United States Armed Forces

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It never changes
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A view to kill
The usual jokes about the army aside, one of the many fine things one has to admit is the way that the army has carried the American democratic ideal to its logical conclusion, in the sense that not only do they prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, creed and color, but also on the grounds of ability.
—Tom Lehrer[1]

The United States Armed Forces make up the United States's military and about one-third of the cast of any given Michael Bay movie. The best way to summarize the branches are as follows: The only "real" branches are the Army and Navy, while the Marine Corps is a warrior cult, the Air Force is a corporation, and the Coast Guard is federal police and EMS at sea.[citation NOT needed]

The Army[edit]


The United States Army is the primary ground combat branch of the armed forces of the United States (the other four components of the United States' armed forces are the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines and the Coast Guard, leading to the symbolism of the shape of their administration building, the Pentagon). The U.S. Army is the oldest of these five branches and used to have its own cabinet department (the Department of War). However, now its administration falls under the auspices of the Department of Defense.

Force structure[edit]

As the main ground forces, the Army is obviously primarily tasked with ground combat (duh), with units ranging from foot-mobile light infantry dropped from helicopters to heavily armored brigades with tanks and howitzers. The Army is also the primary service tasked with ground-based theater and tactical air defense (Patriot and THAAD batteries). Being primarily an expeditionary force deployed overseas to protect and fight alongside allies (or sometimes execute some foreign policy blunders), the Army (and the United States military as a whole) is scarily good at logistics. During World War 2 and the Cold War, when the Army was engaging in or preparing for large-scale conflicts against peer adversaries, the force structure consisted of infantry and armored divisions stationed in the U.S. and abroad in allied countries.

Because of involvement in low-intensity asymmetric warfare following the end of the Cold War, the Army's division-based force structure was reorganized in the 2000s into smaller and more deployable brigade combat teams (BCTs), with three main varieties: the "light" infantry BCTs that are primarily foot soldiers or deployed from assault helicopters or light tactical vehicles, "medium" Stryker BCTs primarily based around the 8-wheeled Stryker family of combat vehicles for decent strategic mobility and firepower, and "heavy" armored BCTs consisting of combined-arms teams of main battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and artillery that conduct mechanized warfare.

Recently, with counterinsurgency operations in the Middle East winding down, the Army is reorganizing its units back into the division-based force structure to prepare against a resurgent Russia and China.

The U.S. Army is still the largest branch of the United States' armed forces, though it tends to get the most ridicule from the other branches. Also despite having more personnel than either the Air Force or Navy, it receives roughly the same funding. If Air Force or Navy personnel are ever forced to stay on an Army base, they are compensated for the "poor living conditions".


It was established on June 14, 1775 under the guise of the Continental Army. It is very proud of its traditions (though it is not nearly as tradition-bound as the Navy). The ethos that has guided the army for most of its history is that of the "citizen-soldier" and it likes to consider itself the most egalitarian of the branches, which is why it has the lowest standards for joining.

Despite the general perception of intellectual inferiority in the Army, some of the most educated and most influential officers of the modern era (such as General Petraeus and Colonel Gentile) are Army officers.

Due to being constantly understaffed, it is often the easiest branch to get into. In particular, the Army is often more flexible with fitness guidelines than the other branches. Notably, those in support positions have much easier basic combat training than infantry and direct combat personnel (compare basic combat training at Fort Benning versus Fort "Relaxin'" Jackson). Despite this, roughly 27% of young Americans are still too obese to join.[2]

The Navy[edit]

The United States Navy is the sea component of the armed services of the United States; like the Army, it also used to have its own cabinet department before it was consolidated under the Department of Defense.[3] More recently, it is also the fattest branch, surpassing even the Army.[4]


Founded on October 13, 1775, the U.S. Navy was the Yanks' response to the British Royal Navy. Hopelessly outmanned outgunnedWikipedia and outfunded, the Americans went to their crepe-eating cousins for help. This was the last time France helped anyone (except Argentina during the Falklands War).[note 1]

