In early October 2022, everything was falling into place for Marine 1st Lt. Jack Taubl.
After more than three years in the Marine Corps, the cyber officer had accepted a lucrative job in cybersecurity in Texas and was preparing to move there from Maryland with his girlfriend, who had told her employer of her intention to depart.
He was scheduled to reach his terminal leave, thanks to all of his banked-up vacation time, in March 2023, a few months before his official end of active service in May 2023.
Then, on Oct. 17, 2022, he happened to log in the administrative portal Marine Online and saw his end of active service date was listed as April 2027. That was four years later than he’d bargained for.
“My heart completely fell out,” Taubl said.
Taubl, 26, says he’s now stuck in the Marine Corps because of an audit by Marine human resources officials of cyber lieutenants’ contracts, which resulted in two dozen of them having their service lengths extended.
Twenty-four of the Corps’ 181 cyberspace officers saw their end of active service dates changed following an audit in October 2022, according to Marine spokeswoman Yvonne Carlock.
The Marine Corps has insisted that all the audit did was make sure that Marines’ records accurately reflect what’s in the contracts they signed: A deal is a deal.
“Current and correct personnel records allow Marines to plan their careers effectively and align with what the Marine desired when they signed their service agreement,” Carlock said in a statement to Marine Corps Times. “Additionally, this process reinforces the service’s combat readiness and ability to employ our highly skilled Marines.”
But because not all of the officers in the cyber job field signed contracts committing them to additional service, and because his own end of active service date wasn’t updated until October 2022, Taubl has argued he was justified in relying on a spring 2023 exit from the Corps.
Now, officers across the force are having their records audited. It’s unclear how many of them could, like Taubl, end up in the Marine Corps for longer than they had planned.
Contracts for some, not others
On top of those Marines, at least some others demonstrated that they never signed secondary service agreements extending their contract lengths — so they were able to get the Corps to change their end of active service dates back, according to one lieutenant to whom that happened.
But part of the difficulty for Taubl is that he did sign a contract in 2020 locking him into the Corps for six years after his cyber training, in accordance with the official requirement for the military occupational specialty.
In his view, though, the contract shouldn’t apply because it contained inaccuracies and because not all of his peers were asked to sign similar contracts.
While at The Basic School in February 2020, Taubl and three other future cyber officers had about 10 minutes to sign a secondary service agreement obligating them to six years of service after the completion of cyber training, which ended in April 2021, Taubl said. He previously had signed on for four years after receiving his commission.
Taubl has pointed to what he sees as significant errors with his own service agreement.
It said that Taubl was enrolled in a platoon leaders class, though he wasn’t at the time. It mentioned that Taubl would be assigned to The Basic School in the future, but he already was there. And it didn’t say that his initial agreement was now void.
Taubl signed the agreement because, he said, he believed it was required for all Marine cyber officers. But at cyber school, he learned that others hadn’t signed the secondary contract. And once he got to his job at Fort Meade, Maryland, he saw that his end of active service date was still listed as May 2023.
“I figured, ‘Hey, maybe they realized that this was not applied evenly across the board’ and that they just kind of said, ‘You know what, we messed this up, we’ll correct it for future classes, but we can’t enforce this if it’s applied to only some and not others,’” Taubl said.
Even up to September 2022, his pay statement listed the May 2023 end of active service date, according to a copy reviewed by Marine Corps Times.
That fall, the Marine Corps conducted an audit of the cyber officers’ service records, adjusting them on a case-by-case basis to match the service agreements on file, Carlock said.
When Taubl saw his new end of active service date on Marine Online in October 2022, several other lieutenants in the small, tight-knit cyber community reported their dates also had been moved with no notice, according to Taubl.
One cyber lieutenant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Marine was discouraged from speaking to the media, described being in a class at The Basic School that graduated shortly before Taubl’s.
The future cyber officers in this lieutenant’s class, which also graduated in 2020, weren’t asked to sign the secondary service agreements that would have extended their service lengths, according to the lieutenant.
