Biggest Enlistment Bonus in Marine Corps Is Aimed at Cyber Warfare

Recruits complete the Crucible on Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.
Recruits with Bravo Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, complete the Crucible on Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., June 10, 2023. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Ava Alegria)

The Marine Corps has announced it's more than doubling the amount of cash it will offer recruits who qualify to enter its cyber warfare field, according to a message released Monday.

Recruits entering the "cyber and crypto operations" field are now eligible for $15,000 -- the largest enlistment bonus in the Marine Corps right now.

Although the bonus is small compared to bonuses other branches, such as the Navy, offer their recruits, it is a significant move for a service that has typically shied away from the practice as a recruiting tactic.

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Traditionally, Marine leaders have felt that the Corps did not need to offer dramatic amounts of money to get candidates into its recruiting offices. Until now, the largest enlistment bonus the service was offering this year was $9,000 for recruits willing to ship out quickly.

In contrast, the Navy right now is offering up to $35,000 in shipping bonuses alone and willing to offer even more cash on top of that for certain jobs. According to its recruitment website, recruits who were willing to leave for boot camp before October can earn up to $140,000.

Meanwhile, in February, the Marine Corps' No. 2 officer, Gen. Eric Smith, joked to the crowd at a naval conference that "your bonus is that you get to call yourself a Marine" when asked about the topic.

"That's your bonus ... there's no dollar amount that goes with that," he added.

However, as part of its efforts to modernize and revamp itself for an upcoming fight in the Pacific, the Marine Corps has been looking for ways to bring in older and more experienced recruits who can work more effectively with new technology and digital platforms.

In March, Smith told reporters that the branch was considering allowing "lateral entry" -- a catch-all term for programs that allow recruits to enter the Marine Corps at higher ranks -- for specialties in software development. Other leaders in the service also floated using the concept for specialties like cyber warfare, as well as artificial intelligence and robotics.

The effort to get cyber-savvy recruits into the Corps is not new. The idea goes back years and even predates Gen. David Berger, the commandant of the Marine Corps.

Berger's predecessor, Gen. Robert Neller, suggested creating a "Marine Corps Cyber Auxiliary" -- a civilian-staffed unit within the Corps -- in 2019. The idea of lateral entry for cyber warriors goes back even further to 2017, at least.

Despite the bonuses and discussion of lateral entry, Marine Corps leaders have been very clear on one thing: No one will earn the title of Marine without going through boot camp.

In speaking with reporters in March, Smith acknowledged that he's heard the concerns that "somehow somebody's going to sneak their way into the Marine Corps."

"That is false: You're going to earn the eagle, globe and anchor," Smith said firmly. "In some of those more exquisite capabilities, we want them to come in and be at a level commensurate with their skill set."

-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

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