Many Marines have angrily responded on social media to the assistant commandant’s remarks at a conference Tuesday in San Diego on who deserves bonuses, but the general stressed on Wednesday that he wasn’t directing his comments to those in uniform.
When the Corps’ second-in-command said at the West conference Tuesday that the only enlistment bonus Marines need is the title of Marine, the response within the room was supportive.
“Your bonus is that you get to call yourself a Marine,” Assistant Commandant Gen. Eric Smith said, in the context of the Corps’ recruiting challenges. “That’s your bonus. … There’s no dollar amount that goes with that.”
The crowd applauded and whooped.
But as news of the remark spread across social media, reactions were less positive.
“I’m not gonna lie to you, not a whole lot of us get paid enough to do 7 mile flak-and-kevlar log runs every week,” wrote Reddit user Thermock in the r/USMC group, known as a subreddit, in one representative comment. “Or working 15 hours a day over some unimportant bullshit 1stSgt wants done. Or dealing with the God-forsaken medical facilities we have.”
Smith told Marine Corps Times on Wednesday there’s an important distinction between enlistment bonuses for recruits and retention bonuses for those who are already Marines.
“The Marines who have earned that eagle, globe and anchor, you’re not who I was talking to,” he said. “You, I want to give a bonus to. You, I want to make sure you have incentive pays and promotions. But please don’t confuse those who wish to earn the title and those who have already done so.”
Although the general public considers the Marine Corps to be the most prestigious branch (at least per a 2014 Gallup poll), the most common reason young people would consider joining the military is pay, a fall 2021 Pentagon study found.
The Corps offers thousands of dollars in bonuses for those who enlist for a few in-demand roles, a fact Smith briefly mentioned in his speech Tuesday and reiterated to Marine Corps Times Wednesday.
For instance, recruits can get bonuses of $8,000 for signing up for an electronics maintenance contract, $5,000 for a six-year infantry contract and $3,000 for a supply, accounting, and legal contract, according to a Marine administrative message from October 2022.
And the Corps offers many other kinds of bonuses, including retention bonuses. In January, it announced bonuses of up to $750 a month for recruiters who extend their tours, on top of preexisting bonus pay for Marines on recruiting duty. Aircraft maintenance Marines can qualify for bonuses (and kickers) totaling tens of thousands of dollars over the term of their reenlistment.
Counterintelligence Marines who agree to a lateral move and reenlist for 72 months can get a $55,000 job-specific bonus and a $40,000 kicker for a total of $95,000.
But the Marine Corps does not offer recruitment incentives on par with the Navy, which offers maximum enlistment bonuses of $50,000 and has lowered its entrance exam requirements in an effort to gain more recruits.
Smith said that’s because the Marine Corps, as a particularly elite branch, needs recruits who really want to become Marines.
“I don’t want them thinking that we’re going to buy your loyalty,” he said of those considering joining the Corps.
All of the military services had a hard time filling their ranks last year, with the Army, Navy and Air Force falling short in at least some of their recruitment goals. The Marine Corps barely eked past its fiscal 2022 goals, but only because it had previously lowered them because of higher-than-expected retention.
Navy Times reporter Geoff Ziezulewicz contributed reporting.
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.