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The Marine Corps Reserve operates on a minuscule budget compared to the active-duty services and is projected to see a 5% decrease in its budget for the new fiscal year. But beyond the financial constraints that limit training opportunities, reserve units often lack the physical resources to conduct necessary training throughout the year.
The success or failure of a reserve unit is in no small part tied to the caliber of its Inspector-Instructor (I-I) staff. In many cases, they are nondeployable Marines who remain at the unit to ensure continuity of operations and support of forward-deployed reserve Marines. In other instances, they are integrated staff that actually mobilizes with their reserve counterparts. I-I staff also facilitate much of the training and readiness of a reserve unit, including mandated events like ranges and fitness tests, but also tactical training.
The proficiency, professionalism and temperament to work in a reserve unit is essential to the training and readiness of the organization. To a limited extent, the Marine Corps applies extra scrutiny and standards to certain military occupational specialties (MOSs) and duties (e.g. recruiting, drill instructors, etc.).
As in those cases, the Marine Corps should apply the same rigor and give the same priority to the training and readiness of its reserve force. This calls for a reevaluation of the special duty assignment (SDA) categorization, to include I-I Duty.
SDAs such as recruiting or drill instructors are unique, coveted positions and are given incentives, stringent screening and strict regulations. SDAs are demanding and insist upon a particular quality, temperament and proficiency level to be successful. They require off-duty dedication and flexibility, disruptions to personal lives and families, and face dramatic ebbs and flows within a duty cycle.
The same can be said of a successful I-I staff. These Marines are profoundly overextended, often wearing multiple hats, undertaking a multitude of assigned tasks, and significant hours beyond the average workday. Many of their duties and tasks fall outside of their training and can far exceed their grade and experience. They train with their reserve counterparts on weekends and take on multiple temporary assignments for courses and in support of annual training exercises. They support recruiting events, funerals, security and other activities within the local community (especially when they are not near a Marine Corps base).
Often overlooked, I-I staff work in an environment that is radically different from that of the active component. Many Marine Corps Reserve systems and policies are entirely distinct, which always requires new training, new certification, new permissions, and a ramp-up period for the new I-I Marine.
One of my Marines joined the Active Reserve. She texted me while she was at her MOS school, "Sir, none of the stuff we are learning is relevant to anything I do. Nobody knows the answers to any of my questions because none of these instructors has ever heard of them before."
Lastly, given that many reserve units are not physically located near Marine installations, the commands have to provide many of those functions on their own in order to accomplish training. For example, multiple I-I Marines may need to obtain combat marksmanship instructor qualification in order for the unit to run a rifle range. Others may have to go obtain martial arts instructor tabs in order to run courses for Marines looking to belt up.
What a Marine Corps installation can easily support for the active component and those reserve units fortunate enough to be garrisoned there, reserve units have to provide (and pay for) themselves. Since I-I staff turns over every two years, these costs repeat themselves on that same cycle. Rarely is there funding for reserve Marines to obtain this type of training or certification even though they will outlive every single I-I Marine.
The loss of one I-I Marine can result in a profound disruption to a reserve unit's ability to handle basic administration. When the annual mass turnover of I-I staffs takes place every summer, entire sections of a command staff can become vacant. Summer is the busiest time of the year for the reserve component. Imagine a regiment preparing to support three battalions executing simultaneous annual trainings all across the globe, and suddenly an entire operations section turns over. Every Marine involved in the planning is gone; whoever arrived has no experiential knowledge of the events.
Far more likely, I-I Marines will move on to another assignment without a replacement arriving, sometimes for well over a year. Basic administration such as pay, travel claims and medical records fall through the cracks. I-I Marines from other sections attempt to get involved and support, but then they do not have the correct rank to certify or process something, they do not have permissions, they do not know about the specific issues, or they do not know how the reserve system works. Reserve units will push issues up to the next echelon for resolution, but what should take hours or days can often take weeks or months.
However, the Marine Corps can prevent this brain drain by treating I-I duty with the same care and consideration that it does other SDAs: Making the filling and maintaining of these billets a top priority.
Type-1 screening for SDAs focuses on a number of criteria, not the least of which is MOS proficiency and training certifications. Type-1 billets are those that require additional skills or are considered high priority and come with incentives and condensed screening times to ensure that they are filled quickly with qualified personnel. This same criteria and urgency should apply to prospective I-I staff. Marines who come to I-I duty should be qualified to do many of the collateral jobs required of them so that unit funds are not depleted for repeat training every two years. Required secondary and tertiary MOSs or certifications should also be published. Training on reserve systems should be required and facilitated by the losing command.
In addition to T-1 screening, I-I billets should not be vacated unless and until there's a replacement and that replacement has enough time to conduct a proper turnover. This alone has been a silent killer in the reserve force. Key billet gaps should be a five-alarm fire and addressed swiftly.
The reserve component will always struggle for its share of the finite resources designated for the military, and its training and readiness will suffer for it. Units are successful because of the tenacity and loyalty of the reserve and active-duty Marines who make up the command, but improved personnel management policies can mitigate the struggle.
The current system suffers from two defects. First, a failure to reconcile the significant policy and procedural differences between the active and reserve components. Second, the lack of institutional emphasis on filling the I-I ranks. The stakes are high when it comes to proper staffing and management of I-I staffs within the reserve force. Recognizing it as the SDA would be a great start.
-- Richard Protzmann is a captain in the United States Marine Corps Reserve and currently the executive officer for Marine Air Support Squadron Six, Detachment Alpha, in Miramar, California. He practices law as an in-house attorney for an e-commerce company in Southern California.