Marine Corps is looking for a few good techies

Marine Corps is looking for a few good techies

'We're moving away from Notes.

Most recruits in technical posts don't re-up: 'A smart data guy, after four years? He's gonna book.'

By Bill Murray

GCN Staff

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C.'Forget about college, some Marine Corps officials said recently.

If you're an 18-year-old who wants to learn about communications or networking, you can make $40,000 to $60,000 a year in the private sector after four years in the Marines, Corps officials said.

The only problem for the Marines is they want personnel to stay semper fidelis and re-enlist.

'Marines are technically trained, and even after four years, it's hard to keep them in the Marine Corps,' said Master Sgt. Chuck Arnold, information systems chief for the 2nd Marine Division.

'Our knowledge base seems to walk out the door,' he said. The Marines turn to the civilian world, where they don't have to take physical tests, go on deployments and move every two or three years.

'We're constantly on a flex training [schedule] around here,' said Arnold, who has served for nearly 18 years. 'We bring people up to the knowledge we just lost.'

'Finding senior Marines in this field is getting difficult,' Arnold said. The 2nd Marine Division trains regiments and battalions that get called upon to join Marine Expeditionary Units for deployments.

Where's the door?

'A smart data guy, after four years? He's gonna book,' said Warrant Officer Steven Kubik, an operations officer for the 2nd Marine Division's Communications Co., which sets up telephone service and Non-Classified IP Router Network and Secret IP Router Network access for deployments.

A Marine for 11 years, he wants to earn a bachelor's degree in information systems and a master's in digital systems, and he plans to become a Microsoft-certified systems administrator before retiring in nine years. But given the 11-hour days he puts in, he conceded that realizing those aspirations seems remote.

'Education is encouraged in off-duty hours,' he said. 'You better yourself, you better the Marine Corps.'

Maj. Jon K. Aldridge, the division's operations officer, said, 'All the skills to get a good job can be taught in high school,' such as administering Lotus Notes.

An infantry battalion of 800 Marines may use 60 computers with two network managers, even though it should have three, said Maj. Lance M. Bryant, information systems management officer at the 2nd Marine Division. The managers' duties include setting up a tactical network and IP planning.

'That's tough to ask a couple of 19-year-olds to do,' he said.''

It usually takes a couple of years of training before a young Marine earns Bryant's confidence, he said. Two years later, they will probably have left the service. Those who work in help desk jobs can double their salaries to $40,000 and those with top-notch systems administration skills can pull in $60,000, he said.

To stem the tide of trained Marines heading to civilian life, Bryant wants the Corps to establish an initial enlistment period of six years for communications and data system specialists, with bonuses for re-enlistment. He also proposes what he calls a crazy plan: Marines in garrison work in tandem with contractors and receive stipends from the contractors.

As Bryant spoke in his office in a converted hospital facility, four contractors from the Corps' Network Operations Center in Quantico, Va., walked through the halls, working on the 2nd Marine Division's migration from StreetTalk 8.5 and Vines 8.5 from Banyan Worldwide of Westborough, Mass., to Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0 and Exchange 5.5. The Corps expects to finish the migration in October.

The switch may increase Marine retention problems, some officials said, because the more than 1,200 NT administrators will be well-equipped for high-paying industry jobs.

The Marines are setting up eight systems management regions and outsourcing network management, a plan Bryant said he thinks will work well. But, he said, he has concerns about the division being a part of the Camp LeJeune region, rather than reporting to its normal chain of command through the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Forces Atlantic.

Although Aldridge is retiring this week, as will, in all likelihood, Arnold in two years and Bryant in four, 1st Lt. Dave Berardinelli may represent the next generation at the Corps. The 2nd Marine Division's assistant information systems management officer, Berardinelli enlisted in the Marine Reserves in 1993 and later joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps and the active force after graduating from college.

He's nowhere near retirement and is focusing his energies on the NT migration. A whiteboard in his office holds a long checklist, including backup procedures, security and training.

'The really good ones are curious and have skills,' Aldridge said. 'Industry can offer them very good salaries and is only restricted by the bottom line. We're restricted by law.'

Aldridge is trying to describe his work experience to recruiters, who can help set up interviews for him.

'I'm a systems guy' with 7,500 hours of project management, he said. 'What other people consider projects, I consider continuous work.' He's looking forward to settling in one area with his family of five.

'We've had some good people who've moved along,' Kubik said. 'It doesn't matter if we lost five people, we've still got a job to do.'

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