Featured photo courtesy of Sgt. Reece E. Lodder/Marine Corps

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — As the Marine Corps closes in on the end of a years-long drawdown that involved shedding thousands of troops annually, there aren’t as many leathernecks to fill some of the most vital roles in the service. That means leaders will have to take a more active role in helping the Corps retain the best and brightest Marines.

The Marine Corps will reach its end goal of 182,000 active-duty personnel by October, marking the first time in years the service hasn’t had to make significant cuts since hitting its wartime peak of 202,000 Marines in 2009.

As the talent pool gets leaner and more competitive, manpower officials need to work harder to ensure the right Marines are in the right jobs in the right numbers.

On Feb. 23, Manpower and Reserve Affairs identified these specific jobs in Marine administrative message 100/16, which provided a mid-year assessment of its efforts to retain first- and subsequent-term Marines. Although the First Term Alignment Plan met 91 percent of its target thus far, a dwindling number of first-term Marines re-enlisting has made it challenging to fill some of the Corps’ more technical positions.

“You no longer have this large mass of people that lines up against your retention requirement, so you have to pay more attention to how you’re going about this,” said Col. Rudy Janiczek, the head of M&RA’s enlisted assignments branch. “It happens in the command because that is the level at which someone looks out and says ‘We’re the keepers.’”

Now commanders are again being pushed to identify first-term Marines who might be a good fit for some of the Corps’ harder-to-fill or high-demand military occupational specialties, like critical skills operators and explosive ordnance disposal technicians.

Commandant Gen. Robert Neller is leading the charge. In January, he made retention of high-performing Marines a top priority when he released a fragmentary order to the 2015 planning guidance of his predecessor, Gen. Joseph Dunford.