Marine sets a career example

Marine sets a career example

Captain gets up close and personal to keep his 48 Marines in the Corps

By Bill Murray

GCN Staff

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif.'While Pentagon officials review recruitment pitches and struggle to develop financial incentives to encourage re-enlistment, one young Marine Corps officer is testing his own retention strategy.

'I take a personal interest in retention,' said Capt. Robert Flowers, communications officer for the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit. He supervises 48 Marines who support Corps systems and comm services.

Seven months into his current assignment, Flowers has a battle plan for keeping recruits in the Corps: Get to know them and let them know their importance to the service.

'I take a personal interest in retention,' Marine Corps Capt. Robert Flowers says.

'You see targets of opportunity,' he said. 'I ask them if they ate breakfast,' and then the conversation can move to other subjects.

'When you know someone, they're a known quantity,' Flowers said. 'Retaining Marines, for me, is frankly selfish. I want to work with them again.'

Even if junior Marines move to another unit, it's better to retain them than to see them leave the service, Flowers said.

Flowers has been a Marine for nearly 10 years and plans to stay for another 10. But he knows many junior Marines can double their salaries in the private sector, so they leave after a four-year enlistment.

'If they want to leave, they will leave,' he said.

The 34-year-old captain said he has felt the pull to leave, but not from within.

His wife of 11 years, a benefits manager for an information technology company, reminds him how much he's worth in the job market, Flowers said.

His 48 Marines are all locked in or committed to staying in the service until the end of a six-month deployment to the Persian Gulf, which will start in late summer, Flowers said.

'It's an adventure. We're going out and doing things,' he said. Because deployed Marines are on the move, Flowers is learning how to set up moving domains and deployed servers.

He planned to set up Secret IP Router Network servers for collaboration on a closed network in Coronado, Calif., before the Marines head out to sea.'Flowers and his staff provide Marine operating forces with the tools for network connectivity, he said.

For base communications, the Marines are laying fiber-optic networks.

On ships, they're using Category 5 cables for the Non-Classified IP Router Network and fiber to desktop PCs for SIPRnet, Flowers said.

Retention comes down to more than just paying communicators more money or improving their quality of life, Flowers said.

'The small cog in the machine needs to see where the sweep of the clock goes,' he said. 'They need to understand why it's important when they stay up all night rebuilding a server or bringing a notebook back up after it crashes.

'They know the difference between make-work and real work. It's important to keep them busy doing interesting work,' Flowers said.

'I've held a variety of [jobs],' he said. 'Marines come in [to the service] for a variety of reasons. I stay around because I feel that I've been of use. Those intangibles are very important to retaining Marines.'

But Brig. Gen. Robert M. Shea, the Marine Corps' assistant chief of staff for command, control, communications, computers and intelligence, says he thinks money is the biggest issue.

A team of senior enlisted personnel last year toured bases on the East and West coasts. They found that money was the No. 1 reason junior Marines leave, he said.

'We're a great training ground for industry,' Shea said.

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