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Tough economy, incentive pay mean more Marines will 're-up'

Like nearly 75 percent of his fellow enlisted men, Cpl. Nathan Ward is happy being a Marine.

The 22-year-old power line mechanic at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort is nearing the end of his four-year commitment and had to decide whether to re-up or take his chances with the worst civilian job market in recent memory.

He re-enlisted.

"There are not that many jobs available," he said.

A slumping economy and rising unemployment have helped the Corps exceed recruiting targets and retain the troops it already has. With more enlisted men staying on, competition between them has increased for some jobs -- some of which come with lucrative bonuses.

STILL GUNG HO

In a recent survey of 4,700 Marines whose active service ends during the current fiscal year, 73 percent said they were satisfied with life in the Corps, 13 percentage points more than in the same survey last year, according to Manpower and Reserve Affairs at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. Forty-six percent of eligible first-term Marines said they planned to re-up, a four percent increase from last year. Thirty-nine percent said they wouldn't re-enlist and 15 percent were undecided.

Bonuses and "the pride of being a Marine" were the incentives most cited by re-enlisting Marines, but Corps officials say they're sure the slumping civilian job market also plays a big role.

Maj. Shawn Haney, spokeswoman for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, said that while the Corps had no definitive data to link retention to the economy, the civilian economy was cited frequently by Marines as a concern in this year's enlisted retention survey. Cpl. Nathan Ward said talking with career counselors at the air station helped make his decision to stay in the Corps easier.

"I think if (other Marines) talk to the career planner, they make it pretty clear that you can't get a job unless you have a degree or are planning to go straight to school once you get out," he said.

That is exactly what Cpl. Ryan Young, 22, intends to do when his time with the Corps runs out this year.

Young, a combat correspondent with the MCAS Beaufort's Public Affairs Office and a Sioux City, Iowa, native, said he intends to wait out the recession in the classroom.

"I know the military has educational programs set up for me when I get out -- money for school and that sort of thing," Young said, citing the Post 9-11 G.I. Bill that went into effect Aug. 1, which likely will give him between $75,000 and $90,000 over three years to attend college. "Since the workforce is hurting, with jobs disappearing, I figure it is a great time to hop into the classroom and further my education.

"I plan on working toward becoming a pilot in college, (and) the fact that the economy is bad isn't going to affect me working toward my degree. That is why I don't mind getting out of this steady job during the 'long recession.' "

INCENTIVE PAY

Meanwhile, those staying in the Corps might face tougher competition for some fast-filling specialties, particularly those that come with re-enlistment bonuses.

"Basically ... (retention bonuses) are incentives to help us grow and shape the force," Haney said. "Now that we are focusing on shaping the force, (retention bonuses) and other monetary incentives will be allocated based on the manpower needs of our force. Bonuses can be suspended when our needs are met, but incentives can also be reinstated should our needs change."

Ward, for example, didn't want to leave the Corps, but he did want an incentive bonus, so he applied to change jobs so he could get one.

Instead of working as a fixed-wing aircraft mechanic, Ward wants to work in counter-intelligence, a job that carries a retention bonus of nearly $90,000 for a Marine of his rank. This coming fiscal year, there are no re-enlistment bonuses available to first-term Marines who work in Ward's old job as an F-18 mechanic, according to the Corps.

Combat photographer, personnel clerk and F-18 mechanic were among 50 jobs within the Corps that typically elicit the most competition, Haney said.

"The bottom line is that all re-enlistment eligible Marines will be informed of their choices to continue to serve, and Marines who choose to stay should not delay in submitting their re-enlistment package," she said.

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