MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. --
The Marine Corps Recruiting Command said goodbye to its top officer Monday. During the month of December, Lt. Gen. Robert E. Milstead Jr. was nominated, confirmed for and promoted to the rank of lieutenant general in conjunction with his new assignment as deputy commandant for Manpower and Reserve Affairs.
The list of positive changes he made to MCRC is better understood if one takes a look at MCRC’s history.
The Marine Corps Recruiting Command was created in 1994 when it separated from Manpower and Reserve Affairs, where it was previously titled the Personnel Procurement Division. Broken down into two regions, six districts, 48 recruiting stations and 3,100 recruiters, MCRC covers the United States and U.S. territories including Guam and Puerto Rico. In 1998, MCRC moved with M&RA out of the Navy Annex in Washington, D.C., to the newly constructed James Wesley Marsh Center, where it continues to headquarter the recruitment of the best and the brightest for our nation’s fighting force.
The mentality held by Lt. Gen. Milstead about the nature of recruiting and fostering strong troop morale is one of a family bond built between teammates.
“I’ve always used the family analogy. I used the family analogy as a squadron commander, I’ve used it as a Marine Aircraft Group commander, I have used it as a Marine Wing commander, but I have especially used the family analogy with Marine Corps Recruiting Command because it is a family and people act the way they are treated. [MCRC] is probably the best for that metaphor because we have our team spread across the nation, but we still look out for one another and care for each other.”
During Lt. Gen. Milstead’s tenure as commanding general, the standards set by the Department of Defense for recruiting have constantly been surpassed. For enlisted recruiting, the standard of 60 percent for mental groups I-IIIA, a breakdown of applicants by score on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (groups I-IIIA are scores ranging from 50 to 99 points), was exceeded by nearly 13 percent. Even the 90 percent DOD standard set for Tier I accessions, applicants who have graduated high school, was surpassed by over 10 percent.
When asked what he thought was the contributing factor to these accomplishments, Lt. Gen. Milstead said it added up to one thing.
“The Marine Corps brand. The kids we attract want to be Marines, and they are a high caliber generation. The other services sell themselves as a means to something better. ‘Join us and you’ll get a college degree, join us and you’ll get a job, join us and you’ll get to see the world.’ The Marine Corps doesn’t sell itself as a means to something else, it sells itself as the destination. You want to be a Marine, we’ll promise you one thing – a set of blues. I don’t think we compete against the other service branches because the kids that join the Marine Corps do it out of a desire to be a Marine.”
During Lt. Gen. Milstead’s command, MCRC did face some unique challenges.
Fighting in two wars has taken a toll on the Marine Corps, which sacrificed parts of its amphibious heritage to meet the nation’s needs for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2007, the Marine Corps was tasked to grow to a total force of 202,000 Marines using a combination of recruiting and retention efforts. The established completion date at that time was set for 2011.
Lieutenant Gen. Milstead reflected on his time at the Pentagon before he assumed his duties as the MCRC commanding general, when he first heard about the planned growth he would later take charge of.
“We started in 2007; the commandant said we got authorization to grow the Marine Corps by 27,000. I was the director of public affairs at the time, so I sat there and listened to them talk about this surge, and they said it was going to take five years. There were some who said we may have to lower standards and the commandant said, ‘absolutely not, what it takes to be a Marine today is what it will take to be a Marine tomorrow.’ God bless him for it because we didn’t lower the standards and success begets success. Instead of taking us five years, we did it in two and half years, and did we lower standards? No, as a matter of fact, the quality of the kids coming into the Marine Corps continues to improve today. In fiscal year 2010, 99.7 percent of the kids who came into the Marine Corps had a high school diploma and over 70 percent were [mental group I-IIIA]. This is the healthiest Marine Corps I’ve seen in my 35 years. We got to 202,000 and we did it the right way. Now, when Afghanistan ends and peace breaks out, the commandant has already said we are going to get smaller. I don’t know what that size will be, but when that time comes, we will have to decrease the size of the Marine Corps, and we will have to do that smartly. We need to make sure we remain faithful to those people currently in the Marine Corps and not show somebody to the door – a controlled decent, to use pilot talk -- and I am going to be very much involved in that with this new job.”
Through disciplined contracting, contract placement and concentrated effort, the command also completed 2009 with a start pool of over 55 percent. The start pool is the percentage of the total recruiting goal for the year that the command begins with. That record was soon broken in 2010 with a start pool of 61.1 percent – a historic high.
Officer recruiting also improved during Lt. Gen. Milstead’s command with officer selection teams accessing 1,900 new second lieutenants in fiscal year 2008, 1,800 in fiscal year 2009 and 1,703 in fiscal year 2010. To show educators and team leaders what a young person can gain from service in the Marine Corps as an officer, MCRC created an officer-centric version of its Educators Workshop program. The new program provides an opportunity to see how the Marine Corps evaluates and trains its future officers. The workshops include tours of Officer Candidate School, The Basic School, Marine Corps University and a trip to Marine Corps Memorial to review the Sunset Parade performance by the Marines from Marine Barracks 8th and I.
Among all the accomplishments over his time at MCRC, Lt. Gen. Milstead said there wasn’t one main worry that stayed with him over the years, but there was a single driving pressure.
“I think just taking care of the Marines that were spread across the empire, 1,500 fighting positions across all 50 states and the territories was my biggest concern. You talk distributed operations, no one lives distributed operations like [MCRC does]. Taking care of those Marines out there all across the width and breadth of the empire, that was my biggest challenge.”
People are the main focus of his new billet as well, which is something he believes will assist him in his role as deputy commandant at M&RA.
“MCRC is probably the greatest tutorial for this job. It is all about people. People are our most precious asset. The thing that makes Marines ‘Marines’ is that we focus more on people than stuff. Yes, we need tanks and we need airplanes, but what defines us as Marines are the young men and women who join the Marine Corps. That is what makes us stand out. For the past two and a half years, I have been involved in bringing them into the Marine Corps, now I’ve transitioned into the job of taking care of them while they are in the Marine Corps.”
Lieutenant Gen. Milstead said there are plenty of challenges ahead in the recruiting arena for the Marine Corps and Maj. Gen. Ronald L. Bailey, the new commanding general for MCRC, who concurrently serves as the commanding general for Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego and the Western Recruiting Region.
“[MCRC’s] mission is going to increase over the next couple years because all of those people we brought in during the ramp up to 202,000 are hitting their four-year mark and are getting ready to get out. Close to 75 percent of the Marine Corps are on their first enlistment, and so if this huge piece goes out, we need to get ready to get more in. That is counter-intuitive to the people who think that ‘you don’t need money to recruit or for advertising because there is a 7 to 9 month wait to get a kid into boot camp.’ Well, you still have to keep advertising. The mission is going to increase, and we are more than a decade into a war. There are a lot of challenges out there, but Maj. Gen. Bailey is a troop leader. He is a guy who believes in teamwork and getting the mission accomplished. We served in combat together, and he was my number one choice to replace me – he is the right guy to take it over.”
The legacy left behind by Lt. Gen Milstead is a testament to his passion for the Marine Corps and his Marines. Manpower and Reserve Affairs has a new deputy commandant with his focus squarely set on one thing: taking care of all the Marines he helped put into the Marine Corps.