The Corps had hoped to swell its ranks to 202,000 by 2012. It could
happen this year.
By Lolita C. Baldor
Jan. 4, 2009
WASHINGTON - Buoyed by more recruiters, bigger bonuses, and an elite
reputation, the Marine Corps has grown by nearly 27,000 members in a
little more than two years - half the time that military officials
believed it would take.
While the rapid expansion has stretched the Marine budget and put
some recruits in temporary or quickly refurbished barracks, it is
also easing the strain on Marine forces tapped for duty in Iraq and
In early 2007, the Marine Corps launched a program to expand its
ranks - planning to add about 5,000 Marines a year for five years,
and reaching a total of 202,000 by 2012. But in December, the Marines
had already hit 200,000, and Gen. James Conway, commandant of the
Marine Corps, said they would meet their 202,000 goal in early 2009.
According to Brig. Gen. Robert Milstead Jr., commander of Marine
Corps Recruiting Command, the Marines brought on more than 500
additional recruiters and increased the budget for recruiting bonuses
from $66 million in fiscal year 2007 to $89 million in 2008.
At the same time, as more recruits were coming in the doors, military
leaders also launched a campaign to get more current Marines to stay
on and reenlist for another tour. In the fiscal year that ended Sept.
30, the budget for retention bonuses was $464 million, and that
amount was boosted to $469.5 million for the current fiscal year.
The bonuses made their mark. In fiscal 2008, 35 percent of active
duty Marines reenlisted, compared with 24 percent two years ago.
As the size of the Marine Corps grew, officials increased the number
of battalions from 24 to 27, and bolstered the ranks of critically
needed specialties, including linguists, cryptologists and
By 2007, Pentagon leaders approved plans to bolster the Marines and
the Army, the two services that have borne the brunt of combat duties
for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, serving long and multiple tours
in both countries.
Plans are to increase the numbers of active-duty Army, Army Guard and
Army Reserve troops by 74,000 overall, with the active-duty force
growing by 65,000 to a total of 547,000. A year ago, top Army leaders
projected that they could accomplish their goal by 2010 - also
earlier than initially thought.
Lt. Col. Mike Moose, an Army spokesman, said the Army had grown to
nearly 541,900 soldiers by the end of October. The active-duty troop
increase will boost the number of Army combat brigades from the 2006
level of 42 to 48.
The Marine increase is already paying off.
"We're already starting to see the injection of those units into the
rotation schemes," said Conway, adding that putting just one more
infantry battalion into the mix helps to extend the time other units
get to spend at home between deployments.
It used to be that Marines would spend seven months at war and seven
months at home before turning around and deploying again. Now, said
Conway, they are getting nine or 10 months at home.
He said the top priority was to get more people into high-stress
units, including intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance jobs.
Marine leaders said retention rates may be benefiting a bit from the
economic meltdown. Marines and their families might be deciding that
now is a good time to stay on and wait out the plunging job market,
But while bonuses may lure recruits, a more lucrative enticement for
first-time recruits may be the Marines' legacy and identity, Corps
officials said. "Kids join the Marines because they want to join the
Marines, not because they're tired of flipping burgers," Milstead said.