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.’”

House bill seeks to end the downsizing of Army and Marine Corps

Read Next: House bill seeks to end the downsizing of Army and Marine Corps

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.

“We’re going to put a bit more pressure on commanders to be involved in the retention process at all levels,” Neller told Marine Corps Times in a January interview. “We’re all recruiters; we’re all career planners.”

Realignment plans

As the Marine Corps gets closer to reaching its post-war end strength, manpower officials have highlighted about three dozen MOSs that need Marines now. The changes to the First- and Subsequent-Term Alignment plans inform commanders about Corps-wide retention needs.

Manpower officials are stressing that opportunities still exist for Marines interested in staying in the Corps despite the drawdown creating a smaller, more competitive force.

“Any Marine wanting to be retained, any Marine wanting to re-enlist, those opportunities weren’t taken away,” Janiczek said.

There are still 35 MOSs that remain “under-executed,” though, meaning not enough Marines have submitted packets to meet the number of billets. These jobs are from across the Marine air-ground task force, to include combat arms, support and aviation roles, said Lt. Col. Michael Motley, who heads retention for the enlisted assignments branch.

“It’s everything; you have counterintelligence, grunts, data communications, artillery, linguists, communications electronics for aviation and then aviation” he said. “So, it’s every facet of all three elements of the Marine Corps.”

MCSOCOM Detachment One Part I: The SOC Program

Read Next: MCSOCOM Detachment One Part I: The SOC Program

From July 5 to Feb. 17, the Marine Corps hit 91 percent of its first-term re-enlistment target when 4,497 of 23,948 Marines approaching the end of their first term signed on for another contract.

While only about 460 boat spaces still need to be filled by Sept. 30 — with 566 requests still pending — in order to meet 2016 FTAP goals, leaders must continue trying to convince young Marines who might be on the fence about re-enlisting to either make a lateral move or stay in jobs where they’re needed.

“We need [these Marines], so we’re balancing the needs of the force with the needs and desires of the Marines who are seeking retention,” Motley said. “This is the ongoing saga where you’re trying to look at all things in balance and make policy and end strength work.”

The STAP targets Marines re-enlisting for a third or higher term. As of Feb. 17, some 5,599 out of 6,193 re-enlistment packets were approved; the other 601 either need more information or higher-level adjudication. Officials anticipate completing these by Feb. 29.

Several of the in-demand MOSs also offer good opportunities for Marines looking to make a lateral move. Since some of those jobs tend to be highly specialized, more time and resources are required to train Marines up for them. For Marines in slower-to-promote fields, lat moves can be career enhancers.

Manpower officials are pressing commanders to encourage talented and eligible Marines who didn’t receive a boat space in their primary MOS to consider fields like counterintelligence, reconnaissance or explosive ordnance disposal. Some of those specialties come with re-enlistment bonuses, and Janiczek said Marines shouldn’t be hesitant to submit a packet because they think they’re lacking the proper qualifications.

Read more at Marine Corps Times