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Many aspiring Marines must wait months before shipping to boot camp

Nov. 20, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
RS Columbia poolee raises the bar for success
Sgt. Christopher A. Moberg, a canvassing recruiter, motivates aspiring Marine recruit Paige C. Colburn during a workout in Monroe, N.C. (Sgt. Aaron Rooks/Marine Corps)
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The Marine Corps’ 2014 recruiting goal is expected to fall by about 5,700 slots compared to last year, leaving aspiring troops — or “poolees” — parked in the service’s Delayed Entry Program up to a year in some cases and forcing recruiters to get creative about how they use that additional time before boot camp.

Accession goals ebb and flow each year, one of the many tools Marine manpower officials use to manage end-strength mandates set by Congress. This dip coincides with the service effort to shed about 5,000 positions annually as part of its active-duty drawdown, which is expected to leave a force of 174,000 personnel, down from a wartime high of 202,000.

Marine Corps Recruiting Command is working with a tentative accession goal of 32,147 for the year ahead, down from 37,914 for fiscal 2013, but that hasn’t been finalized because Congress is yet to pass a budget for 2014. If accession goals turn out to be lower than projections, poolees can end up spending more time in the Delayed Entry Program, said Maj. Stuart Fugler, a spokesman for the command.

“Bottom line is we do not want to keep the poolees any longer than what was originally planned, but will take the opportunity to train and divest quality instruction to the poolees while they wait,” he said.

Earlier this year, recruiters assigned to the 4th Marine Corps Districtbegan noticing poolees weren’t shipping to recruit depots as quickly as they had over the past three years. Staff Sgt. Matthew Rogers, staff noncommissioned officer in charge for Recruiting Sub-Station Huntington, W.Va., said the earliest opening he has to send a poolee to boot camp is in August. And Staff Sgt. Justin Polt, staff NCO in charge for Recruiting Sub-Station Springfield, Ohio, said poolees there are spending about eight months in the DEP.

But recruiters say they’re putting that extra time to good use with extra preparation, much of which centers on physical conditioning and mental preparation for the rigorous training ahead. Rogers and Polt have seen some noteworthy results.

“For RSS Huntington, I watched my [Marine Corps recruit depot] discharge percentage drop by 11 percent over the past five year average,” Rogers said. “If I look at the last fiscal year and the last five years combined, for Huntington, absolutely we see a change.”

If a poolee ships off in three months, Rogers said, he would normally have spent about 24 hours combined with that individual. But if they’re in the Delayed Entry Program for nine months, he has about 72 hours to teach everything from Marine Corps rank structure to proper physical training techniques.

Polt said having more time means recruiters can push poolees harder during PT sessions. It gives them a more realistic view of what’s to come and allows them to see what they can accomplish — to push past what they think are their breaking points.

“It lets them see the kind of workouts that they’re going to be doing ... and lets their bodies get used to it,” Polt said.

It also gives recruiters time to tailor workouts if they observe a poolee is struggling to reach a goal, Rogers said. If someone is having a hard time completing their first pullup, they have time to figure out what will work better for them, he said, so they’re set up for success. And Polt said his sub-station has seen poolees testing higher on the Corps’ initial strength test, meaning they’re sending a stronger product off to boot camp.

Stephen Wittle, deputy assistant chief of staff of Marine Corps Recruiting Command’s G-3 operations, said a better prepared poolee will be less prone to injury and more likely to weather the mental challenges that come with boot camp. That can lower the washout rate. He also credits finding quality applicants as way to ensure success for poolees who get to the recruit depots.

“The more time a recruiter can better prepare a poolee, the better chance they will remain in the DEP and successfully complete recruit training — that is all true,” Wittle said. “But if you start with a quality applicant, then all of the subsequent actions will be even more effective.”

The one downside to these longer wait times, Polt and Rogers acknowledged, is that some poolees’ circumstances can change. Whether it’s an injury or a change in one’s personal situation, some poolees might not make it to boot camp if they have to wait nine months before getting there. But, Rogers added, it also allows the most committed of the pool to persevere.

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