Retention officials confident of making goal
By John Hoellwarth - Staff writer
Posted : Saturday Jul 28, 2007 8:22:07 EDT

The end of the fiscal year is near, and Corps retention officials think they just might make it.

Officials who started the fiscal year by offering Selective Re-enlistment Bonuses capped at $60,000 later added a $10,000 incentive for everyone and watched the take rate rise a bit. Then, they scrapped the whole program in favor of flat-rate bonuses up to $80,000 and allowed Marines to re-enlist months early.

With only two months left in the fiscal year and roughly 800 re-enlistments still needed to meet the first-term retention goal of 8,298, enlisted retention specialist Maj. Trevor Hall said, “I’m confident we’re going to get there.”

The first-term goal increased from 6,096 after the Corps announced it would grow the active-duty force from 180,000 to 202,000 Marines by 2011. That translates to the need to add 5,000 Marines to its end strength every year.

In each of the last two fiscal years, the Corps had already accomplished its retention mission by the start of the fourth quarter. But even with this year’s removal of re-up limits and the expansion of bonus eligibility to those who’ve been out of the Corps as long as four years, it may come down to the wire. Retention officials plan to spend the next two months traveling to bases and stations, bringing on-the-spot re-enlistment authority with them.

“We’re really busy with retention assist visits,” Hall said. “I was on one a couple weeks ago on the West Coast. We had about a 250 surge in the last week for [fiscal 2007 re-enlistments].”

He said, “I don’t have the exact number yet,” but estimates the June 24 policy change to flat-rate bonuses has so far netted around 1,040 more fiscal 2007 re-enlistments and an increase in the number of prior-service re-enlistments over fiscal 2006 from 693 to 970.

The June policy change — which did away with bonus multiples — also jump-started next year’s retention season early by authorizing re-enlistment among Marines not scheduled to end their active service until fiscal 2008. Until the policy change, those Marines would ordinarily have to wait until fiscal 2008 begins Oct. 1.

“There [was] really no need to restrict them,” Hall said. “The sooner they can re-enlist, the sooner they can make deployments.”

Retention officials usually receive a flood of re-enlistment requests at the start of each fiscal year, but “the surge is a little steeper” than usual for the fiscal 2008 cohort, Hall said. “We’ve seen a more rapid increase in [fiscal 2008] re-enlistments on opening eligibility.”

After only one month under the new program, retention officials have seen about 2,100 re-enlistments from Marines scheduled to end their active-duty obligation in fiscal 2008. The first month’s numbers are 500 shy of the 2,600 re-enlistments the Corps achieved during the current year’s first quarter.

Hall said whether having flat-rate bonuses throughout fiscal 2008 will entice re-enlistment in the jobs that need it most “is hard to determine the first month into it. But that’s something we are keeping our eye on.”

The retention policy overhaul was implemented within three weeks of Commandant Gen. James Conway’s May 17 letter to all of his generals. The letter stated that, based on the number of Marines the Corps was retaining, the effort wasn’t meeting his expectations.

After a midyear check on the retention numbers, Conway concluded that “if we keep going like this, we’re not going to make it,” a Marine official said in May.