WASHINGTON ― The Marine Corps will meet its recruiting goal for 2023, stands ahead of schedule for 2023 retention goals and already has reached more than a quarter of its retention goal for 2024.
And the service is developing a reenlistment smartphone application that would allow Marines to “sign the dotted line” again at the click of a button.
That work stands amid a multiyear struggle the rest of the military branches are facing in recruiting, ― though the Army also met its retention goal four months early, which was announced in early June.
The Marine announcements came Wednesday here at the Modern Day Marine Expo during a panel that featured the heads of recruiting, training, plans and the Reserve.
Maj. Gen. William Bowers, head of recruiting command, said, “Now, you’ll read out there that less than 10% of the youth are quote ‘propensed’ to serve.”
“We like to replace ‘propensed,’ that kind of points the finger at the youth for not wanting to join to inspired, which puts it back on us.”
The numbers matter, but leaders said other factors have led to the rise in recruiting and retention success.
Maj. Gen. Roger Turner, head of Plans, Policies and Operations, said, “It’s really a culture shift in the Marine Corps, where maybe a few years ago there was a kind of ‘recruit and replace’ and that was the paradigm.”
“And now we’re more of a recruit, train and retain force. I think we’re changing that and that’s one of the biggest factors we’re seeing on retention success.”
As of June, the Corps has hit 110% of its 2023 retention goal, keeping 6,925 first-term Marines in uniform, 700 ahead of schedule.
The service reached 104% of its subsequent term retention goal, meaning Marines who’ve are on their second or greater enlistment term.
And 27% of the Marines eligible for reenlistment in 2024 already have signed up.
Those figures were provided by Michael Strobl, PhD, with Manpower & Reserve Affairs.
Strobl noted that a key move made by leadership included engaging commands throughout the Corps and setting retention at the top of their personnel priorities.
That involved having commanders sit down with Marines early in their enlistments and ask, “What will it take to keep you?” And then listening to them, Strobl said.
“That’s probably the single biggest contributor to our success,” Strobl said.
And even for those Marines who still didn’t want to stay on active duty, leaders found ways to encourage them to look harder at the Reserve.
And the Marine Corps Reserve is exceeding its own retention goals as well.
Lt. Gen. David Bellon, commander of Marine Forces Reserve, said Wednesday that 4th Marine Division is currently at 138% of its retention requirement already for 2023. The fiscal year concludes at the end of September.
A big hurdle for Marines looking to reenlist includes administrative hassles. A 20-document process could eat up a lot of time for those interested in staying in.
Through a commandant-directed retention initiative, the process has now shifted to a 24–36 hour process that’s seen a 72% increase in first-term, top tier reenlistments, officials said.
As part of the program, officials are seeking out top tier Marines, those who’ve met or exceeded major Marine and job-specific goals and display above-average scores and reviews compared with their peers and allowing them to reenlist up to two years before the end of their contract.
And they’re trying to move even faster by developing a smartphone application for reenlistment.
Lt. Gen. Kevin Iiams, head of Training and Education Command, said, “In a day and age when you can refinance your mortgage on your smartphone you should be able to reenlist on your smartphone.”
As the Corps hits those targets, it’s also seen a dramatic increase in the number of Marines volunteering for recruiting duty, a job historically avoided or seen as a hardship by many Marines.
Though the Corps is meeting its mission to recruit new Marines, demographic and generational hurdles have placed a greater emphasis on retaining experienced Marines beyond their first term.
Bowers laid out the numbers picture during the panel.
Among the 40 million in the millennial generation who were between the ages 17–24 as the United States was recruiting troops for the Global War on Terror, about 30% were qualified.
Currently, Generation Z has about 33 million in its population and only 23% are qualified for military service.
That’s meant a smaller pool to pull from, placing greater weight on retaining military members for all the branches.
But recruiting success, the Corps also met all its goals in 2022, has come despite the smaller pool and major obstacle such as a population less familiar with the military and less qualified than previous generations.
“We are the only service on track to make (recruiting/retention goals) this year,” Bowers said. “I can tell you that’s true, we’re going to make it and we’re on track to make it next year.”
But the pointy end of the spear, as military folks like to say, is the recruiter. And recruiter burnout has been an aspect of military life for generations.
Something different has been happening lately for those selected for Marine recruiting duty, though.
“We’re seeing 70% volunteers, that’s more than double in less than one year,” Bowers said.
The major general credits a couple of moves with the recruiter shift.
Historically a command screening team would look across the Corps and identify top-performing Marines and select them for recruiting duty, an important “B Billet,” that stands outside of their primary military occupational specialty. Other examples include drill instructor duty and embassy duty.
But if those top Marines didn’t like where they were going to be sent to recruit or simply didn’t want to be a recruiter, they often left the Corps when their current contract ended, Bowers said.
“So, we started the ‘recruit the recruiter program,’” Bowers said.
That meant that Marines who volunteered for recruiting duty got their pick of duty station, a bonus and their pick of their post-recruiting duty.
“Basically, a chance to shape the next eight years of your career,” Bowers said.
At the same time the Corps is taking a hard look at demographic shifts and where to find the best talent. They’re standing up recruiting stations in Austin, Texas, and Orlando, Florida, Bowers said.
“We’ve had a lot of volunteers for Austin, Texas,” he said.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.