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What is the Difference Between the Army and the Marines?

Ask any military veteran and they can easily sound off many differences between the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps. The uniforms are different. The training is different. Where they serve is different. Most glaringly, their core missions are different, although they seem similar at face value.

However, to a person unfamiliar with the U.S. military’s branches, superficially, the two branches have a lot in common. Both have infantry, aircraft, logistical support elements and extensive combat arms units. Not surprisingly, potential recruits ask what’s the difference in an Army vs Marines comparison? It is a valid question and the comparison is worth a closer look to help recruits determine if they would like to serve in the Army or the Marine Corps. What’s the difference between Army vs Marines? Read on.

First, the U.S. Army is comprised of an active-duty component and a reserve component that consists of the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard. The Army Reserve is a federal force that mostly provides combat service support to the combat arms branches and the Army National Guard is a state-controlled force which falls under the command and control of the governor of a state. The National Guard tends to have warfighting and support units. In times of emergency, a governor can mobilize the National Guard to assist in the state’s response to an event. Similarly, a president can mobilize and federalize National Guard personnel to serve in times of national crisis. Army National Guard, Army Reserve and active-duty Army all train at U.S. Army schools, but they serve in different capacities.

The active-duty Army conducts full-spectrum operations around the world. The Army Reserve serves ordinarily, one weekend per month, two weeks per year for annual training. The National Guard has the same training requirements as the Army Reserve, for the most part, but it should be noted that most Guard and Reserve personnel put in much more than just two days per month and two weeks per year. The operational tempo of the U.S. military has caused the Guard and Reserve to shoulder a lot of domestic and international missions, so gone are the days of the traditional weekend warrior as they were once affectionately called.

A person interested in joining the active-duty Army would become one of about 480,000 on duty around the world. The Army National Guard has around 336,000 and the Army Reserve has about 200,000 in its ranks. In the Army vs Marines comparison, the Army has far greater career opportunities for an individual to work in a career field of his or her choice, and to do that work in either a full or part-time manner.

Active duty is a lifestyle. An individual is immersed in the military because they live it every day. It is not just a job, but the services expect their members to live their lives according to a certain ethos; a set of virtuous values. The same can be said of the reserve and National Guard components, but there is more flexibility in that commitment. Reservists and National Guardsmen can attend college or vocational training usually paid for by the government. They can also continue to work in their chosen career fields in their civilian lives. For example, a National Guardsman might train as an airborne infantryman two days per month, but the rest of the month he can be a college student studying engineering. Or maybe an Army Reservist is working as a veterinarian technician full-time and attending classes part-time to get into vet school. The point is, being in the part-time military offers people flexibility whereas the active-duty military requires full commitment to service. Army vs Marines? The Army wins by a long shot when it comes to varying professional opportunities, both full- and part-time but the Marines are still a viable option for someone looking for part-time service.

The Marine Reserve Forces have approximately 38,500 personnel in it. The opportunities are clearly limited, but they exist as do many different career fields. By comparison, the Marine Corps has 186,000 Marines on active-duty. But while the Marines are small in numbers, they are notorious for their fighting prowess. Handfuls of Marines can accomplish a lot in austere conditions, but the fact is, they are small which means promotions are limited as are career opportunities. The opportunities are fewer than in the Army, but that point is a source of pride for Marines.

On this side of the coin, Army vs Marines, the Marines win hands down. A person seeking professional opportunities in the Army to advance themselves has more opportunities in a larger organization like the Army, but if an individual is seeking a personal challenge, where they will put the organization first over themselves, then they would likely thrive in the Marines. The Marines pride themselves on being small in numbers and completing training is a rite of passage that enables graduates to become part of a small group of Americans that have earned the Marine title. The physical requirements are harder than the Army’s and the Marine Corps requires a higher general score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery exam. When it comes to higher entry-level standards in the Army vs Marines comparison Marines win.

For an individual who isn’t considering college or vocational training, the Marine Corps might be a good fit in the Army vs Marines comparison. Service in the Corps indoctrinates an individual into enduring high levels of stressors and rising to challenges, traits that can help a person for the rest of their lives.

