Marines Winning Recruiting Wars

Phil Carter, noting yet another month when the Marine Corps easily exceeded its recruiting goals, asks, “What is the Marine Corps doing that enables it to recruit so well during wartime — and can the other services do the same?”

My immediate answer was along the lines that many of his commenters suggested: The Marine Corps brands itself as a fighting force and an awesome challenge for those who are up to being one of The Few, The Proud whereas the other services try to sell themselves as a place where you can learn valuable technical skills and money for college.

Sure, the Army does more before 9 am than most of us do all day but, thankfully, you’ll only have to do it for 3-4 years and then you can get out and go to college! Or put those awesome technical skills you’ve learned to use in a real job!

This is perfectly natural since, after all, the Army is massively larger and has a more varied mission set than the Marines. And it works well under normal circumstances. The Army generally manages to recruit plenty of high quality people and, whatever their intention upon signing up, plenty of them will decide that it’s a pretty good way to earn a living and re-up. But, when there’s a long, unpopular war on, that message rings hollow. The risk-reward calculus has changed dramatically and the Marine Corps has first mover advantage in recruiting those who sign up specifically because they want to face the challenges of combat.

FILED UNDER: General,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. yetanotherjohn says:

    Audie Murphy, most decorated soldier in the US army ever, was turned down by the marines. My father volunteered (before being inevitably drafted) in December of 1941 for the navy because he was told that navy pilots were better than army pilots. In short, both wanted to go with the “best”. Audie ended up in the default US Army. My father ended up as a navy fighter pilot.

    By the way, all four branches met their recruiting goals, its just the Marines were so far ahead that they are closing in on having all their 2009 slots filled. So its not like the marines can fill their slots and the army can not.




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  2. G.A.Phillips says:

    The few, the proud, the coolest looking uniforms.




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  3. Anderson says:

    My dad, an Army reservist who was in Korea and Vietnam, always said the only impressive thing about the Marines was that they could get kids to volunteer to be cannon fodder — er, “shock infantry.”




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  4. Bill H says:

    Has anyone remarked that Marine combat tours are seven months, while Army tours are 12-15 months?




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  5. sam says:

    My dad, an Army reservist who was in Korea and Vietnam, always said the only impressive thing about the Marines was that they could get kids to volunteer to be cannon fodder — er, “shock infantry.”

    Wonder if you dad was with the FirstMarDiv when it fought its way out from the Chosin Resevoir to Hung Nam. I understand it took a lot of Army guys out with it.




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  6. JACK ARMY says:

    Here’s how I learned about the differences in recruiting:

    Out of the recruit-able population (generally meet age, physical, mental, and moral qualifications) there are a certain amount of people with a propensity to enlist. Those with a propensity have various motives, but the group with the motive of pure “service to country” tend to gravitate towards the combat arms (infantry, armor (tanks), and similar “fighting” jobs). The Marines market every job as a combat arms job, as they should. The Army markets its jobs differently to attract people with different “buying motives”.

    Since there is a limited group of folks propensed to enlist purely out of a desire to serve (and, no, not all of them want to be frontline troops) and that group is generally larger than the recruiting “quota” for any one branch, each branch gets a share, but the Marines benefit most from this group for two reasons: first, they specifically market themselves this way – it is the way they think and train and fight after all. Second, their recruiting mission is lower than the Army’s so the Marines reach their goals quicker than the Army using these “propensed” recruits. Once the Army grabs its share of this group, it has to keep recruiting because it is looking for so many more folks to put in boots.

    A further challenge to the Army is the Air Force’s tendency to attract the folks with a propensity to enlist with the motive of getting a technical job or training. While working on jet engines and M1 Abrams tank engines are very similar jobs, jets are a lot sexier than tanks. I guess.

    I could go deeper into it, but you get the idea, I hope.

    Oh, and five years into the war, people aren’t joining the military for college. They may take advantage of the college benefits, but nobody enlists these days thinking they won’t deploy to war.




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  7. just me says:

    I agree that nobody at this point is enlisting for college, at least not with the idea that they won’t have to go overseas and serve in a combat/war zone.

    But I think the point about marketing is a good one for why people choose the branches they choose. I think the Army’s commercials for the most part stink, while the Marines are outstanding. I often joke when I see them that the Army needs to hire the Marines’ marketing guy.




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  8. James Joyner says:

    Oh, and five years into the war, people aren’t joining the military for college. They may take advantage of the college benefits, but nobody enlists these days thinking they won’t deploy to war.

    You’d think, wouldn’t you? It still seems like the Army is marketing college benefits and such but maybe not as much with the Army of One ads.




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  9. Bandit says:

    Jeez Andy my Dad was USMC and he always said the Army was a bunch of pussies. I guess he was right.




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  10. JACK ARMY says:

    Wow. A conversation about recruiting in the various branches turns into name-calling.

    Well, I guess I’m a pussy then, Bandit. Oh, and your welcome.

    Mr. Joyner, I agree wholeheartedly that the Army still misses the mark with its latest few marketing campaigns, sort of. Regardless of whether or not you or I feel it is effective, though, its up to the folks that spend the money (and answer to the purse-string-holders) to decide whether or not they are getting their money’s worth.

    I try to keep in mind the following two factors: 1) if everyone that enlists knows they will go to war, why advertise to that and instead to the other benefits of enlisting? If I want to be infantry and I can do it in the Marines or the Army AND I eventually want to go to college, my choices now are join the Marines and get the GI Bill, or (provided I qualify) join the Army and get the GI Bill and the Army College Fund which is currently $60k. Might make the difference, and I might not know there’s a difference if advertising didn’t tell me. Of course, if the better-looking uniforms of the Marines is more important to me than college money then I’ll likely go with them. And yes, there are folks that pick which branch they’ll serve in based on which uniform looks the best.

    2) if another branch ONLY focuses on the “warrior” aspect of being in their branch, then it might make more sense to try to attract folks who might be interested in either more than warrior-ness, or other than warrior-ness. After all, the Army needs support troops as well as front-line fighters, right?




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  11. James Joyner says:

    if another branch ONLY focuses on the “warrior” aspect of being in their branch, then it might make more sense to try to attract folks who might be interested in either more than warrior-ness, or other than warrior-ness. After all, the Army needs support troops as well as front-line fighters, right?

    Right. And I think this is the crucial difference. The Army has a much more diluted brand that the Marines because the Army is a much more all-purpose Service. The Marines get their first pick of the hard core infantry wannabes because of their focus, while the Army recruits a much wider variety of people.

    And, interestingly, the Army still managed to do fine on the infantry front. The main difference there is that the Marines do a better job of instilling esprit in their ordinary grunts — just being a Marine is considered a big accomplishment — whereas it’s the elite airborne, Ranger, and SF types that have that sense in the Army.




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