The years since then have seen the fleets develop from six pirate hunting badass frigatesWikipedia to what is essentially the world's only blue-water navy. A good example of the current strength of the Navy can be seen in the number of aircraft carrier groups that are deployed by different countries, as aircraft carriers are the capital ships of the day. They are the greatest projection of force on the water today. China has two full-size carriers (i.e. not a helicopter carrier or amphibious assault ship), is building at least two more and has plans for God knows how many,[note 2] India has one and is building two, Russia still has the semi-functional Admiral Kuznetsov from the old Soviet Union which has to be accompanied everywhere by a tug (having finally stopped bullshitting that it's an "aviation cruiser" in a failed attempt to get it through the Bosphorus), Italy has one and is building another, France has one, Thailand (!) has one designed for Harriers, though nowadays it only carries helicopters and is used mainly for getting their royals around, and Britain has one with hardly any planes yet[note 3] and a second that is undergoing sea trials but can only afford half the planes and crews needed, and hence no one has any idea what to do with it (because Gordon Brown wrapped them in so much red tape that cancelling them would cost more than building them). By contrast, the United States has eleven (with another under construction and two more ordered). The United States maintains a similar advantage in submarines (both ballistic and attack), VSTOL carriers (used amphibious assault, helicopters and STOVL jets) and almost every other kind of ship.

Force structure[edit]

Much of the U.S. Navy’s warships are task-organized into Carrier Strike Groups (CSGs) centered around a fleet aircraft carrier. In a typical CSG, the aircraft carrier's air wing of roughly 70 aircraft that includes multirole strike fighters, AEW&C, electronic warfare aircraft, and anti-submarine helicopters, form the core of its offensive firepower, while the escorting guided missile cruisers and destroyers form a protective air defense and anti-submarine screen, as well as a submarine or two of its own. To top it off, the escorting cruisers and destroyers carry some land attack and anti-ship cruise missiles (like the Tomahawk and NSM missiles) of their own for good measure. The carrier air wings are strong enough such that the U.S. Navy’s air power alone rivals the dedicated air forces of most peers. In addition to CSGs, the Navy also operates numerous amphibious assault ships, with three such ships alongside several escorting destroyers forming an Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG), also called an Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), that carries Marines (see Marine Air-Ground Task Force, or MAGTF, below).

Aside from these surface task forces, the nuclear attack and ballistic missile submarines will embark on months-long patrols to God-knows-where as part of the United States’ nuclear deterrence.

Rank structure[edit]


The U.S. Navy employs a few people that run around and bark orders at their minions. Despite having really cool-looking officers' uniforms, U.S. Naval officers aren't as cool as the Marines. They are noted for pronouncing "lieutenant" completely wrong without an "f" somehow inserted in the middle.

Warrant officers[edit]

Almost there, but not quite.


Despite having really gay uniforms, enlisted folks in grades E-1 through E-6 goodnaturedly embrace work really hard at combating the stereotype produced by The Village People. Those lucky enough to make the cut to the Chief Petty Officer ranks (E-7 through E-9) get to sit in the goat locker.

Where can you find pleasure? Search the world for treasure?[edit]

Two hundred men go down a submarine. One hundred couples come back up.
—One of countless such jokes.

Where was the military's first all-gay helicopter crew? In the Navy![5]

Like every navy ever, the US Navy has long had a half-joking reputation as "the gay branch." It's easy to see why: with hundreds of young men spending months at sea, mind-numbing boredom broken up only by the occasional shore leave, and until recently almost no women,[note 4] homosexual relationships sometimes blossomed between sailors. This was never officially permitted; homophobia aside, fraternization of any kind has always been discouraged, and is theoretically illegal if done between an officer and an enlisted person.[6] However, the Navy was sometimes more willing than the other branches to turn a blind eye to homosexuality, especially during wartime when manpower was needed.

