contributed by Melissa Lucas, senior staff writer
With five active-duty U.S. military branches (six including the Space Force) and an equal number of reserve components, what is the best military branch to join? The difference between military branches might seem minimal from the outside, but each has their own roles, responsibilities, and even culture. Here’s a brief military branch comparison to help you determine which you’d like to learn more about.
What are the differences between the military branches? Read below to learn how and when each of the five branches of the military got their start, as well as their roles and responsibilities.
Motto: This We’ll Defend
Date Established: June 14, 1775, as the Continental Army
Type of Service: Land
History: The United States Army is the oldest branch of the Armed Forces and was established during the American Revolution as the Continental Army under General George Washington. After the Revolution it was renamed the United States Army.
Wartime Responsibilities: The Army is responsible for swift, sustained wartime land combat and defense of our allies. Often the Army plays a role in arms warfare, helping to defeat our enemies by preventing their ability to make decisions and disseminate information.
Non-Combat Responsibilities: Army soldiers are in charge of ongoing peacekeeping operations in sovereign states, border security, and battling the drug trade. They provide logistical support which enables other services and civil authorities to complete their missions, as well.
Motto: Semper paratus (always ready)
Date Established: August 4, 1790, as the Revenue Cutter Service
Type of Service: Maritime multi-mission
History: The Revenue Cutter Service was established after the American Revolution as a means of preventing revenue loss due to piracy on the seas. Over time, the Cutter Service became more involved as a maritime service component of military operations during times of war, and law enforcement in times of peace. The officially named Coast Guard was established in 1915 and operated under many Federal Departments until 2003 when it was placed under control of the Department of Homeland Security.
Wartime Responsibilities: In times of war, the Coast Guard can operate under the Department of the Navy and take part in Naval missions.
Non-Combat Responsibilities: The Coast Guard is unique. In addition to its authority as an armed service, it also has authority as a law enforcement agency. Probably most well known for their maritime search and rescue efforts, the USCG also protects ports, vessels, and maritime facilities by preventing sabotage, subversion, and terrorism. Furthermore, they have a focus on maritime stewardship protecting natural resources and marine life.
Motto: The Navy does not have an official motto, but there are two possible unofficial mottos which are Semper Fortis (always courageous) and Non sibi sed patriae (not for self but for country).
Date Established: October 13, 1775, as the Continental Navy
Type of Service: maritime
History: The Navy was established very early in the Revolution as the Continental Navy and became the U.S. Navy after the war was won. They are the largest Navy in the world and have played a major role in every war in our Nation’s history.
Wartime Responsibilities: The Navy ensures the ability of the military to conduct amphibious operations, deploy and sustain forces outside of our territory, and deter maritime threats. Since the cold war, the Navy has focused on special operations and strike missions in regional conflicts such as Operation Enduring Freedom.
Non-Combat Responsibilities: The Navy takes on command of the sea to ensure U.S. Military and merchant ships can move at will.
Motto: Semper fidelis (Always faithful)
Date Established: November 10, 1775 as the Continental Marines
Type of Service: Maritime land force
History: The United States Marine Corps (USMC) was also founded during the American Revolution, and similar to the Army was named the Continental Marines until the early 1780’s when they were renamed the United States Marine Corps. While the term “maritime land force” may sound like an oxymoron, it refers to the fact that Marines are responsible for amphibious warfare and expeditionary operations. Basically, they are equipped to fight both at sea and on land. The USMC has been a part of the Department of the Navy since 1834.
Wartime Responsibilities: The Marine Corps is responsible for amphibious warfare as well as expeditionary warfare which finds them fighting abroad away from established military bases.
Non-Combat Responsibilities: Marines serve on U.S. Navy ships, protect naval bases, guard U.S. embassies, and maintain a quick strike force to protect U.S. interests anywhere in the world.
Motto: Aim high…flight, fight, win
Date Established: August 1, 1907
History: The Air Force is the second largest service branch and was originally established as the Aeronautical Division of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. They procured the first powered military aircraft in 1909 and subsequently established aviation training schools. The first Aero Squadron took flight in 1913 and ariel warfare began in 1914. The name of the Air Service component of our military changed several times before 1947, when it was officially established as the United States Air Force.
Wartime Responsibilities: The Air Force is responsible for ariel warfare including rapid persistent strikes for swift precise effects. They also provide air support for land and naval forces as well as aid in the recovery of troops in the field.
Non-Combat Responsibilities: The USAF obtains information passed to intelligence personnel for analysis, supports military forces by enabling them to easily move from place to place via activities such as airlifts, aerial refueling, and aeromedical evacuation.
No military comparison would be complete without touching on the Reserves. Many reserve components were established in preparation for U.S. involvement in World War I and remain incredibly important components of the U.S. Armed Forces, today. Reserve members go through the same basic training as active-duty service members but perform a minimum of duty throughout each year (usually less than a combined two months) and augment activity duty military when necessary.
Motto: Twice the citizen
Date Established: 1908
Motto: Ready, relevant, responsive
Date Established: August 29, 1916
Motto: Ready now, anytime, anywhere
Date Established: March 3, 1915
Motto: Forces to fly, fight, and win
Date Established: April 14, 1948
Motto: Professionalism, Patriotism, preparedness.
Date Established: originally a civilian reserve established on June 23, 1939, and turned to a military reserve on February 18, 1941, with involvement in WWII becoming inevitable.
The National Guard is a reserve force comprised of 54 units, one for each state plus Guam, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C. Each unit is typically broken into two branches – the Army National Guard and the Air Force National Guard.
National Guardsmen serve part-time and usually hold full-time civilian jobs. National Guard units are essentially local militias which, while under mixed state and federal control, report directly to each governor. National guard forces are typically mobilized for purposes of homeland defense and domestic disaster relief.
There are many more differences between military branches than we were able to touch on here, but now that you have an idea about the different branches of the military and what they do, you can start to learn more. For more information about each service branch, visit their individual websites, listed below.