Modernizing and Retaining Human Capital Investment in the U.S. Marine Corps


Executive Summary

Since its transition to the All-Volunteer Force (AVF) in 1973—and especially since the initial revision of the class structure in 1985—the United States Marine Corps has committed itself to an exemplary “first-class” force with an inexperienced, heavy force. class structure. In pursuit of lower personnel costs, the Marine Corps is unique in its commitment to increasing recruits turnover which reduces overall experience, efficiency, and stability across the operating forces when compared to other military services. Today’s Marine Corps incorporated manpower management practices needlessly disrupt cohesion, waste talent, oppose the Marine Corps’ combat philosophy, and are incompatible with the demands of the modern battlefield. The hidden assumptions underlying the way the Marine Corps fills its ranks require urgent, sober, impartial, thorough, and courageous re-examination.

The Marine Corps’ current management system was designed during the Reagan administration to address two specific problems. First, it sought to reduce average per capita pay and benefit costs by limiting the number of Marines with more than four years of service. Second, it sought to achieve uniform schedules for promotion across all military occupational disciplines (MOSs) by imposing hierarchical degree structures. By all accounts, this system was successful in solving the perceived problems of 1985. However, the persistence of this model has trapped the Marine Corps in a remarkably robust operation that has proven resistant to adaptation despite tremendous advances in technology, significant changes within American society, and mounting evidence on its inefficiency.

Over time, the Marine Corps has developed a body of traditional cultural wisdom to justify the high turnover staff system. Senior leaders have argued that this youth recruitment and replacement model is more expensive, more fit, and more efficient than the more mature investment and retention model. However, as will be made clear, such assertions are questionable. While a military sergeant is certainly cheaper than a sergeant, the hidden and intangible costs of the current system are far more complex than a simple salary comparison. While the Marine Corps lacks sufficient cost data to inform a valid comparison of alternatives, qualitative analysis suggests that a slightly older alternative force may be more affordable than assumed. There is also ample objective evidence that the current enlisted force in the Marines is less adequate, less efficient, and less cohesive than a more mature and stable alternative.

The management of the registered workforce must be updated if the Marine Corps is to have more of the Marine Corps in its ranks than the Marines with the required technical expertise and competency within a high-tech, distributed, and adaptable reserve force. To achieve the force’s design goals of its 38th Commandant and current commander, General David Berger, the Marine Corps’ senior commanders must find the courage and determination to make tough choices and then aggressively oversee their implementation. To get the power the Marine Corps wants, it must increase investment in — and retain — its listed human capital in line with its appetite for increased capability.

By any standard, the Marine Corps system has been able to meet preferential internal success metrics as defined by Workforce Department orders and directives. The professionalism, sacrifice and hard work of the recruiters and manpower specialists have fulfilled the requirements of a high turnover system and low investment. Time and time again, young marines have triumphed on modern battlefields. They succeed despite – not because of – the system in which they operate. This paper goes beyond the presuppositions of the “logical hierarchy” model and examines again whether the Marine Corps’ human capital practices provide the largest fleet naval force (FMF)1 Ability to budget certain employees.

Main results

  1. The Marine Corps adhered to the current human capital model enlisted in the mid-1980s to address a specific concern about the fairness of promotion opportunities across military occupational disciplines (MOSs) and the desire to reduce personnel costs by reducing occupational strength (Marines with greater than four years of service) .
  2. Although all four services operate under common constraints, the human capital philosophy developed by the Marine Corps is remarkably distinct. It appears to rest on the unacknowledged assumptions that Marines are easily replaced, that trained professional strength is to be “controlled,” and that high overall experience and stability of personnel are unnecessary.
  3. While all the other services have steadily increased the portion of their forces with more than four years of service, the Marine Corps alone is constantly resisting doing so.
  4. Over time, systematic career rewards and incentives have resulted in the de facto prioritization of high-quality NCO resources and enlistment and entry-level training (ELT) over the FMF.
  5. Superior fitness assumptions for a “young and slender” strength are contrasted with the Marine Corps’ physical fitness test performance data. Likewise, claims that young Marines, who are often in their late teens, can exercise judgment under pressure similar to that of more mature Marines have been decisively undermined by advances in neuroscience.
  6. The current system is a huge waste of human capital, firing three out of four Marines at the same time that they have proven their compatibility with military service and are just getting into their physical and mental beginnings.
  7. The current system is unable to provide the most skilled and experienced force required to meet the 38th Commandant’s Marine Corps Planning Guidelines.2 and “Design Force 2030”3 Objectives. In the absence of a fundamental paradigm shift, transformation efforts will fail.

The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not reflect the official positions of the Department of Defense, the Marine Corps, or the US government.

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