High-Quality Senior Marine Corps Officers:

How Many Stay Beyond 20 Years of Service?

PEMD-85-1: Published: Nov 13, 1984. Publicly Released: Nov 13, 1984.

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GAO studied the quality of U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant colonels who retired at the end of 20 years of service and those who remained in the service for consideration for promotion by a colonel selection board to determine whether: (1) the best qualified lieutenant colonels left the service before being considered for promotion to colonel; and (2) quality and retention were differentiated by professional or academic education, military occupational specialty, years of military service, or how close the candidate was to colonel selection review.

GAO found that, of 1,005 officers who would have been evaluated by 1979-81 colonel selection boards, 417 left before they would have appeared before a board. Nearly 68 percent of the higher quality officers were retained by the Marine Corps beyond 20 years of service for consideration for promotion to colonel. Only 56 percent of the officers in the not-as-high-quality category were retained. Pilots and naval flight officers exhibited the lowest retention rate of higher quality officers while the infantry exhibited the highest retention rate. GAO found that retention did not seem to be affected by an officer's years of service, proximity to colonel selection review, graduate education, or career in either aviation or infantry occupations. However, retention did seem to be affected by government-sponsored graduate education and educational quality. Higher quality retention was greater for self-sponsored education, and selective retention was greater for government-sponsored programs. GAO found that the proportion of higher quality officers was greater among officers who attended command and staff colleges than among officers who did not. Finally, GAO found that officers with more education were more competitive for promotion to colonel. Training in military special education and advanced degree programs and attendance at command and staff college allowed even more competitiveness than the other education categories. However, officers with government-sponsored graduate education had less opportunity to attend command and staff college than officers without it.

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