Estrada: Re-up bonuses may extend into 2008
By Kimberly Johnson -
Posted : April 23, 2007

The Marine Corps is considering extending Assignment Incentive Pay — which gives any active-duty Marine $10,000 to re-enlist — another year, according to the Corps’ top enlisted leatherneck.

“We’ve offered some generous bonuses, which were appropriated by Congress so that the commandant can pay every eligible Marine $10,000 to re-enlist during” fiscal 2007, Sgt. Maj. John Estrada, sergeant major of the Marine Corps, told leathernecks at Camp Fallujah, Iraq, during an April 2-9 visit to bases in the Middle East, according to quotes provided by a Corps official. “We’re also looking to see if we can do it for FY ’08.”

Retention in the ranks is top priority for the Corps as it readies to add 22,000 Marines by 2011. Estrada made a direct appeal to the leathernecks, asking them to stay in the Corps until the service reaches 202,000 Marines.

“We want to keep you in this Marine uniform at least until we get through this growing period of getting our Corps where we need to get it so our Marines can enjoy the benefit of the 1-to-2 deployment-to-dwell ratio.”

Estrada was referring to Commandant Gen. James Conway’s goal of keeping Marines home two months for every month deployed.

Estrada outlined another option.

“If you’re set on getting out of the Marine Corps, we still want you to be affiliated with the” Selected Marine Corps Reserve, he said. Eligible Marines can tap into a $5,000 bonus for a three-year commitment, he said.

Estrada’s pitch to deployed leathernecks went beyond dangling cash rewards for staying in service.

“There are a lot of good things going on out there, and I know you’re not serving for the money,” he said. “You serve out of a sense of patriotism, and that makes you different.”
Vehicles and tattoos

Estrada and Conway visited with leathernecks in a series of town hall meetings at Marine posts in Anbar province, speaking on a number of topics. A reporter with The Associated Press traveled with the men.

Conway, five months into his job as the service’s top general, found his troops curious about pay and promotion policies as well as the war debate back home.

In the more than a dozen question-and-answer sessions during that week, not a single Marine complained about Iraq duty or wondered when the war would end. Some did ask for better equipment, and Conway assured them they soon would have new vehicles with more protection against roadside bombs.

Conway did get a few questions on his new policy banning “excessive” tattoos. One Marine told the tattoo-free Conway it was an important wartime issue.

“I love tattoos, I’m infatuated with them,” the Marine said. “Sometimes, people don’t understand them, but it’s part of a warrior heritage.”

Conway assured him he could continue to satisfy his inky passion, so long as any tattoos received after April 1 were not of the full-arm, or “sleeve,” variety that Conway sees as detracting from a professional appearance.

“Yes, sir,” the leatherneck responded.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.