Berger: Marine Corps needs immediate changes to better force, include more women

The Marine Corps commandant is following through on his call for substantive change by outlining his “most important matters for immediate execution,” which include revising the service’s parental leave policy and bolstering the recruitment of women.

In a series of tweets last Friday, Gen. David Berger stated seven mostly personnel-based priorities he has for the near future.

“While I am aware of the good work already being done across the force in support of my planning guidance implementation, these are some of my most important matters for immediate execution,” the tweet thread began.

Three of the actions Berger wants to take involve bettering life for women Marines, helping to increase the number recruited, and putting them in previously gender-restricted roles.

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The Marine Corps, along with the other services, is having trouble retaining mid-career women.

The one top priority is to identify the costs associated with implementing a new one-year paid maternity leave policy, along with the benefits and risks, and make a formal recommendation.

The Navy and Marine Corps currently have an 18-week maternity leave.

Along the same lines, Berger noted that he wants to revise the current parental leave policy to include leave for adoptive parents and same-sex couples.

Continuing with the theme of women Marines, Berger said he wants to “seek qualified active duty female company-grade volunteers for the opportunity to attend Infantry Officers Course and assignment to infantry battalions upon completion. To also include additional lateral moves for female Marines seeking careers in previously restricted occupations.”

Berger’s announcement seems to be embracing women in combat roles, a policy the Marine Corps previously pushed back against when it first went into effect in 2016. Yet very few women are currently filling those roles.

Another way Berger wants to deal with that is to determine the feasibility of identifying and recruiting women in the reserves who want to move into previously restricted roles in active duty.

Berger said he wants to review and update any service policies for enlistment and officer candidate to disqualify any applicant with a previous conviction for sex- or gender-based violence. That includes domestic violence.

The Marine Corps felt reverberations from sexual harassment and violence during the Marines United scandal two years ago. The incident involved Marines posting explicit photographs of female Marines online without consent. In response, the military services released a social media misconduct policy.

Berger turned heads when he took over as the top Marine last summer. His planning guidance was considered progressive by those in the military and by analysts.

“We are entering a period of force transformation,” Berger said in the guidance. “While this transformation will require more than simply the next four years, as maneuverists we are prepared to make bold decisions more rapidly than others to effect those outcomes, to generate tempo, and create friction within the decision cycles of our competitors and adversaries … As we implement the guidance in this document, we must divest of the past to modernize for the future.”

His guidance had a handful of reforms for the personnel system.

He called the current manpower model one based on producing mass over quality. The guidance called for the Marine Corps to consider up to one-year leaves-of-absence for mothers to remain with their children before returning to service.

The guidance also looked at how the Corps retains, recruits and promotes Marines.

Berger said that the Marines currently look at time and experience, rather than talent, performance or future potential.

“While performance is factored into promotion selection, it is narrowed to a slim cohort, roughly based on year groups — an antiquated model,” the guidance states.

The guidance suggests advancing Marines more quickly based on need and gaining more tools to recruit Marines with needed skills.

Berger also stated in the guidance that he wanted the Marine Corps to weigh current performance over average performance, to consider letting Marines stay in the service longer than the 20 year mark, and to allow them to change career paths as their interests evolve.

“Current policies drive increased permanent change of station costs, throw away talent at the point it is most productive and highly trained, and discourage performers who would like to continue serving, but may be less interested in promotion or constant disruptive moves of questionable personal and professional value,” Berger said.

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