- The big green machine: The sheer size of the US Army means that we have to take a lot of people. This is our downfall. You could combine the entire military force of Ireland, Australian, Canada, and New Zealand and you would only have a fraction of the troops needed to man the US Army. You could even toss in Finland, Belgium and Austria. That still wouldn’t get you close to the 1,129,283 troops we require. Because the Army is vast it must draw from a vast segment of the population. This means we get some losers. Even if it’s only 5% that end up being duds that means we have 56,464 duds. This is equivalent to more than two full infantry divisions. Not only do we get fat people. We get lazy people. During the height of the current war the Army lowered standards to permit those without high school diplomas or GEDs to enlist.
- We also get old people: The US Marine Corps has maintained an active duty cut-off of 27 years old. The Army raised the active duty age limit to 36, 45 for the reserve components. Remember that many Soldiers will be eligible to retire at age 38 if they entered right after high school. 45 years old is ancient when you’re asked to place the body under the stress that a Soldier does.
- Travel and Adventure: The USMC gets the silver medal for this, right after the US Navy. Marines like to travel, mostly on Navy gator freighters to various parts of Southeast Asia, Pacific island chains and Europe. This is when they’re not stationed at one of three main locations; California, South Carolina, or Okinawa. This isn’t to say they’re living on the Santa Monica pier; the towns outside the USMC bases are carbon copies of the Joe-towns you’ll find outside any Army gate. The difference is they can drive to someplace worth visiting without leaving the state. I’ve been to Army posts where nobody had cellular phone service. That’s rural.
- I didn’t sign up for this: Because we accept from such a wide slice of the American population we end up with a lot of poor attitudes. Many people join the Army thinking it’s a job factory. Part of this has to do with recruiting procedures; lavish bonuses, guaranteed job choice, the commercials, and college money. However recruiters can only work with what they’re given, and we too often like to blame them for shipping sloppy recruits. But what can we expect? The recruiters didn’t make the American people fat and convince them to drop out of high school. Every Armed Services recruiting station in Any-town, USA has an office for each branch, yet the Army has over four times the number of boots to fill. The Army is in an awkward position when it comes to recruiting. A guy walks in and says he wants adventure. He thinks of the USMC. Another guy walks in and says he only wants college money and to learn a job, he thinks Air Force. People think of the Army and they think of either the Rangers parachuting around the globe cracking skulls, or a lifetime of guard duty in the rain…and there are only so many spots in the Ranger Regiment, so bring your poncho…
- Time to Shine: The USMC expects every Marine to be great. That’s fairly realistic with such a small branch filled with young people. Some commanders in the Army have to wonder if all of their Soldiers will pass a physical fitness test. However because of this difference a Soldier can really outshine his peers. The Army can reward a top performer with extra schools or assignment to specialty units. Every Marine I’ve spoken to knows what the 101st or the 82nd Airborne is. They know what Ranger School is and what jump school is. Unless a Soldier has served with a USMC unit he wouldn’t be able to tell you anything about the Marines. It’s hard to shine in the Marine Corps when they want everyone to be a Marine; nothing more, nothing less. The Army holds annual junior soldier and NCO of the year competitions for hard-chargers that can help make a one’s career. These can all lead to being promoted ahead of peers, which is really what everyone in uniform is looking for; otherwise we’d be content to stay a private.
- Basic Training: Every guy in Marine Corps Delayed Entry Program loves to tell the entire world how long his basic training is going to be. The truth is nobody cares. This is like bragging about what a football stud you were in high school to your kids’ friends. If you spend 30 years in either branch you’re going to be deployed to a hostile fire zone, or training for the next deployment.
- Apples and Oranges: On the other page, from a Marines’ point of view, the author writes about how the public compares Army special operations units to the Marine Corps. I think this is backwards. I feel that movies and video games have given the public the idea that the Marine Corps is a special operations unit. I’ve read many times on military forums where a high school student will ask, “Should I join Delta Force or the Marines?” Aside from the obvious answer, that he should be joining the NASA space program, I think this also points to how little the general public knows about the military, any branch of it. Civilians have often told me that the Marines’ job is to go in and win a war, then the Army goes in and guards everything to make sure the location stays under control. This has never in the history of armed conflict been the case, yet many Americans take it as a fact.
