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Reserve Marines will now face the same pressure as their active-duty counterparts to pick up rank or risk discharge from the service. The Reserve is instituting up-or-out limits for its enlisted Marines to balance its historically top-heavy rank structure and preserve promotion opportunity for junior reservists.
Except for sergeants, the new Marine Corps Reserve Enlisted Career Force Controls are identical to active-duty controls. Sergeants in the Reserve will now have 13 years to pick up staff sergeant before risking discharge. Their active-duty counterparts have just 10 years.
“The director of Reserve Affairs has instituted MCR ECFC in order to actively shape the inventory of Marines by grade and MOS to the requirements of the [Selected Marine Corps Reserve, Individual Ready Reserve and Individual Mobilization Augmentee components],” according to Marine administrative message 451/13, signed Sept. 10.
After years of being undermanned or overmanned, the Reserve is near its steady state of 39,700 Marines. But, while end-strength targets are being met, the rank structure is askew, primarily because many Marines serving in the Reserve have prior active-duty service and have spent years in uniform. Many enlisted Marines are staff sergeants or gunnies by the time they join the Reserve.
That has created chronic shortages in the junior enlisted ranks, leaving many Reserve units looking for noncomissioned officers who can serve as squad leaders or mentors. To correct the problem, the Reserve began offering incentives, including: affiliation bonuses in the thousands of dollars and the Direct Affiliation program, which grants Marines a billet in a specific Reserve unit long before they leave active duty.
While that has helped fill critical vacancies among NCOs, the top-heavy structure has meant many junior Marines lured into the Reserve have been frustrated by the lack of opportunity to move up. The new ECFCs could push some of those senior enlisted Marines out, creating more promotion opportunity.
There will be few exceptions to the limits. Corporals, however, can serve up to 10 years if they re-enlist past eight years of service to receive an affiliation bonus for filling a critical MOS or billet. Other exceptions to ECFCs can be “granted in exceptional cases and only where the Marine is deploying for combat and no other Marine can take his/her billet as determined by [Reserve Affairs] or the MOS is deemed critical by RA.” Requests may also be granted to help a Marine hit retirement eligibility, but only if the extension is one month or less.
Prior active-duty service, including service in other branches of the military, counts against the Reserve’s new limits, which take effect Oct. 1. Once in the Reserve, only qualifying years of service count — those years during which a Marine earns 50 or more points. Points are accrued primarily by drilling, and most reservists meet the threshold simply by serving one weekend a month and two weeks a year.