Results of the fiscal 2014 gunnery sergeant selection board show a 19 percent drop in the number of staff sergeants picking up rank.
Just 1,138 made the cut this year, which is 264 fewer than last year when 1,398 were selected for a promotion by the board, according to an analysis of Marine administrative message 284/14, signed June 13.
The raw numbers don’t fully illustrate the current state of promotion prospects, however. In a shrinking Marine Corps, with about 5,000 fewer serving in uniform each year, selection rates are a better indicator of upward mobility. That is the percent of staff sergeants eligible for promotion who are actually tapped for gunnery sergeant each year.
Last year the selection rate for “in-zone” Marines was 52.2 percent. Manpower officials are still compiling statistics from the latest board which should be posted no later than Tuesday, but they have previously said they expect the rate to remain relatively constant for the duration of the drawdown.
While the total number of Marines selected to pick up rank may continue to fall, the chances of picking up rank for those who remain in uniform should remain relatively healthy even if selection rates won’t return to pre-drawdown levels. In 2011, for example, 64.6 percent of in-zone staff sergeants were selected.
The statistics should also provide insight into the health of promotion prospects for more junior enlisted Marines. The service only promotes to vacancy which means a Marine cannot advance their career unless someone in the next highest rank leaves the service or is promoted. Consequently, healthy promotion prospects among Marines competing to make gunny has a trickle down effect through corporal and below.
Promotion prospects and time to pick up rank at all paygrades has slowed as predicted by Manpower and Reserve Affairs officials at the drawdown’s onset in 2013. But, they have used a variety of mostly voluntary force shaping measures to prevent careers from grinding to a halt.
Those include cash incentives to leave the service early — Voluntary Separation Pay for those with 6 through 14 years of service and the Temporary Early Retirement Authority program for those with 15 but fewer than 20 years of service. VSP offers a one-time cash payment while TERA offers a retirement pension, but at a reduced rate calculated on final rank and years of service.
Those sorts of inscentives hve helped to open jobs like 0369 Infantry unit leader which in 2012 was entirely closed to promotion, but reopened in 2013 and has remained so since. While the job remains competitive, it and a handful of others that offered zero chance for career advancement now have allocations.
The service has also worked to clear promotion backlogs through ending the practice of allowing even non-competitive Marines who failed selection to the next highest grade multiple times to remain in uniform through retirement so long as they made it staff sergeant. The policy contributed to staff sergeant becoming one of the most overpopulated ranks and a choke point for career progression. A similar practice for majors was also rescinded.
Despite manpower’s best efforts, some jobs still remain closed for promotion to gunny including 38 this year ranging from 0261 Geographic intelligence specialist to 6174 Helicopter crew chief, UH-1.