“Talent Management” is a phrase that seems to be more consistent with a model scout than a military recruiter, but Marine Commandant General David Berger is working on making it a common military phrase for new potential recruits. It would seem that “Talent Management” may also result in some wearing the coveted Eagle Globe and Anchor of the Marine Corps without attending boot camp at Paris Island or San Diego.

If you are as confused as I am, you are likely wondering what in the world I’m referring to. Well, the Marine Corps released a new document a couple of weeks ago penned by the 38th Commandant of the Marine Corps, General David Berger that details its recruiting and retaining strategy for the remainder of this decade. The release details new strategies for recruiting. Such as allowing those with specific Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) to circumvent Marine Corps boot camp/recruit training or for a prior-enlisted Marine (with a rank of Corporal, for example) to re-enlist into the Corps as a Gunnery Sgt.; skipping the two ranks in-between if the Marine Corps needs that former Marine’s MOS expertise.

Some of the topics of Berger’s memo include:

  • Talent Management
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Talent Management
  • Reinforcing Diversity
  • Rebalancing Recruiting and Retention to Mature the Force
  • Enhancing Assessment of Potential Recruits



Marine Commandant General Berger’s new strategy. (Headquarters Marine Corps)

Talent Management in More Detail

“A talent management system identifies an individual Marine’s talents, helps them develop those talents through education, training, mentorship, and experience, and assigns them to positions where they can best contribute to the success of their unit and the Corps. This system also identifies and rewards the most talented with tough assignments, accelerated promotions, educational opportunities, additional pay, duty station preference, and other incentives.” -Gen. Berger

I don’t disagree with this statement by General Berger. Units like Marine Recon, Army Green Beret, and Navy SEALs should rate additional pay, accelerated promotion, and other incentives as they often have the most skin in the game. I also don’t disagree with the tenets of talent management that General Berger laid out. Those are:

  • Marines are individuals, not inventory
  • Talents can be identified and evaluated
  • Talents can be developed
  • Matching talents to duties maximizes performance
  • Incentives power the system
  • There is always a boat space for talent
  • Data drives decision-making

Marines are individuals (though that may be the first time I’ve heard Marine leadership admit to it), and each Marine does possess a unique set of talents. I agree that these tenets are important, but I also believe it is important to achieve these tenets in a way that is respectful to Marine Corps tradition and to the hundreds of thousands of Marines who have already taken the traditional path into the Marine Corps.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)

“The Marine Corps draws its collective strength and identity from all its Marines, so it is critical that we prioritize policies that maximize the individual strengths of every Marine, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, creed, or any other marker.” -Gen. Berger

I certainly believe that diversity is a key attribute that all employers should be mindful of, but not diversity just for the sake of it. If your company’s mission is providing Spanish translation for police officers to use when interviewing a Spanish-speaking suspect, then it makes sense if most of your employees turn out to be Hispanic. I don’t think that’s bad, and I don’t think you should refuse a Hispanic person that job so you can give it to a caucasian who studied Spanish throughout college simply to meet a quota. Some jobs are better suited for certain people, including for certain races or genders.


Unit diversity can be incredibly beneficial. Diversity for its own sake irrespective of required skillsets would not be. (U.S. Marine Corps)

However, I do believe that diversity means you shouldn’t preclude anyone – regardless of race/gender/etc.- from attempting to get a position and that each person should have an equal chance to “win the spot.” That I can get behind.  This is what used to be called “Equal Opportunity” so if this remains the standard, rebranding it as “Diversity” is a distinction without a difference.

General Berger also discusses the importance of “equity.” On its face, equity sounds like a noble goal. However, when you delve into the political movement behind Diversity-Equity-Inclusion or “DEI,” what you find is a bit more disturbing. Under this definition of Equity, a person’s status as a minority is considered before their skills are in terms of giving them a place in the organizational chart. A time this happens could be when a local mayor says she wants the next detective at the department to be a female whether qualified for the position or not.  The standard definition of Equity is something done fairly and impartially, but an equity system that seeks to address past inequities by imposing new inequities on the present isn’t an improvement.  It’s still inequity, it’s just pointed at somebody else.

