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One-third of boarded staff sergeants get the ax

Marines must leave the Corps by the end of January 2015

Jul. 14, 2014 - 07:03PM   |  
LAR Staff Sgt awarded by Marine Corps League
A retention board has cut 233 staff sergeants who have been at least twice passed over for promotion and who have served for at least 15 years. (Cpl. Sonia N. Rodriguez/Marine Corps)
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Nearly three in 10 staff sergeants considered by the service's first Staff Sergeant Retention Board held in June were denied further service.

Nearly three in 10 staff sergeants considered by the service's first Staff Sergeant Retention Board held in June were denied further service.

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Nearly three in 10 staff sergeants considered by the service’s first Staff Sergeant Retention Board held in June were denied further service.

In all, the board considered 798 Marines, said Lt. Col. Rory Quinn, Manpower and Reserve Affairs’ End Strength Retention Optimization Group and Enlisted Assignments section head. Of those, 233 were cut. Another 565, or about 70 percent of those who went before the board, were retained. Those not retained will have their end of active service date changed to Jan. 31, 2015.

The board was limited to screening only E-6s who have been passed for promotion at least twice and have served 15 or more years, ensuring all those cut from the service will be eligible for the Temporary Early retirement Authority program. TERA offers Marines a retirement pension at a reduced rate, based on rank and years of service.

Until late 2013, Marines who made staff sergeant were permitted to remain in uniform through a 20-year retirement, barring any career-ending malfeasance, like a conviction for driving while intoxicated. Amos said those Marines would receive retirements regardless of manpower cuts.

As a result, some Marines considered the switch controversial. But Marine officials say it did not “break faith” with Marines or their families during the drawdown, which will cut the service from a wartime high of 202,000 to 174,000 by the end of 2017.The new policy remains true to Amos’ original remarks, they say, because the boards only considered staff sergeants eligible for TERA, which is still retirement. A similar reversal of policy was made for majors who for years were also permitted to remain in uniform through 20 years, regardless of their competitiveness for promotion.

While TERA isn’t a full 20-year retirement, Marines who opt for the program may still receive thousands of dollars per month for the duration of their retirement, based on rank and years of service.

The reduced pension is calculated by multiplying 2.5 percent of base pay by the number of years served, then subtracting 1 percent for each year under 20 served. So a staff sergeant with 15 years in would get $14,316 per year or about $1,193 per month.

Marines separated by the boards could also in theory opt for Voluntary Separation Pay, which can be offered to any Marine with more than six years of service. Marines who are TERA-eligible, however, are strongly advised to opt for the reduced pension over VSP’s lump-sum payout. While VSP can offer a generous one-time payout which breaks six-figures, Marines will be forgoing tens of thousands of dollars or more over the course of their retirement.

The retention board convened for the first time this year because not enough staff sergeants participated in voluntary force shaping measures like TERA.

“Recent reductions in authorized end strength structure have resulted in excess inventory in many military occupational specialties at the grade of staff sergeant,” according to Marine administrative message 242/14, which announced the board May 19.

As the drawdown got underway, staff sergeants proved one of the most stubbornly overpopulated ranks, in great part because of the practice that allowed them to remain in uniform even if they were not competitive for promotion. While that was great for Marines who made staff sergeant, it caused frustration among younger service members.

The introduction of annual Staff Sergeant Retention Boards may be a tough break for some staff noncomissioned officers, but it will be a breath of fresh air for junior Marines in bottle-necked MOSs. With a shrinking force, junior enlisted Marines in some MOSs became frustrated by extremely slow times to pick up rank. Some were in MOSs that remain closed to promotion over the long term, meaning even the best among them could find themselves hitting up or out limits and pushed out of the service. In recent years, occupations caught in that bureaucratic breach included several in the infantry, such as 0369, which in 2012 was entirely closed to promotion to gunnery sergeant. It has opened a bit since then.

Fewer staff sergeants should help those competing for gunny. Also, clearing the backlog of staff sergeants and creating vacancies for sergeant to move up will have a trickle-down effect that will have a positive influence on career and promotion prospects for corporals and lance corporals, despite a continuous drop in the overall number of Marines.

Whether boards will be held each year is dependent on an analysis of staff sergeant populations in that given year. However, more boards are likely.

“Future analysis will always determine the final answer, but at this point it is reasonable to say that as long as there is a drawdown ongoing, programs like TERA will continue to be offered on the voluntary side and boards like the [Staff Sergeant] Retention Board and Majors Continuation Board will be examined during each annual planning cycle,” Quinn said.

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