Issue Date: September 27, 2004
It’s good to be a grunt
Infantry among big winners of ’05 re-enlistment bonuses
By Gordon Lubold
Times staff writer
It’s the year of the grunt. We’re talking re-enlistment bonuses — big ones in some cases, especially if you’re a ground-pounder.
This year, the Corps will pay out $52 million in bonuses to Marines in more than 140 job specialties under the 2005 selective re-enlistment bonus program, which begins Oct. 1.
Through the program, Marines in retention-challenged job specialties can get up to $35,000 in lump-sum bonus money in return for re-enlisting. Overall, retention rates are healthy this year, but many fear that the pace of deployments may discourage some Marines from re-enlisting in fiscal 2005 and that the Corps is throwing money at the potential problem.
And this time around, officials are trying to dole out the dough smartly by reviewing the bonuses every quarter and making adjustments as necessary to ensure the money is going to the right job fields.
Among the highlights of this year’s program:
• More cash for infantry Marines.
• Bigger bonuses for fewer leathernecks.
• More frequent changes to the list of bonus-eligible jobs.
The aim is to target the right group of Marines with the right amount of cash with more accuracy.“This year, we’re being careful with who gets the money,” said Capt. Scott Vasquez, a career force planner with Manpower and Reserve Affairs at Quantico, Va.Corps officials have been meeting since May to determine how to best keep the Marine Corps staffed and healthy.
One key theme emerged by the time they wrapped up their discussions in August: the infantry field needed a little extra love.
Good news for grunts
Marines of all types are deploying or have been deployed for operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond.
But it’s the grunts who have shouldered the biggest share of the operational burden, and it shows. So, officials decided to beef up the bonuses.
With one exception, bonuses have tripled in each infantry job — and the bonus doubled for recon Marines.
Consider riflemen (MOS 0311). An 0311 corporal with three years of service would be eligible for a bonus of nearly $20,000 in fiscal 2005. Under the bonuses offered riflemen in 2004, that same corporal would have seen only about $7,000.
Career planners said they are happy to hear there is a little more for grunts this year.
Infantry Marines have worked hard and many have paid a high price. The extra cash for them is well-deserved, said Maj. Susan Seaman, the head personnel officer for the 1st Marine Division, based in Ramadi, Iraq.
“Combat-arms Marines have sacrificed tremendously over the past few years, even before [Operation Iraqi Freedom] began,” Seaman wrote in an e-mail from Iraq. “[Operations tempo] has forced them to sacrifice time from their loved ones, the pursuit of a ‘normal’ life and in many cases, without complaint, these Marines have lost their families while they gave everything the Marine Corps asked of them.”
Seaman cited one infantryman who said he didn’t want to re-enlist. In his eight years in the Corps, he’s been on seven deployments and has gone through two divorces. “They’ve earned these bonuses and more,” she wrote.
The Corps needs to re-enlist about 1,000 first-term infantrymen and 500 career Marines across seven jobs, out of a pool of 4,500 first-term Marines who are eligible for re-enlistment in those jobs.
Panic now to avoid the rush
Manpower planners will be watching this year’s bonus program more closely than in past years. So expect to see bonus money dry up quicker if boat-spaces begin to fill up.
In fact, Vasquez expects more than 10 percent of the bonus offerings to decrease or be cut altogether by the end of January. This should help direct money to only those specialties that need it to fill their boat-spaces.
This year, the more focused SRB program means you have to act fast. For first-termers, what you see is what you get — bonus multiples will not be increased for Zone A leathernecks, Vasquez said. Career Marines in zones B and C, however, still may see multiples increase later in the year.
You can get all the cash upfront and don’t forget — if you’re in a combat zone when you re-enlist, Uncle Sam doesn’t get his usual cut.