Some Marine corporals soon will be eligible for promotion to the rank of sergeant after only three years in the service, thanks to the overhaul of a 2019 policy that had bumped up the time-in-service requirement to four years.
The change, to be announced in a forthcoming Marine administrative message, comes as the Marine Corps is revamping its promotion and other human resources policies in an effort to retain more Marines.
Effective June 1, a “high-performing, committed” corporal with three years’ service can get promoted from the E-4 paygrade to E-5, according to the message.
The corporal must have completed required professional military education; secured the recommendation of the lieutenant colonel in their chain of command; and met the promotion cutoff score, which incorporates rifle and martial arts scores, physical fitness, education and input from the command.
Soon-to-be-sergeants already must have signed on for another term in the Corps, meaning they can’t skip out within months of getting promoted.
When the Marine Corps in October 2019 bumped the time-in-service requirement for sergeants from two years to four years, part of the stated reason was to keep newly minted sergeants in the service.
Approximately 38% of sergeants left the active-duty Marine Corps within a year of their promotions in fiscal year 2019, Col. Christopher Escamilla, then the Corps’ head of Manpower Plans, Programs and Budget, said at the time.
After the 2019 change, corporals had to serve four years — the length of the standard enlistment contract — before they could ascend to sergeant. In practice, that meant they would be locked into a reenlistment by the time they got the promotion.
Under the small-unit leader initiative, as the new policy is known, reenlistment is still required before the promotion to sergeant, but corporals who reenlist well before their four-year terms conclude will now be eligible for promotion.
In 2019, Marine officials said another reason for increasing the time-in-service requirement from two to four years was to ensure the title of sergeant signaled considerable experience in the Corps.
“I’m a sergeant but I’ve only got three years of experience, what’s the difference between me and a corporal with three years of experience?” Col. Samuel Cook, the enlisted assignment branch head at Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs, told Marine Corps Times at the time. “I’ve got an extra chevron.”
Following the 2019 policy change, the Corps ended up with a slight shortage of sergeants and in 2021 increased the number of corporals who got promoted meritoriously ― or ahead of schedule on the basis of outstanding performance.
In fiscal year 2023, monthly pay for a sergeant in the Marine Corps who has served for three years is $3,055.20, compared to $2,774.10 for a corporal. And the extra chevron comes not only with more compensation but also with more responsibility and prestige.
“It will enable us to better resource our fighting formations by promoting those corporals who demonstrated the maturity to perform as small unit leaders,” said Col. Eric Reid, the Marine Corps’ current head of Manpower Plans, Programs and Budget, in a news release Thursday.
In recent years, the Marine Corps has adjusted its personnel policies in an attempt to boost retention, which previously hovered at roughly 25%, and create a more mature force. It announced in March that it had seen a 72% increase of first-term reenlistments by top-performing Marines, apparently as a result of the new policies.
The policy laid out Thursday doesn’t apply to the Marine Corps Reserve, but “a complementary reserve component program is forthcoming,” the Marine message stated.
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.