- Pride: One of the reasons that the Army has more unit pride than Army-wide pride is the history if the Army. It wasn’t until WWII that the Army was structured as we know it today. Prior to that if a citizen wanted to join a unit he took a train to that regiment’s location and joined. He stayed in that regiment until he retired. Units were often called up from state volunteer militias, so their history was that of the state or county. This does not mean that Soldiers are not proud though. You’ll know when the 187th Infantry is in Iraq, they’ll erect Tori gateways everywhere. Soldiers also greet officers with unit mottos rather than a good morning. Part of the USMC’s pride comes from their long history. The Marines are and always have been a singular organization dating back to the European kingdoms in the days of sail. Protection of the nation’s sea-going assets required a standing body since commerce was ongoing. Armies were only called up when war was declared. The truth is people often mistrusted standing armies even when they were their own. Today the oldest handful of regiments can only trace their history to the Civil War. So when a young American enlists in the USMC he’s joining the same group that served during the Revolutionary War. A person cannot join the same units that fought under Washington though; they were completely disbanded after the war was done.
- Quality of Life: Between the two the Army takes the cake for this. Nearly all of our permanent duty station barracks are single man rooms with a common area between two bedrooms. Things like bathtubs, walk-in closets, stoves, family sized refrigerators, and indoor bicycle storage lockers are common. We’ve decided that Soldiers should be rewarded for their efforts. The USMC maintains that having two person rooms is better for unit cohesion. I used to share a room with another grown man when I was newly enlisted. I never found it to be anything but a hassle. I can’t imagine any young Marine would choose to share a room if given the option. Soldiers and Marines train and deploy together, there’s no reason to have them sleeping within arm’s reach of each other every night. Of course the real winner in all this is the construction firm that builds them all, but that’s another story altogether. The Army has more give and take when it comes to personnel issues. The Marines really chew up and spit out their new guys, which is one of the reasons they have such a young force. They also have to work around a 70% attrition rate. Which means placing people in leadership spots earlier, whether they’re ready or not. This is also one of the prime reasons the Army Reserve and National Guard have such a high number of prior service Marines (the other of course being that there are simply more USAR and ANG centers throughout the US). A person can only take so many barracks inspections and get blamed for his roommate’s faults, and be reminded that he’s the new guy and nobody asked him before he realizes there are other options.
- Decorations: The Army does really bury us in accessories. On the opposite end of the spectrum I think the USMC could do more in the category. You’ll know a Soldier who has been in legitimate combat because he’ll be wearing a combat badge on his chest. This separates the wheat from the chaff and lets you know you’re not talking to an armchair general.
- Leadership: Marines I’ve spoken with while training or assigned together overseas often feel that Army NCOs are not respected by their subordinates. I know that there are many that don’t respect their leaders (for many reasons, some true some manufactured), but this is going to occur in both branches. From what Marine NCOs told me they take pride in being strictly trained to not question orders. I appreciate my Soldiers asking questions of my orders. This means they want to understand all angles of a procedure or mission. Our leadership is more mentor-driven. The Marines are fond of making claims like, “Even a Marine Lance Corporal can lead a platoon.” This is bravado. If that were true then LCPLs would be given that assignment. The reality is that anyone that junior may be able to parrot commands and check all the boxes but he lacks the experience and knowledge to actually lead.
- Promotions: The Army promotes fast in some areas, slow in others. Many healthcare and technical career fields are very slow, and it is common to be a SGT with 8 years time in service. Combat arms promote the fastest since they hold the largest number of Soldiers, and many will transfer to other career fields over time.
- This gear sucks: Combat arms get the best and newest equipment first. If you’re assigned to a legal or finance unit in the reserves for either branch don’t be surprised if you’re carrying an M-16 instead of an M-4 and your sleeping bag smells of Korean War ear foot powder.
THIS PAGE IS AUTHORED BY:
SSG Mike Rogers.
I’ve been a Navy Corpsmen and an Army medic for over 13 years. I’m currently assigned to an Army Reserve combat hospital while I attend university. I deployed to Iraq in 2007 and completed a variety of training missions to Thailand, Japan, and most of the Pacific Islands.