The Big Decision

2 Dec 2009 | Cpl. Jacob H. Harrer

Suddenly, a career in the Marine Corps looks promising. With unemployment creeping higher each month, and the national average now past 10 percent, the steady paycheck and free healthcare provided by Uncle Sam isn’t such a bad idea. However, after four years of service, 80 to 85 percent of first-term Marines will return back to civilian life, said 1st Sgt. Peter Ferral, Headquarters and Service Company first sergeant at Marine Barracks Washington.

While the healthcare and job security may make a military career appealing to Marines with families, other factors often have a greater impact on retention than mere benefits, said Ferral. The decision to stay in the Marine Corps varies from person to person, and the economy is just one of many things to consider in each individual situation.

“No reenlistment is ever the same,” said Gunnery Sgt. Tonya Hill, MBW career retention specialist.  “I don’t think the economy affects retention that much.” Hill would know, as she oversees every reenlistment and extension for the more than 1000 Marines assigned to MBW. At any time of the day, she can be found behind her large desk with papers stacked in her organizer and a Marine sitting across from her, discussing career options with her.

Some Marines are set on getting out either way. Many are not able to reenlist because there are no slots available for them in their career field. Some Marines are not eligible because of medical or legal reasons, said Hill. Others have a choice but prefer to get out of the Marine Corps.

The Few, the Proud

Sgt. Danielle Martinis has been on both sides of the fence. When she left the Marine Corps in 2006, she found work in all sorts of jobs, from bartending and waitressing, to pouring concrete on construction projects in the Midwest, to sending faxes and rebates in an office packed full of women.  After 13 months of moving from job to job, Martinis reenlisted as a motor vehicle operator, her original job in the Marine Corps.

Martinis enjoyed the camaraderie of serving with Marines during deployments and in garrison. She deployed to Iraq and drove in convoys, as well as helped security forces by searching females at various checkpoints. “At the end of the day I felt more sense of accomplishment being a Marine,” said Martinis. “I think I’ll always be able to find some sort of job. I prefer to be a Marine than settle for something I don’t want to do.”

Cpl. Michael Lesiewicz can also find employment in the civilian market, but not enough to cover his new expenses. The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, he was sitting in Hill’s office holding a paper with various reenlistment bonuses ranging in upwards of $80,000. Lesiewicz recently discovered he has a child due in April. He wouldn’t be able to support his family without a degree, so he plans to reenlist, land a bonus and use Marine Corps tuition assistance to pay for online college courses. “Before I even think about getting out in the civilian world I want to make sure my education is where it should be, at least with a bachelor’s degree,” said Lesiewicz.

Besides the benefits, the Marine Corps will give Lesiewicz a chance to deploy overseas, which he has been unable to do. After enlisting in the infantry, his career took an unexpected turn when he was selected for duty with the Marine Corps Color Guard at MBW. Since arriving in Washington, Lesiewicz has marched the colors at many high profile ceremonies and funerals around the nation, including the 44th Presidential Inauguration of President Barack Obama.

After nearly three years in the Color Guard, Lesiewicz is ready to take off his Dress Blues and go to war. “I kind of want to see what it’s like to wear cammies everyday and get boots dirty,” said Lesiewicz.

The Bottom Line

“A lot of Marines have different views on reenlisting,” said Ferral. While in Iraq, many of his Marines reenlisted for tax-free bonuses of up to $90,000, he said. Others, like himself, reenlisted because they enjoyed their jobs. However, a Marine’s work environment has a greater impact on their first reenlistment than any other factor, said Ferral.

“Many Marines, especially young Marines, will reenlist or not reenlist depending on their environment in that unit,” said Ferral. “For example, you’ll have some Marines that are just not having a good time, and they don’t like the Marines that they’re working with. They think everyone’s against them.”

A good working environment, or high morale, depends on leaders enforcing order and treating Marines fairly, said Ferral. Effective leaders also give young Marines a sense of purpose in their daily jobs.

“If you have great leaders, great mentors, you tend to keep more Marines,” said Hill.

Lesiewicz grew up with a strict father, and he appreciates having a tough gunnery sergeant around to uphold high standards. “Discipline… it’s nice to know there is discipline still out there,” he said. “This has made me realize this is exactly what I was made for.”