Tolerance, of course, is relative, and the Navy's homophobia waxed and waned: in one notorious episode in the 1920s, then-Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt oversaw a witch-hunt to catch gay sailors.[7] When the USA entered World War II, it implemented psychiatric screening for recruits, under which homosexuals, open or closeted, were explicitly barred from service. Many would-be sailors chose to join the Merchant Marine, a civilian auxiliary force where they could serve more openly. During the Vietnam War, manpower shortages and changing attitudes brought back quiet acceptance of gay sailors. But ultimately, how safe a gay sailor was depended on his commanding officer's willingness to cover for him.[8]

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Navy's acceptance of homosexuality began to liberalize alongside society's.[9] In 1979, the Navy even considered using the Village People's "In the Navy" in recruitment ads, and let the group film its music video on the deck of the USS Reasoner. In the 1980s, between public fears about AIDS and Ronald Reagan, the Navy once again became less accepting, and homosexuals remained explicitly banned from service until 1993, when Don't Ask, Don't Tell was passed. DADT allowed closet homosexuals to serve, but coming out—or even being outed—remained grounds for discharge. In 2010, DADT's last year of enforcement, 261 servicemembers were discharged under it.[10]

The Marines[edit]

The United States Marine Corps is primary amphibious warfare component of the Armed Forces. Although a separate service, it is a department under the Navy. Originally called the Continental Marines, according to its tradition it was formed on November 10, 1775 in a bar called Tun Tavern,[11] though historians believe it was actually a different bar in the same town called the Conestoga Waggon.[12] While the Army is the land infantry, the Marines were originally formed as naval infantry. Sailors in the Navy will happily remind you that "Marine" stands for "My Ass Rides In Navy Equipment".

Cult Culture[edit]

The Marine Corps is easily the most socially conservative and tradition bound of the service branches. A certain degree of macho stigma has been attached to Marines, and they love to think they're the toughest guys around, likely because they have the longest and toughest recruit training. In particular, they like to think they're better than the Army (and all the other service branches, for that matter). Just look at the last verse of their hymn to see how they view other branches. Of course, they probably don't often mention that many of their core assets (like the Amphibious Assault "Gators") are owned and partly manned by the Navy. Refers to members of other service branches as Doggie, Squid and Zoomie.

Force structure[edit]

The modern Marine Corps still retains some of its naval infantry heritage, though the evolution of warfare meant that their role is one of amphibious warfare, i.e. ship-to-shore and littoral operations, rather than simply guarding ships and being marksman on masts. The most combat-focused of the service branches, the Marine Corps primarily serves as a rapidly deployable expeditionary force with an obvious focus on amphibious warfare. Its current force structure is centered around a combined air-ground task force launched from several VSTOL/helicopter carriers, unimaginatively called the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF). Their ground combat element size range from a battalion in a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), to a regiment in a Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB), to a division in a Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), with the appropriate aviation combat element and logistics combat element attached; or any combination of units as needed (SPMAGTF). A MEU is deployed on a Navy Expeditionary Strike Group, while the amphibious assault ships of several groups are combined to support a MEB or MEF.

During the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there has been some consternation that the Marines have become a second Army and there are various debates that the Marines are encroaching on the Army's role and mission. Indeed, aside from pride and differences in heritage, culture and slang, the operational capabilities became increasingly blurred between the Marine and Army infantry. The Marine Corps jealously guards its unique assets from other branches, like STOVL aircraft and amphibious assault capabilities, and despite the (quite extensive) overlap in capabilities with the Army, any suggestions of merging them with the Army will generate a shitstorm to say the least. Only recently, as US involvement in the Middle East has decreased, has the Marine Corps shifted its focus back to its amphibious roots, and has even ceded its main battle tanks back to the Army.

The Marines get the smallest share of the defense budget (though on the other hand their force structure is ring-fenced by the same act that established the Air Force), but can perform a vast variety of missions. May be partly explained by the fact that Marines tend to get second hand stuff from the Army and Navy. Marines are generally the most deployable force, short of special operation forces. They give the taxpayer money the most bang for the buck.


