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Competition heats up for E-8 ranks amid drawdown

Dec. 28, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Ragnarok Co. hikes to prepare for upcoming mission
First Sgt. Damian P. Wright, right, first sergeant of Ragnarok Company, 2nd Supply Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, prepares Marines on Nov. 26 for a 5-mile hike at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Competition for promotion to first sergeant has toughened during the drawdown, but promotions fell only slightly this year. (Lance Cpl. Sullivan Laramie/Marine Corps)
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The number of Marines tapped for a promotion to E-8 — first sergeant or master sergeant — decreased modestly this year.

The number of Marines tapped for a promotion to E-8 — first sergeant or master sergeant — decreased modestly this year.

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The number of Marines tapped for a promotion to E-8 — first sergeant or master sergeant — decreased modestly this year.

In all, 650 gunnery sergeants were selected for promotion in the year that started Oct. 1, 95 fewer than were selected the year before. Promotions to first sergeant were down 16 percent, with 134 Marines selected this year versus 160 last year. Master sergeant selections were down nearly 12 percent, from 585 selections last year to 516 this year.

Selection opportunity, or the percent of promotion-eligible Marines tapped to pick up rank, also fell for both ranks. It decreased from 13.4 percent to 11.1 percent of promotion-eligible gunnies vying for first sergeant and fell slightly from 52.6 percent to 52.4 percent among those competing for master sergeant. Those promotion statistics, published in Marine administrative message 674/13, signed Dec. 19, are on par with forecasts made in September preceding the selection board’s Oct. 23 start.

Despite the dip in E-8 selections, senior enlisted Marines have not been greatly affected by recent manpower cuts that have taken a bigger toll on more junior ranks. The Corps is in the early stages of a drawdown, with plans to cut end strength by about 20,000 to get to a force of 174,000 Marines by 2017. The E-8 and E-9 ranks aren’t entirely immune, however. They will see small reductions as manpower planners work to maintain the right ratio of leadership to junior Marines.

While the overall number of E-8 selections was down slightly, there were promotion opportunities for Marines in more specialties this year, good news for junior Marines serving in MOSs that have been frustratingly slow to promote. Just seven MOSs were closed to promotions at this year’s E-8 board, a sharp improvement from last year, when 12 MOSs were closed.

The opening of MOSs previously closed to promotion is reflective of efforts not only to clear backlogs at particular ranks, but to improve promotion opportunities in specific jobs within those ranks, manpower officials have said. For example, promotion to gunnery sergeant in the 0369 Infantry Unit Leader specialty was closed in 2012, but a few billets opened in 2013, an improvement manpower officials expect to continue in a number of MOSs.

The overall increase in the number of MOSs open for promotion to E-8 could reflect stricter policies that no longer allow E-9s to receive waivers that take them past 30 years of service to complete a final tour. Allowing Marines to extend past 30 years narrowed promotion opportunities down the chain of command; retiring more E-9s will help clear the bottleneck.

First sergeants have command responsibilities, serving as senior enlisted advisers to a company commander. Master sergeants serve as technical experts in their given fields after having demonstrated an exceptional degree of knowledge in their particular MOS.

Before going before the E-8 board, gunnery sergeants must carefully choose one of the two paths. That decision will determine the trajectory of the rest of their careers. Only first sergeants can go on to become sergeants major, who primarily serve as senior advisers for battalion commanders and from whom the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps is selected. Master sergeants go on to become master gunnery sergeants serving at the top of their particular specialties.■

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