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Exclusive: The top 17 reasons Marines ditch the Corps

Marines sound off about what makes them stay in or leave the Corps

May. 4, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Miami native and Marine OIF veteran continues to h
Marine Corps Capt. Jonathan Lucas, officer-in-charge at the Training Instructor Group of MCSCG, leads Sgt. Jorge Rivero through the â??Oath of Enlistmentâ?ť during a reenlistment ceremony, Oct. 13. Rivero is an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran who is a native of Miami. He joined the Marine Corps in June 2004. (Gunnery Sgt. Alexis Mulero / Marine Corps)
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Marine Corps Capt. Jonathan Lucas, officer-in-charge at the Training Instructor Group of MCSCG, leads Sgt. Jorge Rivero through the â??Oath of Enlistmentâ?ť during a reenlistment ceremony, Oct. 13. Rivero is an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran who is a native of Miami. He joined the Marine Corps in June 2004. (Gunnery Sgt. Alexis Mulero / Marine Corps)

When it became clear that combat deployments would be largely replaced with rotational training deployments, former Cpl. Andrew Hasty couldn’t find the motivation to re-enlist beyond his first term.

The infantryman, who served with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, said he loves the Marine Corps and everything it represents. But as a grunt, the idea of being a Marine in garrison was a major factor when deciding whether to leave the Marine Corps in 2012.

“Grunts are meant to deploy and fight wars,” Hasty said.“If there is no war, then what is the point?”

Hasty wasn’t alone in being impacted by deployment tempo when deciding to leave the Marine Corps. Of the nearly 5,000 surveyed enlisted Marines in the process of deciding whether to stay in the Corps or get out between December 2012 and February 2013, about a fifth said deployment tempo — either too high, or too low — was influencing their decision to leave the service.

Marine Corps Times obtained data from that enlisted retention survey — along with the one from the year prior completed by 2,135 enlisted Marines — through a Freedom of Information Act request. While Marine officials say it is used exclusively to formulate selective retention bonuses and not as a climate survey, the data does provide insight into how a large cross section of the ranks feels on a multitude of issues in any given year.

In order to apply a more personal side to the information, Marine Corps Times issued a call-out on Facebook that has since received hundreds of responses from Marines.

For some, the Corps makes the decision for them as the service sheds tens of thousands from its ranks during the drawdown. For others, they weigh career prospects in the civilian world versus the Corps, their ability to pick where they’ll live or their family needs.

Gunnery Sgt. Travis Hollingshead, an electronic intelligence intercept operator/analyst who will soon be based at Fort Meade, Md., has decided to re-enlist twice during his decade-long career. The first time, it was based on a chance for career advancement, after he was selected to attend the Defense Language Institute to study Farsi. The second time, he chose to stay because he had been selected for promotion to gunny.

Hollingshead said he’s on the fence about what he’ll do when he’s up for re-enlistment again.

“Depending on the job market, who is elected [president] in 2016, and what my financial situation is at the time of my contract ending, will determine my intent to stay or go,” he said.

Others don’t look quite as high up the chain as the Oval Office, but are more influenced by their direct leadership. A corporal with 8th Engineer Support Battalion, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., who spoke on the condition of anonymity, just left the Marine Corps at the end of April. He said he decided against a re-enlisting after his first term and one combat deployment to Afghanistan because he felt the camaraderie factor in the Corps was declining.

“It seems that higher-ups are more concerned about how high one can blouse our trousers rather than how good of a Marine one is, and how well one can accomplish the mission,” he said. “Good Marines have to leave while selfish Marines [who only] care about themselves ... get into positions of leadership.”

Enlisted Marines who completed the 2014 retention survey who’ve been in at least six years are also indicating a rise in dissatisfaction with the fairness of the re-enlistment process. For Zone B Marines who’ve served six to 10 years, 38 percent are dissatisfied with that process. That’s up 5 percent from the 2013 survey. Similarly, 28 percent of Zone C Marines, who’ve served 10-14 years, are dissatisfied with that process — also up 5 percent from the year prior.

Some Marines say the promotion mindset of “up-or-out” hinders the re-enlistment process. Some say they’ve been passed up for promotion too many times and that the drawdown is killing their chances to continue their careers.

Others blame unit career planners for occasionally dropping the ball, affecting their career Marines’ prospects even when they try to do everything right. And some Marines say units don’t cooperate enough with those approaching promotion to ensure they get the training they need to re-enlist.

Leaders are currently looking at ways to revamp the promotion process for sergeant and below, possibly making new professional military education requirements mandatory for promotion.

Former Sgt. Matthew Hood, an aviation precision measurement equipment/calibration and repair technician IMA, left the Marine Corps in July to pursue a career in the medical field. He said the promotion process should also include measuring one’s proficiency in a specific military occupational specialty.

“I believe the Marine Corps should adopt what the Navy does when it comes to advancement in certain MOSs,” Hood said. “Make Marines take a test specific to their MOS. Use that in promotion process — that will keep turds out that don’t truly know the MOS.”

Still, despite the deficiencies Marines see with some of the career processes, intangibles like ‘pride in the Corps’ and the ‘opportunity to lead and train other Marines’ stand apart as the two biggest factors that influence people to re-up.

Sgt. William McDonnell said he thought he was done with the Marine Corps after spending all six years in the Corps based overseas — first for three years in Okinawa, Japan, and then on a three-year duty as a Marine security guard.

“I was tired of it, and I thought I wanted to get out because I was tired of the Corps,” McDonnell said.

He decided to get out. He went home a few weeks ago, but not long after, he said he felt like something wasn’t right. It was too late to go back, but McDonnell was able to join up with a Reserve unit not far from his home.

“It took me a few days to realize that something was missing in my life,” McDonnell said. “That is when I discovered my true love for the Corps. The Marine Corps has given me everything and more. Training Marines, being there for them when they need you the most and giving support when needed. I loved being a leader.”

The retention survey also shows that Marines could be seeing an improving economy as a gateway to do something other than staying in the Corps. Officials say recruiting and retention is stronger if the economy is weak. Leaving for civilian job opportunities or to pursue an education outside their MOS, like Hood who’s pursuing the medical career, might indicate a shift away from the mindset that the military is the only job option.

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