That said, what the Marine Corps and ALL businesses should strive for is equality. Equality means that everyone has the same chance to secure a position and that the most qualified/best fit for the organization wins the spot. In truth, it may never be perfectly achieved, but it should be the goal we strive for in law and in society in general

In the Marine Corps, the equity system was very simple to understand.  To be promoted, A Marine would be given a composite score that included things like your score on the rifle range, time in service, time in grade, PT score, and education. This number would then be compared to a “Cutting Score,” which reflected the number of open billets for that promotion.  If there were a thousand E-5s all trying to promote for just one-hundred E-6 billets then the Cutting Score would be the first number under the top one-hundred scores of all one thousand applicants.  There are no extra points for being a woman, or Hispanic or Black.

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But under an equity system that seeks to promote women and minorities before consideration of their qualifications, there would need to be a racial or gender-based adjustment to those scores.


Creating a Path to Lateral Entry

“We should have an open door for exceptionally talented Americans who wish to join the Marine Corps, allowing them to laterally enter at a rank appropriate to their education, experience, and ability.” -Gen. Berger

I think this is the most contentious part of Gen. Berger’s memo. What he essentially says here is that if you are good enough at your job as a civilian, then you can skip Marine Corps boot camp – and a few ranks – and start where it takes most Marines a decade to achieve.  This is similar to the Navy’s Limited Duty Officer program where doctors, nurses and attorneys are commissioned at ranks that reflect their experience on the job. Their LDO status keeps them outside the normal chain of command on a vessel or station ashore as their command responsibilities are limited to their profession.  So if all the officers at the rank of Commander and above on an aircraft carrier were eliminated as battle casualties somehow, the Dentist in sickbay wearing silver oak leaves is not in line to take command of the ship.  This may be what the Marine Corps has in mind as well, but one wonders why the Navy doesn’t just fill in those billets for the Marines as they do with Corpsmen serving as medics in combat units?

I understand the military’s need for people with computer skills – as an example – but there are already federal positions that exist for people like this that aren’t the Marine Corps. These IT wizards could join the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, the NGA, or other governmental, non-military organizations. I don’t see a specific need for a Marine to hold a billet that an outside government contractor could easily fill.  Since the pay is better with the civilian government the Marines will have their work cut out for them trying to talk a former civilian IT guy or gal into accepting a position as an E-6 under a four or six-year contract for a lot less in terms of pay and benefits.

It would seem to be a lot easier for the Marines to draw talent from the NSA and then make them a liaison to the Marine Corps? That path seems more intelligent than hiring people off the streets and promoting them above 2nd or 3rd enlistment Marines that had to come up the hard way. We Marines are a chummy bunch, and will not give much respect to an On-Paper Marine E-6 only in the corps a year who did not attend boot camp and earn their Eagle, Globe and Anchor(EGA) but wants to throw their weight around.

One main reason that I can see that would cause Marine Corps leaders to want to recruit people that could otherwise easily be defense contractors is that if they are Marines, they come under Marine Corps regulations and discipline. I’m trying to imagine a cyber guy who wants to do that instead of joining one of the intelligence agencies or the private contracting firms that they work with to augment their capabilities.

A Marine Corps IT Specialist. (Federal News Network)

In fact, the Marine Corps already has something like this when it created the Cyber Auxiliary Division, which consists of civilian volunteers who assist the Marines with Cyber stuff. The Corps could simply pay these people to do the work as civilians with the understanding that if a major conflict were to break out they would be enlisted or commissioned as a wartime contingency.

I certainly see the need for people like this. Still, I just don’t see how you will sell this idea to the tens of thousands of Marines who have to answer to and work with people who don’t have the same historical, bonding events such as recruit training and other rugged Marine Corps courses.  It is said that “Marines are made, not born” and the place where Marines are made is boot camp.

If you don’t go through this, you aren’t a Marine; regardless of your title. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Zachary T. Beatty)


When I think back to the things that built cohesion, camaraderie, and respect among my fellow Marines and me, I think of things like boot camps or specific schools that some of us attended. There is a ton of (mostly) friendly banter between San Diego (Hollywood) Marines and Parris Island Marines. Obviously, there shouldn’t be since the San Diego boot camp is said to be far more difficult than a flat Parris Island tour; but I digress. I just don’t see how there could even be the base level of unit cohesion if Marines don’t all start at square one. In that place where your identity as a civilian is stripped away and a new identity as a Marine is built.

As I said earlier, the title “Marine” still means something to guys like me who had to “earn” the title and the Commandant needs to balance the needs of the Corps alongside its identity as a nearly 250-year-old institution.