Junior enlisted[edit]

It's no surprise enlisted makes up the vast majority of the Marine Corps. Most people who go through 13 weeks of summer camp boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina or San Diego, California to earn the EGA (Eagle, Globe, and Anchor) would serve a four year stint. Many get out as salty unmotivated Lance Corporals who got sick of all the crap the Marine Corps doesn't advertise, like those field days every Thursdays where the squad bay is scrubbed and cleaned beyond the point of logic, ego/power tripping Gunnys treating grown adults like kids, armory lines and returns, and the very existence of the vast majority of First Sergeants.

There exists a cultural difference between the infantry (03xx MOS) and supporting personnel, who are referred to as POGs (Person Other than Grunt).

Non-commissioned officers[edit]

Non-commissioned officers (NCOs), or E-4 and above, are the backbone of the Marine Corps and they get to have those fancy Blood Stripes on their Dress Blues. For whatever reason, staff non-commissioned officers (SNCOs) seem to become total dickwads past E-8, leading many to question what the point of a First Sergeant and Sergeant Major even is other than making everyone's lives miserable. Might be because a lot of sensible Marines sees all the fuckery in the system and don't bother reenlisting, while plenty of shitbirds stay in and climb the ranks. God help you if your platoon sergeant just had a drill instructor billet...


Most officers get their commission through the 10 week Officer Candidates School (OCS) and then the 6 month The Basic School (TBS) before going to whatever specialty school they need to and then join the fleet. Most boot lieutenants ("butterbars") somehow think they're Chesty Puller reborn and believe that throwing whatever stereotypical Marine jargon ("It would behoove you...") will make them look super salty and impressive, and that they will know as much as enlisted Marines with 12 years on the job, yet somehow manages to shoot an compass azimuth backwards. On occasion they also need to get Lance Corporal Dumbass out of trouble, usually for something related to alcohol and thus make weekend liberty safety briefs just that much longer.

There's also warrant officers, but they don't deserve a subsection because they're the masters of skating and may as well be unicorns; you almost never ever see them in person.

The Coast Guard[edit]

The service that everyone forgets about, but the United States Coast Guard is one of the United States Armed Forces. Established in 1790 in Newburyport, Massachusetts,[13] originally it was known as the Revenue Cutter Service. As the name suggests, it was originally involved in counter smuggling and enforcement of duties and tariffs (before the income tax customs duties represented the majority of the federal government's revenue). It was later merged with the United States Lighthouse Service, Steamboat Inspection Service, Bureau of Navigation and the Lifesaving Service.[14] Similar in some respects to the Navy, the Coast Guard operates as a maritime force on the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Gulf of Mexico, the waters around Alaska and the Great Lakes. The agency has both military and law enforcement duties and is the only branch of the military allowed to enforce civilian laws. They provide defense and border security as well as search and rescue operations. They are sometimes forgotten in comparison to the other branches and are on occasion erroneously categorized as a civilian police force. They should be familiar to anyone who watches The Deadliest Catch. They operate a fleet of patrol ships ("cutters") and rescue helicopters, and have numerous outposts along the coast (duh). Though perceived and ridiculed as easy and lax, the Coast Guard training is the second toughest of all the branches of the armed forces, after the Marines.

The Coast Guard consists of the Coast Guard proper and the Coast Guard Reserve. The organization's academy is located in New London, Connecticut. Unlike the other branches of the military, the Coast Guard is not part of the Department of Defense. Currently it is part of the Department of Homeland Security, but it started as part of the Treasury Department and was moved to the Department of Transportation.

