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Marine Corps Commandant Strengthens Push to Recruit Cyberwarriors

The Corps will now offer its Marines what Neller described as a “cyber guarantee” when recruits sign up for cyberwar

By Ben Berliner - Warrior Maven Writer

A new beachhead on the cyberwarfare battleground has been seized by the U.S. Marine Corps with an initiative to recruit and retain cyber talent General Robert Neller, Commandant of the Marine Corps, told Warrior Maven at a March 29 Atlantic Council event.

The Corps will now offer its Marines what Neller described as a “cyber guarantee” that will be "just like (when) you sign up in the Army, the Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps to be a pilot, say: ’I want to be a pilot’ you take the test, you go to school and then you get to the point where you get your wings.”

A cyberspace career track, or military occupational specialty, MOS, was announced last month, according to a March 17 statement from the Corps, to build “a deliberate, professionalizes, and sustainable cyberspace workforce enabling the Marine Corps to conduct cyberspace operations, as directed by the U.S. Cyberspace Command.”

Neller emphasized to Warrior Maven that the recent initiative was created with an emphasis on both recruitment and retention: “Once you’re in, you’re in.” He compared the approach to the Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command saying that the “SOCOM model” gives the corps greater flexibility in building a committed workforce – and just as importantly, competing with private industry for top talent.

“I can’t pay them what they’re worth, I mean we can’t compete with industry. . . these are really, really smart, capable marines,” Neller observed, adding, “the only thing I could give them that they asked that might make them stay” is when a Marine says “I really feel like I am making a difference, just let me do this. . . our answer was okay: go do it.” He also noted that the Corps would then say “now we start the clock. Okay, now you owe us eight. The clock doesn’t start until you get your wings. . . .we need those folks, we’re going to put forth the effort to train them, and (the) expenditure to train and we need a return on investment.”

The typical trajectory, Neller noted, was to “pull them out in three years to go have them go do something else” which the Commandant said “wasn’t a cost effective way,” given the expense, the time, and the expertise invested in training each cyberwarrior. It is a reflection of the depth of investment in each marine that going forward there will now be opportunity for career promotion: “this is not PFC Lance Corporal business, this is sergeant, staff sergeant, warrant officer, limited duty officer stuff. . . even on the officer side.” The recent announcement from the Corp points to support of “the maturation of the Marine Corps’ cyberspace workforce through the establishment of specific career paths, standardized training continuum, and mechanisms to retain trained and qualified Marines within the cyberspace community.”

In a new approach to workforce readiness, Neller shared that it would be the more experienced Marines who will be recruited for the cyber career path because “in order to be qualified” a “certain level of training” is needed that isn’t “something that a very junior 18 or 19 year old Marine out of high school is going to be able to do. . .you (have) to have an older, more seasoned person.”

The initiative is intended to provide “the Marine Corps with a professionalized, highly skilled workforce that can effectively employ" cyberspace defenses, capabilities and effects across the Marine Air Ground Task Force," according to a Corps statement released March 1.

Neller, whose pithy and down-to-earth wisdom frequently uses references to popular culture to communicate with the Marines (61% who are under the age of 25 he noted), has in the past used an analogy to HBO show Game of Thrones to describe conflict in North Korea and has also expressed the Marine policy of tattoos through the lens of humor telling a media outlet: “We're not a biker gang, we're not a rock and roll band. We're not [Maroon 5 lead singer] Adam Levine," Neller said. "You can get 70 percent of your body covered with ink and still be a Marine. Is that enough?"

Rapper Drake’s lyric “trigger fingers turn to twitter fingers” was quoted by Neller in a tweet in which he shared a link to the cyber career announcement on the Marine.mil website, “not exactly,” acknowledged Neller, who added “but this is the next step in professionalizing our cyber workforce,” which, Neller’s tweet concludes, “will be critical to our success, now and in the future."

-- Ben Berliner is a Warrior Maven contributing writer

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