Posted: May 19, 2017 1:12 PM

Navy, Marine Corps Looking for Solutions to Future Recruitment and Retention

By JAMES PETERSON, Special Correspondent

WASHINGTON — Recruitment and retention drove the discussion for the Navy and Marine Corps during the Military Personnel Posture hearing held May 17 on Capitol Hill. Both branches reported strong recruitment for last fiscal year, but services officials are concerned the looming Blended Retirement System (BRS) could lead to drops in the retention rate.

All branches of the military struggled in retaining enlisted personnel in cyber offense and defense, intelligence, linguists and cryptology, according to the testimony presented to the House Armed Services Military Personnel subcommittee.

“In the combat arms, we are doing very well, in the aviation community, we are doing very well,” said Marine Lt. Gen. Mark A. Brilakis, deputy commandment for Manpower and Reserve Affairs. “It’s really in those low-density, high-demand MOSs [Military Occupational Specialties] and some of the more highly technical MOSs where we are having retention challenges.”

Vice Adm. Robert Burke, chief of naval personnel, expressed the Navy’s need to change polices to prevent any sort of drop in recruiting or retention.

“While the Navy has healthy recruiting, retention and manning today, it is vital we update policies that position us to deal with challenges before we are confronted with a crisis,” Burke said. “As with the weapon systems we use, we must continue to refresh our personnel system to keep pace with a rapidly changing world, and we must do so with a sense of urgency.”

Although still understanding the need to change current policies, Brilakis said he believes the rigorous nature of the Marine Corps leads to lower retention.

“We got a lot of folks who have a plan in life, and the Marine Corps is part of that plan. Staying in the Marine Corps is not part of that plan,” he said.

The members of the subcommittee asked for solutions to potential future recruitment and retention losses, mentioning their concern over the BRS. Members said they believe service members will see less reason to stay with the military because of it.

The BRS goes into effect Jan. 1 and scales back pension the tradition military pension but adds up to a 5 percent match for personal contributions to the government’s Thrift Savings Plan. All members serving as of Dec. 31 are grandfathered under the legacy retirement system, but those with fewer than 12 years can choose to opt in to the BRS or continue under the legacy system. Members entering the service after Jan. 1 will automatically be enrolled in BRS.

Burke said the best way to combat the potential loss is using proper incentives and flexibility in career choices. He described the promotion process as a pyramid with a large base and narrow top, meaning shorter careers.

“A lot of our salary 2025 programs are aimed at narrowing the base of the pyramid, making it a little taller so longer careers and perhaps allowing more opportunities to repurpose the career,” he said.

Another potential solution brought up by the subcommittee was the need to focus more on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) recruiting. Brilakis said as the Corps continues pursuing STEM recruits, it must think about what makes a “cyber Marine.”

Burke said planting the seed early is key to STEM recruiting.

“You have to get in at the middle school level,” he said. “You have to go to science fairs and sponsor those things. … Just spark the interest and maybe at some point they’ll associate that interest with the Navy and come work for us.”

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