Zen in the Art of Reserve Recruiting

10 May 2013 | Capt. Eric Postow 4th Marine Corps District

As the largest reserve writing station for the district, the Recruiting Station Richmond command group has learned valuable lessons that apply to reserve contracting and shipping. 

The key is maintaining a contracting balance between making mission in the current month and filling reserve shipping holes in the next trimester. Contracting regular males is like a safety valve for making the monthly contracting mission, because grad regular males are easier to find, but quality reservists in the quantity required to ship 196 in a year is the challenge of our mission. 

The common quote within the district since I joined as the RS Richmond operations officer in fiscal year 2011 has been, “contracting cures all.” Our counter intuitive way of conducting business presents many challenges to that way of thinking.  

I agree that contracting does cure all, if you maintain discipline to contract the right component and category for both the recruiting station and the applicant to avoid entering a potential recruit into the Delayed Entry Program, only for them to turn into a future discharge. 

In fiscal year 2010, RS Richmond began learning the valuable lesson of maintaining discipline. That year we were in a direct market averaging four direct reservists a month throughout the second trimester (February, March, April, May). 

What developed as a consequence was a strict adherence to placement, and an emphasis from the commanding officer on down, that each recruiting sub-station would adhere to its annual contracting mission for requirements. 

This discipline adhered to since 2010, has seen Marine Corps Recruit Depot discharge percentage rate drop in each of the subsequent years. From over 11 percent in FY 10, to nearly eight percent in FY 11, and finally under five percent in FY 12.

The results can largely be attributed to a focus on disciplined contract placement and on finding the right applicants for the right holes.

The lifeblood of RS Richmond is the reserve mission. Richmond shipped 196 Quota Serial Numbers in FY12. The next three highest reserve shipping missions in the district were Recruiting Stations Charleston at 115, Frederick at 113, and Baltimore at 110. Those numbers are nothing to balk at, but finding 81 reservists in a year creates a unique recruiting challenge that is worth exploring. 

The challenge of reserve contracting in volume is preventing the practice of “shoehorning.” Shoehorning is giving the applicant who desires an active duty contract a reserve contract. This is usually accomplished under the auspices of shipping much sooner if the applicant accepts the reserve contract.

While true in many instances, some negative aspect of shoe horning includes: higher DEP attrition, as reserve poolees figure out that other poolee got active contracts; higher MCRD attrition as recruits develop “buyer’s remorse” at Parris Island; and disgruntled reservists in the community who eventually stop drilling and whose QSN the RS will fill year after year.

The main issues facing reserve recruiting are finding the right person for the QSN and understanding the market. There is a difference in a high school senior reservist and a high school graduate reservist. Experience has shown high school senior reservists are more apt to discharge, because like many high school seniors the world is wide open for them and as graduation dates get closer, their plans may shift radically. 

The high school senior reservist often has more options than those of his active duty counter parts due to the aforementioned status indicates, the higher line scores and propensity to go to college is higher. 

The high school graduate reservist is more likely to ship because his circumstances are a known quantity and the reserves fit his lifestyle. 

Filling the summer pool with a significant number of high school senior reservists comes with an increased risk in pool attrition and a massive summer shipping mission for those reservists. A large amount of high school seniors are inevitably placed in those holes.

For example, in FY12 RS Richmond shipped 110 reservists or 56 percent of the total annual mission during the summer. Of the summer reserve shipping pool, there was a 27 percent discharge rate amongst seniors compared to a 16 percent discharge rate amongst reserve graduates. There is an increased risk in senior reserves compared to graduates.  

For the FY there was less variation in discharges between regulars and reserves.  Reserves discharged from the DEP at 15 percent, and regulars discharged at 14 percent.  Our reserves did slightly better at recruit training, discharging at just under 4 percent whereas regulars discharged at 5 percent. 

Some of the difficulty is self-induced.  In the past it was the norm to make reservists out of those who we deemed, “not good enough,” for an active duty contract, or “he lied to me, the only way he ships is as a reservist.” 

These common thoughts running through recruiter’s minds are returning themes for the command group to combat. Reservists should not be the least favorable option; it should be the best fit for the applicant.

That mindset leads to two things: higher attrition in the reserve units from young disenchanted reservists, and an annual shipping mission that never seems to lessen. 

The focus at RS Richmond has been on identifying the right person for the job. The command group has been scrubbing the pool to ensure reservists are becoming reservists for the right reason. The command group must have the courage to discuss with a staff noncommissioned officer in-charge cases where a command group member thinks a particular reservist is shoehorned in.

A young man who has no job, no family and tells the Sergeant Major that he just really needs to “get out of this town,” should not be given a reserve contract that will keep him in the same situation from which he is trying to escape from.

The bottom line with reserve contracting and shipping is that it takes a tremendous amount of focus and attention at all three levels of the RS. Everything from mission planning, to messaging from the command group, to the street, has to be carefully constructed and executed. 

I had the opportunity to meet a lance corporal working at a supermarket in Lynchburg, Va. while out canvassing with a new recruiter. It did not take long for him to share with me something we as a command already believed could be a problem. He was unhappy with his situation, and was quick to tell me that he felt his recruiter had not been 100 percent honest with him about the process of going from the reserves to active duty. 

His disappointment in the bad recruiting practice has affected his attitude toward the Marine Corps as a whole, and has done little to enhance the Corps’ image in the community. That young man should be a proof source who comes back from the fleet and supports the recruiting effort on Temporary Assigned Duty; instead he is disgruntled and looking for a new future. 

It is important to keep this story in mind. It should be an important thought not just at the recruiting station headquarters, but at the district level as well. By understanding RS Richmond has a unique mission and by keeping that in mind during different stages of mission planning, we can ensure the station’s success into the future. 

The Marines of RS Richmond understand our mission and our command group understands that we owe our very best to our recruiters, the applicants, the reserve units, as well as the Marine Corps at large to get it right. 

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4th Marine Corps District