How the Corps is trying to get exiting Marines to stay as reservists

by Vern Evans

WASHINGTON — The Marine Corps wants seasoned Marines to continue being Marines, even if just for one weekend a month.

As the service is updating its approach to fighting in preparation for a potential war with a powerful adversary like China, it also is trying to keep Marines who have the training and experience necessary for more complex operations. One piece of that personnel-focused effort, called Talent Management, is making better use of the Marine Corps Reserve.

“Now we’re thinking, ‘How can we tap into the skills that (reservists) have, whether they’re militarily gained or they got them on their own?’” said Kerry Mengelkoch, the director of the Corps’ Talent Management Oversight Directorate and a Marine veteran, said Tuesday at the Modern Day Marine conference in Washington.

The Corps already has doubled the number of Marines who enter the Reserve right after the end of their active service through the Direct Affiliation Program, Mengelkoch said.

In 2022, approximately 350 Marines became reservists through that program, according to Mengelkoch. The following year, after Marine commanders were given missions for the number of their Marines who ought to go through the program, it was about 750.

The Corps expects to double that number again in 2024, Mengelkoch said.

“In the past, we really didn’t speak very directly and deliberately with our Marines, once they were making a decision to come off of active duty,” Mengelkoch said. “We may have emphasized transitioning to the civilian component without emphasizing, ‘And while you’re there, you can also … stay Marine and join the Marine Corps Reserve.’”

Marines who go through the Direct Affiliation Program are eligible for bonuses, health care benefits, and guaranteed duty stations and jobs. The idea is to lure Marines to continue contributing their skills to the Corps even once they have left active duty.

In 2023, one Marine who went that route was Staff Sgt. Ramon Santiago, a joint terminal attack controller and fires chief, according to a Marine Corps news release. In his nine years on active duty, he had deployed five times, racking up experience in his technical job.

“I’m ready to move on to the next chapter of my life, but still want to give back to the Marine Corps,” Santiago said in the release.

Bolstering the Corps’ Reserve is one of the five priorities Commandant Gen. Eric Smith highlighted in his April 2 guidance to the force.

The Marine Corps also is launching a pilot program that allows active duty Marines to be assigned to a Reserve unit for a set period of time, during which they can continue to compete for promotions, with a plan to return to active duty after that, Mengelkoch said.

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.

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