Marines eye a few good IT recruits

The Marine Corps' global network operations center at Quantico, Va., is casting its recruiting net wider these days, enticing new recruits with training programs and promises of unique career opportunities.

Before, only enlisted Marines who had attained the rank of sergeant or above were assigned to the center, which monitors and protects the service's networks. But now the center takes first-term Marines because "we needed bodies," said Capt. Carl Wright, the information systems security officer at the center.

With only a 40 percent re-enlistment rate, information technology workers are in short supply at the center. "We're not the norm" in the Corps when comparing other re-enlistment rates for IT specialists, Wright said. Pay may have something to do with it. Many of the 42 Marines at the operations branch earn less than $30,000 a year, and contractors can entice them with salaries of $80,000 or higher, he said.

To build a pipeline of enlisted Marines trained to replace those who are leaving more often at the end of four or eight years of duty, the Corps is relying on training programs such as the one at Twentynine Palms, Calif. About 5,000 Marines attend the Marine Corps Communications and Electronics School each year, said 1st Lt. Karl Himes, a Marine spokesman there.

The schedule includes commercial training courses, such as a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers program, classes on maintaining radio and wire communication equipment, ground radar, anti-air and air support controllers, and instruction in computer operation, network and maintenance.

The program's success has proved to be its own worst enemy. "The quality of training provided by MCCES is so good that a great number of Marines resign at the end of their first or second tours in order to take high-paying jobs in the private sector," Himes said.

Wright stresses the unique career opportunities the Corps offers as a hook to keep IT workers on board, such as vendor-contracted training.

These technical skills will become increasingly important. When Electronic Data Systems Corp. assumes the day-to-day management of the global network operations center by 2003, as part of the Navy Marine Corps Intranet contract, Marines there will be working even more closely with contractors.

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