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Reserve to draw down by 1,100 Marines

Transition opportunities remain for active-duty personnel

Apr. 28, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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The Maine Corps Reserve will take its own manpower hit as officials prepare to draw down by 1,100 Marines over three years.

The cuts, driven by sequestration, will bring the number of selected reservists from 39,600 to 38,500 by the end of 2017, according to Maj. Tony Licari, the Reserve Manpower Plans Section officer in charge.

The good news for reservists is that their drawdown will be accomplished by attrition and cuts to recruiting, not by forcing out current personnel. In other words, the Reserve simply will not replace a few hundred Marines each year as they retire or leave uniform to pursue other opportunities, Licari said. So, while most reservists cannot benefit from the voluntary separation incentives that pay some Marines in the active-duty component tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to leave uniform, they are also spared from the involuntary measures that force some of their counterparts out of uniform.

Despite the decline in Reserve recruiting, there are still opportunities for active-duty Marines hoping to transition to the Reserve. Critical shortages remain in some ranks and communities.

“There is always in-flow and out-flow, even with reductions,” Licari said.

Following the servicewide force structure review in 2010, the Reserve was slated for reorganization, but spared raw manpower cuts. The Force Structure Review Group sought to reorganize the Marine Corps to meet future needs in an austere budget environment, which included active-duty cuts.

Marine officials said repeatedly they were determined to keep the peacetime Reserve honed and ready to deploy on short notice by participating in training and exercises at home and across the globe. To do so, the Reserve could not endure personnel cuts as deep as the active component.

Given the current budget climate, however, Marine planners assume sequestration is here to stay. Under those funding levels, the Reserve will need to cut about 300 to 400 Marines in each of the next three years, beginning in fiscal 2015, which starts Oct. 1.

Most of the cuts — 600 personnel — will come from Selected Marine Corps Reserve units, Marines who typically drill one weekend a month plus two weeks a year.

Another 400 Marines will be trimmed from the ranks of the Individual Mobilization Augmentees. Those reservists — often senior Marines or those with a specialized skill — are assigned to and support active component units before, during and after deployments. With the war in Afghanistan nearly over, the need for IMA Marines is falling.

Like the Reserve’s structural reorganization, the manpower reductions primarily are being made as a cost-saving measure, Licari said. A quirk of the IMA program is that the cuts made there will generate an inordinate amount of cost savings. The program is officer heavy, he said, with about a 50-50 ratio of enlisted Marines to officers. Because officers, particularly those well into their careers, are relatively expensive, cutting hundreds of them will yield significant savings.

Prior-service Marines wanted

The Reserve drawdown does not signal an end to the opportunity for active-duty Marines to remain in uniform while pursuing an education or joining the civilian workforce. In fact, strong career opportunities in the Reserve remain, and some come with substantial financial incentives, according to Licari.

There is a strong need for active-duty or Reserve Marines to fill certain jobs and ranks. Retraining and lateral moves are regularly approved to help fill empty billets in specific units, giving many Marines an opportunity to serve with a unit in their preferred geographic region.

Licari and Lt. Col. Russell Mantzel, the deputy branch head of Manpower’s Reserve Continuation and Transition Branch, highlighted a few obvious areas of opportunity for those wanting to join the Reserve.

The most urgent and persistent shortage is among staff sergeants, Licari said. The Reserve only has about 62 percent of the staff sergeants it needs, and that number has remained stubbornly stagnant. That led manpower planners to roll out the Selected Marine Corps Reserve Staff Sergeant Bonus in September. It offers $20,000 to those willing to fill a specific open staff sergeant billet for three years.

For years the SMCR had a similar dearth of company-grade officers. By the time many young Marine officers have completed their time in the active component and transition to the Reserve, they are already majors.

At its worst, when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were at their height, the Reserve only had about 20 percent of the company-grade officers it needed, Licari said. As a result company-grade officers were pulled from active-duty units downrange to fill billets in deploying Reserve units. That created a drain on active units and presented challenges to unit cohesion in Reserve units.

To help solve the problem, the service began a commissioning program in which officers go straight from Officer Candidates School at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., to a SMCR unit. Steady and continuing progress means the Reserve now has about 80 percent of the company-grade officers it needs, but with many billets still unfilled, there is remaining opportunity for young active-duty officers who want to transition to the Reserve.

Apart from ranks, there are shortages in many of the same high-demand, low density military occupational specialties that manpower officials struggle to keep stocked in the active component. Those include 0211 counterintelligence/human intelligence specialist, 0321 reconnaissance man, 0689 cyber security technician and 2336 explosive ordnance disposal technician.

More specifically, the Reserve has struggled to attract intelligence officers and AH-1 and UH-1 helicopter pilots.

Some may also want to consider becoming a member of the Active Reserve. Those Marines support drilling units full time; when other members of the unit return to their civilian occupations, AR Marines remain in uniform. The Reserve’s aviation units often use AR Marines to ensure their aircraft are ready for flight when pilots arrive on drilling weekends.

The best way to learn about specific opportunities is to consult a Reserve transition coordinator or a career planner, Mantzel said.

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