The Marine Corps is part of the Department of the Navy, but it is its own military service. It’s structure is similar to the Army and includes teams, squadrons, platoons, companies, battalions, divisions, etc. Recently, there has been a push by Marine Corps leadership to return the Corps to its naval combat roots even though it is still considered the U.S. military’s primary response team because it can mobilize faster than the Army. It is more agile because of its size. The Army, of course, is a separate service and falls under the Department of the Army, a part of the Department of Defense.

The U.S. government uses the Army to address long-term conflicts, but that is not to mean that the Marine Corps isn’t involved in long wars. The Corps has maintained a presence in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001.

If a person is comparing the Army vs Marines, there are many similarities and equally as many differences. The one thing that is the same is that the people who join the Army and the Marines devote themselves to the defense of the country and strive to serve their fellow Americans.

Why Do People Join The Army?

Recruits in a stadium being sworn into the US Army

There is a high probability that somewhere, right now, a soldier is performing some type of Army duty and wondering why they joined the Army? Maybe they are trying to keep dry and warm in the elements, or maybe they are sitting in some pre-deployment briefing facing their third or fourth deployment asking themselves the same question. How they came to find themselves in an Army uniform is always a great topic of conversation.

Certainly, civilians ask the question, why do people join the Army? By civilian standards the pay can be, to some, notoriously low and the duty can be arduous, demanding long hours and commitment. Then there are the on-going wars that add tension to the issue. Many civilians make assumptions about why do people join the Army?

Ask any soldier why do people join the Army and the answers will vary, even within the same occupational specialty because soldiers are different. Their answers will vary because soldiers are a cross section of society and like Americans, they are unique. Sure, they wear the same uniforms, but what drew them to that uniform varies from soldier to soldier. While the differences are many, most young men and women are drawn to the uniform primarily for two reasons, institutional or occupational reasons.

Why do people join the Army? Patriotism used to be an overwhelming response by many soldiers, but more and more these days the Army is finding many of its soldiers serve for reasons other than love of country. In the aftermath of 9/11, there was a massive surge of patriotic Americans who stepped forward to serve in the Army. But as the wars have slogged on, less and less responded that they are serving for love of country when they are asked why do people join the Army?

However, studies have shown that non-military Americans believe that service personnel are self-sacrificing and that military personnel are drawn to military service out of a sense of duty or patriotism. Survey respondents, 47 percent to be exact, who are not affiliated with the military believed that troops served either out of patriotism or sense of duty. Interestingly, in that same study, 40 percent of survey respondents who had served in the military cited pay and benefits as their primary reason for joining the Army.

In 2018, a Rand study found that 46 percent of junior enlisted Army personnel said that they joined the Army for occupational opportunities and job stability. Nine percent of those surveyed stated that they joined the Army for institutional reasons, meaning love of country, family and honor. Some soldiers, 37 percent, stated that they joined for both occupational and institutional reasons. Overwhelmingly though, when enlistees were asked why do people join the Army, they answered for pay and job opportunities.

In other words, most people who are enlisting now are in it for the money and less because it is a call to serve. Interestingly, soldiers who cited occupational reasons for enlisting over those who enlisted for ideological reasons tended to stick with military service in the long haul, the study found.

So, whether it is patriotism or pay, serving in the military can be a great step for someone who wants to travel the world. In what other profession could a person immediately out of high school get to live in a foreign country for a few years? Although travel was not one of the primary answers when soldiers were asked why do people join the Army, it has always been a tertiary reason, veterans say.

In addition to pay and patriotism, the benefits are pretty good. Where else can you get 30 days off per year? Healthcare is free and an enlistee doesn’t have to worry about stuff like what to wear to work. There are also other benefits like tuition assistance where soldiers can earn full-time wages while getting a degree parttime. Not to mention, if a soldier stays for 20 years, they earn a pension. Why do people join the Army? Those are some pretty good reasons.