Attention Marine aviators: The Marine Corps needs you to return to active duty.
That's the call the Marine Corps issued this week in its quest to get its former pilots to come back into the fold. The service is sweetening the deal by making selectees immediately eligible for bonuses of up to $100,000.
"The Marine Corps, like all services, has been challenged in the recent past with shortages in pilot inventory," Capt. Joe Butterfield, a Marine spokesman at the Pentagon, said. "... We designed the aviation bonus and Return to Active Duty opportunities to offset the deficits we have at the junior officer grades."
Captains or majors who flew or commanded six Marine aircraft are eligible to return to active service, according to a service-wide message announcing the new policy. Aircraft include the AV-8B Harrier; F-35B Joint Strike Fighter; F/A-18 Hornet; MV-22 Osprey; KC-130 Hercules; and CH-53K King Stallion.
The Marine Corps wants the pilots to sign two-, three- or four-year contracts to return to active duty. Those selected will be automatically career-designated if they weren't prior to leaving the service, and those willing to stay in longer could be given preference.
Return to Active Duty submissions are due by Nov. 6. Officers in the Selected Marine Corps Reserve, Individual Ready Reserve, and Individual Mobilization Augmentee Detachments could all be eligible. Aviators who had left the service completely could also qualify once they affiliate with a Reserve component, the administrative message states.
The service's pilot crunch is largely due to challenges with producing new aviators while the Marine Corps is transitioning to new platforms, Butterfield said. The service is in the process of upgrading several of its aircraft as it transitions squadrons to the F-35 or CH-53K.
Going back on active duty could make pilots eligible for the Marine Corps Aviation Bonus Program for fiscal year 2021, which starts on Oct. 1. That bonus program, announced earlier this month, offers aviators in certain grades and communities expected to face personnel shortfalls up to $210,000 for another six years of service.
Since the Marine Corps wants former captains and majors to come back and fly for between two and four years, bonuses for those coming back in under those timelines would top out at $100,000.
The military has been struggling to retain pilots who've been able to pick up bonus options to go to commercial airliners in recent years. But the coronavirus pandemic has left some airlines struggling as travel declined, raising the possibility that military pilot retention will improve in coming years.
The Marine Corps has semi-annual Return to Active Duty boards, and since the start of the pandemic, Butterfield said the service has seen more applicants.
"We are aware of the pressures that come with current airline furloughs, and are offering this interim board with decreased obligations (24, 36, and 48-month) compared to previous RAD boards [with] 48-month obligations," he said.
The Marine Corps didn't answer questions about which of its platforms face the greatest shortages. The service has identified operational tempo and airline hiring as just two challenges the Marine Corps faces in keeping its pilots.
"This interim board gives the opportunity for those no longer on active duty to fly with the Marine Corps again and continue their service to the nation," Butterfield said.