For a decade now the U.S. Marine Corps has seen their future as becoming a smaller (by up to a third, or more), even more elite, flexible and better equipped force. This reduction in forces is nothing new and even has an official name; RIF ("Reduction In Force"). These usually occur after a major war ends or reorganizations for a new conflict.
Currently a lot of U.S. marines are finding that major reorganization means their skills are no longer needed and they must train to qualify for a new MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) or transfer to the army or navy where veteran personnel of similar MOSs are always in demand. Current estimates are that at least 10,000 veteran marines will see their MOS disappear and some will not want to train for another MOS or transfer to another service. For these veterans, at least those with less than 20 years’ service (and eligibility for a pension) but at least fifteen years’ service, can leave the marines with partial retirement benefits, usually in a lump sum.
Now that the unneeded marine units (tank, artillery and military police) are being disbanded the marines have the first batch of 450 marines who are seeking to find new jobs so they can stay in the marines. This is particularly crucial for career (in for at least twenty years) marines. Most of the career marines have accepted transfers for related MOS’s, often jobs where the practical and technical skills learned in their old job are still useful. For example, military police work uses many skills useful to someone with an intelligence MOS.
Some marines can transfer to the navy for jobs that both sailors and marines handle, especially the new NECC riverine infantry force. Marines have long moved over to the army, and the army is glad to get an infusion of combat experienced marines, especially NCOs and officers. So far 69 enlisted marine tank crewmen have opted to transfer to the army and keep doing the same job. Most of these transfers to other services are done without loss of rank or years of service (for pension eligibility). The marines can also join the marine reserves, although the jobs there are limited and pay less because of the part-time nature.
The army has a lot more experience with these RIF operations, having undergone major ones after World War II, the Korean War and after the Cold War ended in 1991. The latest RIF occurred after 2009. That one involved reviving some older ideas, as in letting troops out early. For example, the post-2009 rule allows a unit that is about to go overseas, to give troops with less than 180 days left in the service the option of getting out of their enlistment contract up to 90 days early. Soldiers who take this option will have RIF listed as "reason for separation" on their discharge papers. Historically, a RIF was a process whereby the army discharged a large number of troops at the end of a war, or period of emergency.
The reason behind this “early out” RIF option is that it's not worth the effort and expense to send a soldier to a new unit, where he will remain for just a few months. During the Cold War, this was also done when a soldier returned from a tour of duty overseas, and only had a few months of service left. Until 2004, soldiers were released a little early if they were due to get out in late December (the holiday season). Another reason for reviving the old policy is the elimination (for now) of Stop Loss (American soldiers involuntarily kept on active duty).
Previous RIFs, like the one in the mid-1950s, involved some special circumstances. For this post-Korean War RIF the army decided it did not want to retain a lot of mid-level (captain, major, lieutenant-colonel) combat arms officers who had received battlefield commissions during World War II and decided to make the army a career after the war ended in late 1945. At that point these “mustangs” (enlisted men who become officers) had less than five years of service but liked their new profession and realized that after twenty years they could retire on half-pay, still young enough to start another career. These mustangs were useful when the Korean War unexpectedly broke out in 1950 and veteran combat officers were in short supply. Army policy changed after the Korean War ended in 1953 when the army decided that the future was in more highly educated (college degree) officers and less on combat experience. Ten years later this was seen as dumb, but it was all the rage in the 1950s. During the 1950s RIF the army felt an obligation to these combat veterans who expected to retire as an officer and offered them an option to do so. They could stay on active service as a senior NCO and when they reached twenty years’ service, sometime in the mid-1960s when veteran infantry officers were in even more demand, they could retire and receive the retirement pay of their pre-RIF officer rank. Most of these mustangs took jobs other than infantry so that when they retired, they had only dim memories of their years in the infantry.