U.S. Marines and Navy sailors attend a SkillBridge expo

The Marine Corps[1] is now limiting the time Marines can participate in a program intended to provide service members a smooth transition into the civilian workforce, citing years of lost manpower.

In an administrative message posted[2] Monday, the service said that the SkillBridge initiative -- a normally six-month program started by the Pentagon more than 10 years ago to address military-to-civilian hiring opportunities after the 2008 financial crisis -- is being cut to three or four months for Marines, depending on rank.

Marines with the rank of sergeant and below are limited to 120 days at the end of their service to participate in the program; staff noncommissioned officers, warrant officers and officers are allotted 90 days. The Corps said that its Manpower and Reserve Affairs "conservatively" estimated that more than 3,400 years of manpower were provided "external to the Marine Corps" between fiscal years 2021 and 2024.

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"The impact on the command and needs of the service must be considered and prioritized, and readiness to the force remains paramount," the Marine Corps message said.

The SkillBridge program gives service members an opportunity to "gain valuable civilian work experience" during their last days of service through training, apprenticeships or internships, according to the Pentagon. The Pentagon said the program is also valuable to the civilian industry in that it can tap into a "highly trained and motivated" population at no cost to the employer.

Troops participating in the program still receive military compensation and benefits while they work for the civilian sector. They are also still subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or UCMJ, and their chain of command's authority during their time in the program.

"With the availability of this opportunity and other resources that support transition from uniformed service, Manpower and Reserve Affairs reviewed the impacts to unit readiness and updated the parameters of the program," the message said. "The update balances transition support and force readiness. SkillBridge authorization is at the commander's discretion; it is not a service member’s entitlement."

The balance between giving service members a smooth shot at the civilian world on their way out and maintaining "unit readiness" has long been a sticking point for the program, as well as the transition from the military in general.

In 2022, Military.com reported that, based on a Defense Department inspector general report and veteran testimony, the transition assistant program, or TAP[4], is peppered with low participation, delays and unwarranted denials[5].

Then, recently separated service members told Military.com that the SkillBridge program, which operates under the overall transition apparatus, was valuable but not always available to them, because their commanders denied their participation due to mission or training requirements.

According to the DoD IG report, the SkillBridge program requires transitioning service members to research potential employers, submit applications, complete interviews with said employer, and obtain their commander's approval to participate if selected by the employer.

"As a result, service members who start less than a year in advance may not have enough time to participate in SkillBridge and may miss opportunities to obtain a job upon leaving the military," the IG report said.

The new Marine Corps message now breaks the population of participants and duration into three categories, which is meant to support "commanders in evaluating the impact of individual Marines' requests to participate in SkillBridge with mission and unit readiness requirements," said Maj. Danielle Phillips, a spokesperson for Manpower and Reserve Affairs.

The first category includes privates to sergeants who can participate in the program for four months and must obtain approval from their lieutenant colonel commander -- an update that is two months short of the current Pentagon-wide allotment.

The second category includes staff noncommissioned officers up to the rank of gunnery sergeant, junior warrant officers and officers up to the rank of major; they also have to get approval from the first lieutenant colonel in the chain of command, but can only participate in the SkillBridge program for three months.

The third and final category includes all other higher ranks, who can participate for 90 days, but must get approval from a general officer in their chain of command.

"The additional allotted time for Category I participants is because many young Marines enlist without prior commercial sector experience, and the population separating after an initial enlistment stand to benefit the most from a longer period of training with industry," Phillips said.

"The Marine Corps is committed to returning quality citizens and making resources available to ease the transition from uniformed service to successful commercial sector employment, which is why those Marines with the greatest need are afforded the most time to train," she added.

Last week, Rand Corp., a military-focused think tank, released a study that said military transition[6] programs are heavily focused on education, but are not spending enough resources to give service members a direct opportunity to find employment.

Along with little oversight, the Rand study said that "there is also limited assistance for finding civilian apprenticeships or jobs, and few resources are available for connecting them with civilian employers."

While the study did not cite the initiative directly, the SkillBridge program intends to do just that. But Rand found "there is virtually no evidence that any of the programs we examine have had a direct effect on transition outcomes."

Reports of the Marine Corps update to the SkillBridge program surfaced last October when a new policy document -- which echoed the message posted Monday -- was "prematurely" posted online, according[7] to Marine Corps Times.

