THE PENTAGON – The Marine Corps is on track to meet its recruiting and retention goals in Fiscal Year 2023. For the rest of the year, leaders are spending the year thinking about how they can keep it up for the next 50 years as the pool of recruits becomes smaller.
To hit that goal, almost nothing is off the table that won’t lower the physical and academic standards, Gen. Eric Smith, assistant commandant for the Marine Corps told USNI News in an interview last week.
“We’re pretty open-minded about how we recruit,” Smith said. “But standards, not negotiable. Because that’s what draws people to us because we’re a known known. When you attempt to become a Marine, you know exactly what you’re getting.”
Those changes could include streamlining the waiver processes for marijuana and psychological medications. Smith told USNI News that while there has been a long time waiver process for use of marijuana, a drug that is illegal for federal use but legalized in a growing number of states, it could be updated to reflect the country’s usage laws especially as more potential Marines may have grown up in a state where marijuana use has been legal for quite some time.
The same is true for psychological medications, including those for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, Smith said. Psychological medications can disqualify those attempting to become Marines, and it could mean that the waiver process needs to be changed, Smith said.
It also depends on how long it’s been since someone took medications. With the introduction of Military Health System Genesis at Military Entrance Processing Stations, a recruit’s full medical history is on display. But a person who used medication as a child, but no longer does, might be a good candidate, Smith said. They’ll just need to use the waiver process.
Smith called Genesis laudable, saying that it’s meant to prevent the services from pouring resources into someone they would have to send home during their first contract due to a medical issue. But the system’s rollout caused some delays, which can be harmful for recruiting.
When the Marines have a recruit, the recruiter wants to get the applicant in within 10 days, Smith said. Genesis increased that to 30 to 40 days, which to a young recruit may seem like the Marine Corps no longer cares, he added.
When it comes to the lack of propensity to serve, it comes down to those who are afraid to get hurt and those who worry service in the military will put their lives on hold.
“Trust me, if a major war breaks out, everybody’s gonna get hurt,” Smith said. “So the place you want to be is next to a well-trained Marine.”
Smith also sees time in the Marines as a way to develop skills, including science and technology skills – there are Marine coders – and then get a GI Bill to help pay for college.
“I will guarantee you, because I see a lot, you’re gonna do better as a college student after four years as a Marine because you know how to manage your time, how to be disciplined. You’ll have the GI Bill. You’ll have a reference point for what tough is,” Smith said.
Future conversations will continue to look at a decreasing population around the world, as well as issues with a propensity to serve, Smith said. Bridging the gap between the military and the general public will be part of the discussions as well, as the Marine Corps aims to go to more schools and connect with the younger populations. Seeing a Marine and knowing one helps increase recruiting.
“I don’t know what it’s gonna look like when Gen A becomes of age. They’re 10 years old now. And eight more years, when Gen A is ready to enlist, what will they be?” Smith said. “And then what’s after Gen A.”
The Marines are spending 2023 examining the problems of the force because the service never wants to fall behind or miss targets.
This year is the 50th anniversary of the all-volunteer force, which made it a good time to look at the next 50 years, Smith said.
“We’re used to going into uncertain situations. That’s what we train for. That’s who we attract. That’s who we are,” Smith said. “So we never assume the success for today is going to be perpetuated into tomorrow.”
Looking at the all-volunteer force, or as Smith put it, the all-recruited force, is a project that started with a January conference examining the future of the force. The Marine Corps brought in a number of outside experts to evaluate how future populations, demographics and propensity to serve will affect the military’s ability to recruit, USNI News previously reported. Already, the Navy, Army and Air Force are struggling to meet their recruiting demands, with the Navy reporting it will miss its goal by nearly 16 percent.
Another conference, this time on the blended retirement system, is scheduled for the end of June. A final conference, on total force talent management, is will likely happen in November.
Then the Marine Corps can start talking solutions, Smith told USNI News.
“The all-volunteer force started 50 years ago, so taking most of the year to say, ‘okay, what are all the angles, all the permutations of the all-volunteer force, talent management, Blended Retirement pay – there’s a Pay Review Panel going on now – well worth it,” Smith said. “Fifty years worth of being an all-volunteer. Let’s take 10-11 months to really get it.”