War II, however, during Vietnam the Marine Corps was unable to keep most of its junior officers and NCOs for more than one combat tour. Despite the Marine Corps' efforts to retain its newly promoted and combat-experienced leaders, as the war progressed a sizeable portion of the career enlisted force did not reenlist; only a tiny minority of first term Marines, both officer and enlisted, opted to remain in the Corps.
The retention of officers became a major problem by 1968. In 1964, 54 percent of Marine officers completing their obligated service remained on active duty at least one additional year. By 1967 this proportion had dropped to 42 percent.' While regular officer retention remained close to the established goals, every month roughly 3 regular majors and 36 regular captains resigned their commissions. Unfortunately, regulars (excluding temporary officers) constituted just over a third of the company-grade officer ranks, and less than a fifth of the lieutenants. To meet its officer goals, the Marine Corps needed a sizeable number of Reserve officers to augment into the regular Marine Corps every year.
Before Vietnam, more Reserve officers applied for augmentation than the Marine Corps had room for, and the Marine Corps enjoyed the luxury of simply selecting the best qualified applicants. In fiscal year 1965, of 3,431 officers eligible for augmentation, 714 applied, approximately one out of every five eligible officers. The Marine Corps had room for 70.4 percent of the applicants, and accepted 66.8 percent of them. In FY 1966, while the number of eligible officers dipped to 2,380, only 314 applied for augmentation, slightly more than one out of every seven officers. The Marine Corps had room for every applicant, but only 88.5 percent were selected to become regulars.
This trend worsened as the war progressed. For every fiscal year from 1966 to 1969, the Marine Corps had more spaces than applicants for augmentation. In fiscal year 1968, fewer than one out of 14 eligible officers applied for augmentation. The 1968 augmentation board had a quota of 412, but only 240 officers applied. Of those 240 applicants, the board selected only 202, less than half its quota, apparently finding a shortage of officers preferable to retaining the other 38 officers. In fiscal year 1969, fewer than one out of 15 eligible officers applied for augmentation. Again the augmentation board was authorized to retain every one of the 198 applicants, but only 115 were considered fit to become regular officers.
In July 1969, Major General Platt explained to his fellow generals that the low selection rate most likely Table 3 Unadjusted reenlistment rates for Marine Regulars by Fiscal Year
Marine Corps wide 1st term
Inf, Gun Crews &
Marine Corps wide Career
Inf, Gun Crews &
regular reenlistment rate
Allied Specialists 1st Term regulars reenlistment
Allied Specialists Career reenlistment
reflected the low quality of the applicants. General Platt also concluded that one of the major reasons for the poor retention record was the unwillingness of junior officers 'to commit themselves to the prospect of repeated tours in Vietnam.'?6
General Platt s assessment probably also applied to the noncommissioned officer ranks. The Marine Corps had great difficulty keeping its NCOs. The reenlistment rate for first-term regulars,* who provided the bulk of the corporals and sergeants in this period, dropped from 16.3 percent for fiscal years 1965 and 1966 to 11.9 percent in fiscal year 1968 (see Table 3). Headquarters Marine Corps tried to stem the exodus, creating the Career Advisory Branch on l April 1968. This branch's sole concern was the management of a career advisory program intended to persuade more Marines to reenlist.37 Despite the efforts of the career advisors, reenlistments plummeted. In fiscal year 1969, only 7.4 percent of eligible first-term regulars reenlisted. Of every 100 first-term regulars leaving the Marine Corps, only 4.7 reenlisted or extended.
The situation was just as bad among the career regulars. Before 30 June 1966 almost 90 percent of all career Marines reenlisted. Between 1 July 1968 and 30 June 1969 this proportion dropped to less than 75 percent. The combat arms were hardest hit. In fiscal years 1965 and 1966, the reenlistment rate for career combat arms Marines was slightly higher than the average reenlistment rate for all career Marines. This trend ended in fiscal year 1967, when reenlistments for career combat arms Marines fell below the Marine Corps-wide average. By fiscal year 1969, combat arms career reenlistments ran almost 15 percentage points below the Marine Corps average; only 59.8 percent of eligible career combat arms Marines reenlisted.
*Regulars describes Marines who voluntarily enlisted in the Marine Corps, as opposed to draftees.
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