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Navy vs Air Force: Which branch should you join?

USN sailors in uniform saluting

The U.S. Navy is one of the largest navies in the world with 293 ships as of 2021, but it pales in comparison to the Chinese navy which has 350 ships and is considered the world’s largest naval force.

Founded in 1775, the mission of the U.S. Navy is to recruit, train, equip, and organize to deliver combat-ready naval forces to win conflicts and wars while maintaining security and deterrence through sustained forward presence. That takes more than 400,000 men and women in the active and reserve naval forces to achieve. There are more than 330,000 sailors on active duty and more than 50,000 sailors deployed on more than 100 ships around the world right now.

In the Navy vs Air Force comparison one thing should stand out right away. The U.S. Navy operates primarily in, you guessed it, the world’s oceans. What does that mean to a potential recruit? Odds are pretty good they will serve on a ship.

According to the Navy’s website, “A sailor is typically assigned to a ship for a three-year period, followed by a three-year period of shore duty. However, you will not be at sea for three years straight, as most ships spend a significant amount of time docked at their home port. Deployments can last anywhere from six to nine months, with significant time between deployments.”

That said, potential recruits should understand that the standard enlistment is for four years, so there is a likelihood that they can serve on a ship the entire time. Does that give the Air Force an advantage in the Navy vs Air Force comparison? Nope.

Serving aboard a Navy ship can be an incredible experience as long as potential recruits go into their enlistments with eyes and minds wide open. Potential recruits should understand that enlisting in ANY military branch means that they are putting the needs of the service first. Service branches want to help you succeed and be all you can be (tip of the hat to the Army there), but the bottom line is that military leaders, at all levels, are concerned about achieving their missions; individual objectives take a back seat.

Four US Navy warships at sea

That said, anyone thinking about enlisting into the Navy should understand that the odds are great that no matter what profession they choose, they will likely be underway and on a ship. And let’s face it, that’s not a bad thing, in fact, that can be awesome. If you are a young person desiring to learn a vocation and wanting to travel, the Navy is an ideal place that can give you trade skills and the ability to travel.

However, in the Navy vs Air Force comparison, it should be noted that a potential Air Force recruit should also understand that the needs of the Air Force come first, so any desire to travel, attend college or to do some self-improvement comes only after the needs of the Air Force are met.

Like the Navy, that means that the Air Force can provide a potential recruit with plenty of opportunity to travel. As of 2020, there are 59 Air Force bases in the United States which gives a potential recruit the opportunity to serve stateside. But like the Navy, the U.S. Air Force has plenty of places to serve overseas. According to the Air Force website, there are 11 air bases located in Europe and in the Pacific area of operations. This does not include smaller military installations where airmen might be serving in contingency operations.

The mission of the U.S. Air Force is to fly, fight and win - airpower anytime, anywhere. Those last two words are critical.

USAF F-15 Eagle jet on runway

One might be fooled into thinking that the Air Force, because it is land based, might provide a more stable environment, but the truth is that much depends on an individual’s military occupational specialty and where they are serving. Members of expeditionary Air Force units can spend considerable time away as can special operations airmen and aircrews.

Like the U.S. Navy, the Air Force has a reserve component, but it also has an Air National Guard component that is also a crucial arm of the airpower infrastructure that supports the U.S. Armed Forces. The Air Force's reserve and active-duty numbers are about the same as the Navy.

When it comes to stability, in the Navy vs Air Force comparison, this one is a toss-up, although most airmen would likely argue that the Air Force is much more stable than the Navy and that they have a better quality of life. Doing research beyond reviewing advertisements and talking with recruiters is always the best thing to do.

Clearly the roles of the Navy vs Air Force are common, yet immensely different. Both exist to protect the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, but the Navy manages that mission by protecting ports and oceans while the Air Force covers the sky and cyberspace. For now, the Air Force is also responsible for space, but that mission will slowly get absorbed by the U.S. Space Force in the future.

Like the Air Force, the Navy has a multitude of aircraft that perform a variety of missions; roughly 3,700 aircraft, compared to the Air Force’s nearly 5,400 aircraft. The Air Force has a few boats, but nothing worth mentioning that can compete with the Navy. Of course, there are similar occupations in both the Navy and Air Force (like law enforcement, medical and maintenance), so when it comes to career opportunities, again, it is a tie when comparing Navy vs Air Force.

However, if a person is seeking involvement in anything maritime, then the obvious choice is the Navy because it has almost 300 ships with a variety of missions. And it goes without saying that if a person is seeking a career in aviation, the Air Force is the winner hands down in the Navy vs Air Force comparison.

One additional option for an aspiring recruit to consider is that the Navy does not have a National Guard component. As mentioned earlier, they do have a reserve component that offers part-time service opportunities.

The Air Force also offers a reserve component which is a federal force the serves part-time, but the Air Force also has the Air National Guard which is a state-controlled and federally supported program that offers participants the opportunity to serve in their local communities. There are 54 National Guard entities in all states and the District of Columbia. There are also opportunities in U.S. territories. In this regard, in the Navy vs Air Force comparison, the Air Force has a slight advantage as it offers another manner in which to serve by enlisting in the Air National Guard.

Female soldier in camo uniform in front of USAF jet

Is it harder to become a sailor or an airman? That’s really up to the individual. Some argue that because the Navy requires trainees to swim, that the Navy’s boot camp is harder while others argue that since the Air Force’s basic training is longer, that it can be considered harder. It’s a toss-up. It’s really up to the individual to decide what training, Navy vs Air Force, is hardest.

When it comes to pay, there is no argument in the Navy vs Air Force comparison since the amount a person gets paid in all branches of the U.S. military is based on rank and time in service. However, most branches offer incentives for enlisting in certain career fields and services members are compensated accordingly for duty in war zones and for enduring the rigors of certain special duties.

The bottom line is that potential recruits should know what they want to get out of the service that they are joining. The military services are a great place to get professional experience, the opportunity to travel, a pay check and benefits, and an education and a vocation. The key to successfully joining one branch over another is to do the research and recruits should see how each branch fits into their life goals.

Navy vs Air Force? They are both exceptional places to work, but how and where, depends on the individual and as mentioned before, the needs of the military.

Comments on this post ( 1 )

  • Nov 06, 2023

    I’m considering joining the airforce,I have a Bsc Degree in Geology and a Msc in environmental science.
    I’m also an F1 student ,located in Texas .Originally from Akwaibom state,Nigeria.


    — Mkpouto Nkereuwem Etukudoh

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