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Bridging the Civilian/Military Divide

Posted on 16 December 2016

With the nation tied up in the Global War on Terror for the past 15 years or so, a lot has been said about this nation's military and it's veterans. Some of the things discussed are accurate, such as the need for more 'dwell time' (duration of rest at home) between deployments, and yet many others are so inaccurate that they have created a mythological universe in which the modern American military seems to exist. 

As the United States enters another year of conflict in both Afghanistan and Iraq—and is facing increasingly complicated interactions with Syria, Iran, and China—the American military is going to continue to be actively engaged abroad and bathed in the media spotlight here at home. Given these situations, it's important to educate the people of this nation, and guide their understanding of the military back to the realm of reality. Being a Veteran myself, and with time served at traditional active duty posts and at nontraditional reserve centers out in the community, I thought I might add my thoughts to the discussion.

US Marine Corps (USMC) Marines from Expeditionary Strike Group 1 (ESG 1), 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), disembark a US Navy (USN) landing craft utility (LCU) ship in preparation for an upcoming amphibious assault landing demonstration for Exercise BRIGHT STAR 05 in Mubarek Military City (MMC), Egypt.


All Military Members Are Warfighters

Seriously?! How is this a thing? The differences in uniforms aside, do people not realize that the Navy/Coast Guard handles the water, the Air Force handles the sky and space, the Army handles the land, and the Marine Corps just gets kicked around to wherever a fight may exist? Let's be real, with one glance at a joint service Color Guard and even a person with the most limited of military knowledge can see that differences between he services exist. That said, this myth persists, so let's squash it. Here's the deal:

No, not every military member is a 'soldier,' and most do not appreciate being lumped into that category—especially Marines. Many a friendly inter-service bar brawl has broken out as a result of the "who's better than who" banter exchanged between members of varying service components. 

A contributing factor to this myth is the general lack of actual knowledge existing amongst service members about troops from other components. Universal jargon aside, I'm amazed at how many soldiers can't identify the ranks of enlisted Sailors, or how many Marines can't identify the ranks of enlisted soldiers. Regarding the Air Force, however, no one can explain their enlisted chevron system! All kidding aside, we, the Veteran community need to be educated ourselves so that we can help inform our civilian counterparts. So let's get to it. 

There are three military departments; the Army, Navy, and Air Force. These departments host four combatant branches: the Army, Navy, U.S. Marine Corps (Department of the Navy), and the Air Force. The three military departments, and their combatant branches are coordinated and employed by the Department of Defense (DoD). The Coast Guard, considered the fifth military branch, falls within the purview of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), but is often used to augment DoD forces. 

A Breakdown of Branches

Each of the combatant branches has a moniker, mission, and culture all their own. Here's a quick rundown.

Branch: United States Army
Moniker: Soldiers.
Mission: Land dominance. 

Branch: United States Navy
Moniker: Sailors.
Mission: Maintain the freedoms of the seas. 

Branch: United States Marine Corps
Moniker: Marines.
Mission: Air, land, and sea strike force/force in readiness. 

Branch: United States Air Force
Moniker: Airmen
Mission: Fly, fight and win in air, space and cyberspace. 

Branch: United States Coast Guard 
Moniker: Coast Guardsmen/Coasties
Mission: Protect the nation's ports and waterways, coasts, and interests on international waters. 

The unique cultures associated with each of the branches have historic roots and are developed within service members during basic training.  Basic indoctrination training ranges from 7.5 weeks to 13 weeks, depending on the branch of service.  Physical and academic requirements vary, and follow-on technical schools are as diverse in content and duration as are the trainees attending them.  The graduating Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and Coasties are well-trained, proud, confident, arrogant, and ready to conquer the world.

Just to stoke the fires of inter-service rivalries: the Coast Guard and Navy have longer basic training schedules than does the Air Force, the Army’s basic training is a bit longer, but the Marine Corps’ “boot camp” is the longest and hardest of the initial training programs.

Understanding Inter-Service Rivalries

Each of these combatant branches has a mission that is theirs and is important, and each group of service members brings unique training and skill sets to the operations planning table.  Much of the military ranks are filled with ‘alpha type’ personalities, and these personalities latch onto the doctrine, history, and traditions of their respective branches.  Bravado, esprit de corps, and service component pride develop amongst the troops, and result in often friendly –and occasionally not so friendly- inter-service rivalries. 

The banter and harassment between the service components is somewhat of a time honored tradition.  Most civilians are unaware of this, and unwittingly walk into a firestorm of condemnation when they incorrectly reference a service component or group of troops.  Understanding the differences amongst the groups is key to properly acknowledging the hard work the service members are tasked with, appropriately addressing their specific service cultures, and keeping people from being publicly denigrated and shamed.

There you have it.  Simple, right?  The myth dispelled, the Veteran community is a bit more educated, and now the populace can be effectively educated.  Everything from here on out is going to be okay.  If only it were that simple.  We still need to discuss the size and cost of the military, heroism and combat reality, post-traumatic stress, veteran participation in the civilian community, and the political views of military veterans... Okay, maybe for now we’ll end the lesson with just learning the differences between the service departments and combatant commands.

Thanks for reading along.  Stick around and participate in feedback discussions, thoughtful commentaries, and maybe even contribute to future posts by highlighting other myths and misconceptions pertaining to military service and our nation’s veterans.

Until next time … keep your heads down, eyes up, and sights on target.



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  • Jeffrey Stinger: March 09, 2017

    Love that Aussie guy, next time, do it in GERMAN.. Some ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER MAYBE!! AS YOU WERE!!??⚔?⚔?⚔?⚔?SPARTANS!!

  • GySgt David Merchant: March 03, 2017

    I would like to post this on my facebook page . Great article / post !!! Semper Fi , carry on !!!

  • Mark Perna: December 17, 2016

    Thanks for the comment, Steve. It’s really astonishing the lack of information out there, at a time when all the world’s info is at your fingertips! Thanks to your family and your son.

  • STEVE: December 16, 2016

    Lots of good information! As a parent of a Marine, rather a dual-service veteran, it is helpful to have some of the “basics” spelled out in more detail than usually presented. Having many friends who have (or currently serve) served and represent several branches, it is good to learn some of the distinctive aspects for which each would be proud. Thanks for the education!

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