The Air Force[edit]

The United States Air Force was originally formed in 1907 as the Aeronautical Division, Signal Corps, a component of the U.S. Army, and went through five more names between then and 1947 with U.S. Army Air Forces (1941–1947) being the most well known, before becoming its own branch with the National Security Act of 1947.[15] It has over 300,000 active duty members[16] and is headed by the Secretary of the Air Force and is a part of the Department of Defense. The United States Air Force Academy is located in Colorado Springs, Colorado.[17]


The mission of the U.S. Air Force has shifted over the years, since the Army, Navy and Marines all have their own aircraft. Indeed, the Air Force has never been the only branch of service with aircraft at its disposal: the Navy has never given up its combat air arm (indeed, they went so far in its defence as to staunchly oppose the creation of the Air Force as a separate service) and the closest the Army came to surrendering all its airpower to the Air Force was shortly following the 1947 creation of the Air Force, when they retained only such aircraft as were deemed "organic" to the Army, such as those intended for reconnaissance near the front lines or courier functions, with a limit on aircraft weight of 2,500 pounds for fixed-wing aircraft and 4,000 for rotary-wing aircraft.[18] During the Cold War, the Air Force was home to the Strategic Air Command, which was basically the bombers and (land-based) ICBMs capable of waging nuclear war along with their support systems like tanker aircraft and long-range recon planes: the other main division was Tactical Air Command, responsible for fighters and the like. TAC was notoriously in love with the idea of the fighter as a guided missile bus that would engage the enemy without ever seeing them and when traditional air-to-air combat reemerged in Vietnam (due to air-to-air missile hit rates in combat being staggeringly lower than expected) the Air Force embarrassingly could barely achieve parity with the theoretically much worse equipped North Vietnamese Air Force's legacy MiGs. Even by 1972, the Air Force still hadn't learned its lesson. This, while the Navy and Marines pilots were kicking ass and taking names in Operation Linebacker thanks to a little known program called TOPGUN (it distinctly helped that they weren't chugging around in the F-105 Thunderchief, an aircraft originally designed as a low-level tactical nuclear bomber and not in any way for dogfighting). Ever wonder why one of the most iconic films about air combat features Navy pilots?

The modern age of precision guided aerial munitions also began in Vietnam and was specifically because it took U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy aircraft hundreds of attacks over a period of seven years to blow up a bridge.

Things have gotten better today (though the pendulum has swung so far towards fighters that the United States is still fielding a fleet of ancient B-52s: these and old C-130s mean the average age of a U.S. aircraft's airframe is greater than the average age of a U.S. pilot) and the Air Force run the fighters and strike aircraft that operate from land-based airstrips. They even have their own knockoff of TOPGUN (Weapons School and Aggressor Squadrons). That said, Air Force's obsession with premature bleeding-edge technology and changing requirements partway through development means that their programs are notorious for delays and spiraling developmental costs (see the F-111, B-2, F-22, F-35, etc: in fact the last U.S. military aircraft delivered on time and within budget was the B-52) and the budget is not helped by frequent purchasing cuts that increase per-unit costs even more; see the B-2 (132 aircraft cut to 75 and then 21) and F-22 (750 cut to 648, 339, 266 and ultimately 187) in particular. Some of this bleeding edge technology is tested at Area 51, although you'll never see the Air Force confirming or denying it.

Force Structure[edit]

Air Force units are managed by Major Commands, such as Air Combat Command (ACC) and Global Strike Command (GSC) (successors to TAC and SAC respectively) and are directly subordinate to Air Force HQ. Under Major Commands are numbered air forces, such as the 8th Air Force, structured to perform an operational or strategic mission, and under them are wings with more specific missions and consisting of several squadrons. The squadron is the basic unit of the Air Force and are named by aircraft type or mission. Aircraft squadrons generally operating eight to twenty-four aircraft and their name denoted by aircraft type. For example, the 94th Fighter Squadron operates twenty-three F-22 air superiority fighters out of Langley, Virginia. Aircraft squadron types include fighter squadrons operating air superiority and multirole fighters, bomb squadrons operating tactical and strategic bombers, and airlift squadrons operating transport aircraft. Non-aircraft squadrons include engineering, intelligence, missile, and other supporting establishments.