But in October 2022, the lieutenant also saw a new, significantly delayed end of active service date. The lieutenant’s command resolved the issue within a few weeks, restoring the lieutenant’s original date, according to the lieutenant.
“I don’t think they quite realized until after the change in the date that some people did not sign the contract,” the Marine said. “So it sounded like it was just kind of an admin error and they had to kind of go back and fix everything.”
But not for Taubl and 23 others who did sign the secondary service agreements.
Carlock said she couldn’t comment on any particular Marine’s record because of privacy concerns.
“The Marine Corps made necessary corrections to ensure personnel records accurately reflected signed service agreements,” Carlock stated.
It’s unclear exactly why the Marine Corps initiated an audit of the cyber officers’ records in particular.
But the Marine Corps’ cyber field has faced some challenges in the first few years since its creation.
Across the services, it’s expensive to train cyber officers and hard to retain them amid the pull of lucrative jobs in the private sector or at other federal agencies.
The military spent at least $160 million annually on bonuses for retaining cyber personnel from fiscal years 2017 to 2021, the Government Accountability Office found.
A forcewide audit
As Taubl was pleading with the Marine Corps to let him leave active duty, the Marine Corps on April 23 released an administrative message “to clarify and educate the force” on how contract lengths are calculated for officers across military occupational specialties.
The message states that officers’ lengths of service get calculated from the end of their military occupational specialty schools. But initially, officers see a “placeholder” end of active service date set for four years after the date of commissioning.
There’s no way for the end of active service dates to be updated automatically in an officer’s personnel record, according to the message. Rather, a Marine employee has to conduct an “audit and manual update” of records.
“Audits of service records are a normal function used to ensure all members are receiving proper pay and entitlements,” the message states.
The message notes that the Marine Corps is now auditing the service agreements of all active duty officers who are “non-career designated,” meaning those who aren’t committed to additional service beyond their initial active service obligation.
It remains unclear how many officers could end up having their end of active service dates adjusted, like the 24 cyber officers’ were, as a result of this audit.
News of the Marine Corps’ audit of service agreements comes as the Army reinterpreted pilots’ contracts, tacking on three years of required service for more than 600 officers.
Spokespersons for the Navy and Air Force said the services weren’t currently auditing personnel records to adjust service lengths.
Taubl hired a lawyer, Chad Lennon, a major in the Marine Reserve, who asked Marine Manpower and Reserve Affairs to review Taubl’s record and restore the original end of active service date. The Marine Corps declined.
The remaining recourse, Lennon said, is to appeal to the Board for Corrections of Naval Records, a process that he expected would take a few years.
“A lot of damage has already been done at that point to his prospects for a civilian career, as well as his girlfriend’s,” Lennon said. “And the damage was done of thinking you’re going to be going to one other chapter of your life, and that doesn’t happen.”
Taubl said he also had gotten his hometown congressman, Rep. Jim Himes, D-Connecticut, to open a congressional inquiry.
The Marine Corps has been slow to respond, missing one deadline and dragging its feet on another, Taubl said.
Nora Kohli, a spokeswoman for Himes’ office, told Marine Corps Times she couldn’t comment on ongoing casework.
In the meantime, Taubl had to back out of the cybersecurity position he already had accepted at JPMorgan Chase. He said had been looking forward to making more money while still serving what he described as a noble cause, that of protecting the financial system from cyber attacks.
Now, he said he is worried that having reneged on that position will make it harder for him to secure a similar one when he does get out of the Marine Corps.
And he feels frustrated in the Marine cyber field. Although he wanted to serve in the military since he was a child, he said some of what the Marine Corps expects from its officers — marksmanship, physical fitness, administrative duties and changes of location — don’t line up with the realities of what makes a good cyber employee.
“To have (leaving the Marine Corps) be that close, and have everything pulled away, it’s heartbreaking,” he said.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional information about congressional involvement in 1st Lt. Jack Taubl’s case.