Current Army[8] and Air Force[9] policies align with the Pentagon's six-month maximum for the program. Last year, the Navy[10] limited grades E-6 to O-4 to 120 days or less in the program. Senior officers were limited to 90 days or less, but junior enlisted were still granted the full 180 days, according to a Navy administrative message[11] from March.

"The Marine Corps supports the goal of SkillBridge, which is to facilitate service members' transition into the civilian workforce by providing them an opportunity to gain valuable experience through industry training, apprenticeships or internships," Phillips said.

"Commanders are reminded, however, that SkillBridge is not an entitlement and participation does impact readiness," she continued. "The updated three-category system is a step toward ensuring Marines at all levels understand the premium we place on readiness as the nation's crisis response force."

Related: Military's Transition Program Riddled with Issues, Report and Veterans Say[12]

© Copyright 2024 Military.com. All rights reserved. This article may not be republished, rebroadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without written permission. To reprint or license this article or any content from Military.com, please submit your request here[13].

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A Filipino Catholic wearing a face mask and shield to protect against coronavirus

The Pentagon on Friday stood by its decision to conduct a clandestine disinformation campaign in the Philippines in 2020 that aimed to sow doubt about China's COVID-19 vaccine during the height of the global pandemic -- a campaign that was first revealed in a bombshell report by Reuters[1].

The U.S. military launched the disinformation campaign following a decision by then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper to loosen restrictions on such operations, and used phony online accounts posing as Filipinos in an effort "to discredit China's Sinovac inoculation -- payback for Beijing's efforts to blame Washington for the pandemic," Reuters reported. At the time, the Philippines was struggling to vaccinate its population and had one of the worst death rates in the region.

The Philippines disinformation campaign marks an unusual use of military power in a country that has often been a U.S. ally in a strategically crucial region and at a time of great public health risks. Lisa Lawrence, a Defense Department spokeswoman, did not deny Reuters' reporting on the operation, which was done under the administration of former President Donald Trump and continued for some time under the Biden administration.

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The Pentagon "conducts a wide range of operations, including operations in the information environment (OIE), to counter adversary malign influence" and "this process is deliberate, methodical, and comprehensive," Lawrence said in a statement. "The DoD uses a variety of platforms, including social media, to counter those malign influence attacks."

Lawrence also echoed Reuters' reporting, saying, "China [in 2020] initiated a disinformation campaign to falsely blame the United States for the spread of COVID-19."

Reuters found at least 300 accounts on X, formerly Twitter, "that matched descriptions shared by former U.S. military officials familiar with the Philippines operation."

The posts from those accounts "centered on the slogan #Chinaangvirus," which in the Philippine language Tagalog means "China is the virus." They often focused on giving credence to the false claim that, since vaccines sometimes contain pork gelatin, the Chinese-made shots could be forbidden for Muslims under Islamic law.

The social media activity began during Trump's administration when Esper signed a secret order that made it easier for commanders to compete with Russia and China by enabling them to bypass the State Department when conducting information warfare against the two countries, Reuters reported.

The report also noted that the program "continued months into Joe Biden's presidency ... even after alarmed social media executives warned the new administration that the Pentagon had been trafficking in COVID misinformation."

Experts have long objected to the use of vaccines and vaccination campaigns as part of military operations, arguing that they not only lead to a loss of trust and confidence in vaccines as a whole but have also endangered medical workers.

Perhaps the biggest outrage came after it was revealed in 2011 that the CIA used a fake hepatitis vaccination program[3] as part of its efforts to track down and kill Osama bin Laden, who was hiding in Pakistan.

The ruse led to outrage from doctors worldwide and a promise in 2014 from the CIA[4] not to use immunization programs as cover for its operations in the future.

However, the damage had been done, and backlash against unrelated polio vaccination efforts in the region took hold. Attacks against vaccination workers continue to this day[5]. Pakistan and Afghanistan are now the only two countries that have yet to be declared free of wild poliovirus type 1.

Related: Pentagon Complied with COVID-19 Waiver Rules According to Watchdog But Services Moved Slowly[6]

© Copyright 2024 Military.com. All rights reserved. This article may not be republished, rebroadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without written permission. To reprint or license this article or any content from Military.com, please submit your request here[7].

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