The Corps' New Plan Aims to Treat Marines 'Like Human Beings Instead of Inventory'

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Recruits march during a final drill evaluation
Recruits of Platoon 3028, Mike Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, march during a final drill evaluation April 15, 2015, on Parris Island, S.C. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Pfc. Vanessa Austin)

The Marine Corps is poised to radically change how and who it recruits after the commandant released his new Talent Management Plan on Wednesday.

According to the plan, the service must become an older, more agile and talent-driven force with more emphasis on retaining people instead of recruiting replacements.

Gen. David Berger, the Corps' top leader, said that the manpower system the branch has used for the last 35 years isn't working anymore.

"It was built on a set of conditions that were existing in the '80s and '70s. They don't exist today," he told reporters Tuesday.

The report announcing the new plan noted that the service currently holds onto a meager 25% of Marines after their first tour. A staggering 75%, or about 36,000 Marines per year, do not reenlist, and the service must recruit replacements.

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"We can't replace talent like that going forward," Berger said.

He wants to pivot to recruiting more mature and experienced people who bring a greater ability to handle a variety of skills and tasks.

"I think the machine gunner who's also a ... medic also has to be able to talk to MQ-9 UAVs and bring in orders, and understand the satellite connection is required to do that," Berger said.

The planned changes to recruiting, and the commandant's examples of multitasking Marines, come directly from the other major strategy shift for the branch -- Force Design 2030.

It calls for a redesigned infantry battalion that would be more flexible and capable of conducting operations such as island-hopping or running advanced base operations with little or no support.

"Our assumption is they're going to have to be more mature than the four-year sergeant that we have today," Berger said.

Bringing that maturity and talent into the Corps, however, will mean putting more focus on retention and targeting recruitment at different groups -- and allowing people to enter the service in new ways.

"We should have an open door for exceptionally talented Americans who wish to join the Marine Corps, allowing them to laterally enter at a rank appropriate to their education, experience, and ability," according to the plan.

Although Berger admitted he's not sure yet how that will work, he did reference the ways the military recruits lawyers and doctors as a possible starting point.

Meanwhile, to help retain talent, the plan suggests making changes to improve Marines' career flexibility and quality of life.

"We have to treat people like human beings instead of inventory," Berger said.

Some of the suggested changes include giving Marines more visibility into assignments available to them, beefing up parental leave, digitizing the reenlistment process, and putting forward programs that encourage staying in the service with more career incentives.

Specifically, Berger noted that if a Marine's choice is between a family or a military career, "we have to pull out all the stops to try to find ways where we can keep them."

The commandant pushed back on the notion that this effort would diminish the lethality of the military's famously rough and tough branch.

"The physical, the toughness ... will be at least as demanding as it is today or has been in the past. I think it'll be actually more so," Berger said.

Instead, he stressed that the changes are necessary for the Marines to be competitive with adversaries like China.

"You better have smarter, more capable leaders," Berger said. "It's not going to be numbers, and I'm not counting on a technological edge. It's gonna be the people."

-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at konstantin.toropin@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

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