An increasing part of the Air Force is the so-called "chair force", that being drone crews: in March 2017 there were more job positions for the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper than any manned aircraft,[19] with over a thousand U.S. Air Force pilots sitting in trailers watching blurry Arabs go to the toilet and waiting to see if the CIA wanted them blown up today or not. By all accounts this is an utterly thankless task, possibly more stressful than piloting a normal aircraft and earns these people the scorn of "real" pilots. Needless to say, the other services are less fussy and apply the term "chair force" to the entire Air Force. Increasing sophistication of software, computers, and artificial intelligence have allowed drones to be much more autonomous, with only a few critical decisions made by humans. The Air Force is currently developing "Loyal Wingman" combat drones that act as missile carriers, sensor nodes, and electronic warfare platform for a manned fighter orchestrating them. The F-22 and F-35 will be among the first to be equipped with this capability.

Aside from direct air combat and air support, the Air Force is also tasked with ballistic nuclear missile component of the nuclear triad. The branch also provides major logistical support to other branches (and most of NATO) in its airlift capabilities. The Air Force maintains extensive space launch capabilities and are responsible for the GPS satellites that people now take for granted. It also hires numerous civilian employees in its Air Force Research Laboratory, which performs research and development and collaborates with NASA as well as many universities across the United States.



Regardless of your rank, if you are enlisted you are acting as support for flight crews. Obviously compared to the other branches the living conditions here for enlisted personnel is higher, often times former soldiers, sailors and marines say they wished they joined the Air Force instead after spending a few days on an Air Force base. Enlisted airmen go through a six-week basic training program at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.[20] It's also the only branch of the U.S. military where NCO status is achieved when an enlisted airmen reaches the pay grade of E-5.[21]


Pilots here basically get all the glory. Fighter pilots tend to receive more prestige compared to the rest, unfortunately developing a fighter pilot "jock culture" mentality within the organization, and resulting in commanders of fighter squadrons being more likely to be promoted over other commissioned officers.[22]

External links[edit]


  1. And Russia in World War I. Oh, and aspiring democrats all over Europe after the French Revolution.
  2. China also owns two Soviet VTOL carriers which have since been turned into hotels for some reason and until 2002 had a 1950s-era Australian carrier which had been sold to them for scrap in 1985 with the steam catapults still in place.
  3. Britain signed up to those sweet, sweet F35s, which will take upto a decade to be delivered fully, have horrendous costs and have successfully destroyed Britain's native aviation industry.
  4. Women weren't even allowed to serve on submarines until 2010.


  1. Tom Lehrer, It Makes a Fellow Proud to Be a Soldier, from the album An Evening With Tom Lehrer, transcribed at genius.com.
  2. Too Fat to Fight
  3. http://www.navy.com/
  4. https://taskandpurpose.com/health-fitness/navy-fattest-military-branch
  5. https://web.archive.org/web/20210621191836/https://twitter.com/NGPA2/status/1406969372925693955
  6. "UCMJ Article 134, Section: Fraternization". 
  7. John Loughery, The Other Side of Silence: Men’s Lives and Gay Identities, A Twentieth-Century History, September 20, 1998.
  8. Lillian Faderman (1991). Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America. New York: Penguin. pp. 119–138. ISBN 978-0-14-017122-8.
  9. Stanley, Jo; Baker, Paul (2003). Hello Sailor!: The hidden history of gay life at sea. Longman. ISBN 9780582772144.
  10. ""261 DADT Discharges in 2010"". 
  11. http://www.marines.com/
  12. http://www.history.com/news/history-lists/7-things-you-may-not-know-about-the-u-s-marine-corps
  13. http://newburyport.com/coast-guard/
  14. http://www.uscg.mil/history/articles/h_USCGhistory.asp
  15. U.S. Air Force: Factsheets
  16. Airman Magazine, Volume 54 Number 3, p. 46.
  17. United States Air Force Academy
  18. [1] U.S. Air Force: Basic Documents on Roles and Missions, pp. 237
  19. http://www.military.com/daily-news/2017/03/08/drone-milestone-more-rpa-jobs-any-other-pilot-position.html
  20. [2]
  21. [3]
  22. [4]