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Marine Corps: Captains, majors no longer guaranteed service through retirement

Aug. 13, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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The Marine Corps has altered its longstanding policy of allowing non-promotable officers to serve 20 years in uniform and receive a full military retirement.

“Effective immediately, Marine Corps policy is to select for continuation only those twice-passed majors and twice-passed captains [with more than 15 years of service] whose continued service is in the best interests of the Marine Corps based on the needs of the Marine Corps,” according to Marine administrative message 401/13, signed Tuesday. “... This policy change may result in some officers not being selected for continuation and subject to involuntary separation.”

The change comes as the Marine Corps reduces its active-duty force from a wartime high of 202,100 down to 182,100. It marks a significant shift for the service, which developed a meticulous plan to shed about 5,000 positions annually through 2016. As part of that drawdown plan, Marine officials hoped to continue allowing twice-passed majors to remain in uniform through retirement — part of the commandant’s pledge to “keep faith” with career Marines and their families, many of whom have endured the strain of multiple combat deployments.

A similar good-faith policy allows enlisted Marines to stay in uniform through retirement once they reach the rank of staff sergeant. That policy is not affected by this change to officer continuation boards.

It is not immediately clear what prompted the policy change, but the rank of major has remained one of the most bloated as Marine officials work to maintain upward mobility for its junior officers, some of whom can wait more than a year to pin on their next rank after they’ve been selected for promotion.

As a part of the Marine Corps’ overall force-shaping efforts, captains and majors have been mostly spared until now. The lieutenant ranks have been trimmed through fewer accessions and career designation boards, which weed out junior company grade officers before they are allowed to compete for captain. Lieutenant colonels and colonels have been subject to Selective Early Retirement Boards.

The change will be effective at the continuation boards set to convene immediately after the fiscal 2015 Marine Corps Regular Lieutenant Colonel and Major Promotion Selection Boards. The selection boards will be held later this month.

The MARADMIN says the boards will still have the option of selecting up to 100 percent of twice-passed majors and twice-passed captains with more than 15 years of service. Marine officials were not able to immediately provide how many Marine may still be offered continuation, saying calculations are not final. Based on manpower needs they will issue precepts to the boards, which serve as strong but non-binding guidance.

Those asked to leave could get some relief if they have served between 15 and 18 years on the date of their separation. The Temporary Early Retirement Authority program allows Marines to retain their retirement pension at a slightly reduced rate without serving a full 20 years. TERA is a force-shaping tool used to entice select military personnel to leave ahead of schedule.

Others will be eligible for “sanctuary” if they have served at least 18 years within seven months of the continuation board’s determination. That means they, too, will be allowed to serve through retirement.

The MARADMIN characterizes the change as “temporary,” raising the possibility it could be rescinded after the ranks shrink or once the Marine Corps reaches a post-drawdown steady state.

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