceremony in front of the II Marine Expeditionary Force headquarters building.
Some, like Gaithersburg, Md., native Cpl. Edwin A. Melo, said they signed on for another term because they enjoy what they are doing.
"Law enforcement is fun. It changes all the time; each day is different," said the Provost Marshal's Office investigator for Marine Corps Base, who received his duty station preference as an incentive. "I want to get more experience as a law enforcement official. I am also working toward a bachelor's degree, and the tuition assistance through the military really helps."
Corporal Roger A. Pyffer, on the other hand, said he enjoyed the opportunities he has in the Marine Corps.
"You always have the opportunity to go new places and meet new people," said the noncommissioned officer in charge of the Headquarters Battalion armory for 2nd Marine Division. "I toured all over South America during a deployment in 2001, and I've met some really great people in the Marine Corps."
The Pitman, N.J., native said he is looking forward to recruiting duty in his next tour, which he requested as part of his re-enlistment package, in addition to receiving a bonus for his MOS.
"I wanted to get out and do a secondary billet and experience something different," he explained. "I wanted to get a break and come back to my MOS fresh."
Still other Marines, such as Patrick, S.C., native Cpl. William C. Jordan, said there was never any question about re-enlisting. Jordan, who is on his way to Japan as part of his duty station preference incentive, said he enjoys some of the intangible aspects of the Marine Corps.
"The brotherhood and camaraderie were important to me," said the supply administration clerk for Headquarters Battalion, 2nd Marine Division. "I like the fact I may not know the guy next to me, but I know he is willing to give his life for me if necessary, and I'm willing to do the same for him. Nobody cares about your welfare (on the civilian side).
"The professional association with other Marines will also help whenever I get out. With the Marine Corps, you have a lot of connections," he added.
It is clear many first-term Marines are opting to re-enlist, whether they enjoy the job or want to continue seeing what the world has to offer. As a result, retention specialists here and at Headquarters Marine Corps said they caution those who are still undecided to see their career planners immediately.
In the meantime, those boatspaces continue to fill up with motivated Marines like Jordan, Pyffer and Melo.
"I love the fact that people look at the Marine Corps as the best military organization and that I am a part of that," said Jordan. "Not everyone can do this. We are truly the few and the proud."