Marine Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford said Monday that the Corps was in need of a demographic overhaul to boost the number of sergeants and make up for a lack of experienced small unit leadership.

The current number of non-commissioned officers in the ranks "does not meet our force structure requirements. My primary focus now concerns our enlisted leadership," Dunford said at the Navy Leagues Sea Air Space exposition and conference at National Harbor, Md.

Currently, about 60 percent of the approximately 190,000 Marines are on their first enlistment, and 40 percent of the Marine Corps is ranked below E-3 (lance corporal), Dunford said.

"We're probably going to change the demographics of the Corps" to make up for the NCO shortfall and "increase the experience and training of our small unit leaders," Dunford said without giving specifics on how he intends to boost the NCO ranks.

The sergeant shortage was a major factor in the reduced state of readiness of Marines based in the U.S., Dunford said. He estimated the rate of readiness of stateside Marines at about 50 percent.

"I have some concerns, particularly with aviation units" that would be hard pressed to respond in a crisis, Dunford said. Given the increased number of threats in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, "we approach the future with humility."

Last week, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno expressed similar concerns about the state of readiness of Army troops stateside.

"Right now, we are at 33 percent readiness," Odierno said. "What keeps me up at night more than anything else is that I might get a mission to send some of our soldiers and we haven't properly trained them or given them the right equipment to do their job," he said.

Overseas, the Marine Corps was currently meeting the demands of the combatant commanders, Dunford said, who took over as Marine commandant last October after nearly two years as U.S. commander in Afghanistan. He said about 31,000 Marines were forward deployed, including 22,000 in the Asia-Pacific region.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com

Related Video