Understanding The Five Branches of The Military

February 24, 2023
Understanding The Five Branches of The Military

Whether you are currently in the military, thinking about transferring, or a family member of someone currently in the service, it is important to understand the differences between the branches. Each branch has a unique role in the security of our country and have specific job opportunities exclusive to that particular branch. While working together for a common goal, each branch has a specific purpose and are different despite overlapping job descriptions. The United State Military offers a variety of ways to serve, consisting of 5 active-duty service branches, with corresponding National Guard and Reserve units.

Air Force

As a main supporter of ground forces by providing air support, the main purpose of the Air Force is to support the security of the United States through air and space exploration. The Air Force operates fighter aircraft, tanker aircraft, light and heavy bomber aircraft, transport aircraft, and helicopters in addition to being responsible for all military satellites and all of the nation’s nuclear ballistic missiles. The Air Force also consists of the Air Force Reserves and the Air National Guard. The Air Force has various specialized training including its Special Tactics teams, which consists of Combat Controllers, Pararescuemen, and Special Operations Weathermen, all of which require intensive, specialized training.


Known as the ground force of the military, the Army is the oldest and largest military branch in the United States. Although the Army has aviation units, their main missions are on the ground through the use of ground troops, armor, and artillery. The Army has two reserve forces; the Army Reserves and Army National Guard. The Army offers various specialized training to those who are eligible, such as:

  • Air Assault School
  • Airborne School
  • Aviation School
  • Jumpmaster School
  • Pathfinder School
  • Ranger School
  • Sapper Leader Course
  • Special Forces Training

Coast Guard

The smallest branch of the Military, the Coast Guard’s primary mission is to control illegal immigration by sea, conduct sea rescues, law enforcement and boat safety. The Coast Guard consists of ships, boats, aircraft, and shore stations and is supported by the Coast Guard Reserves and a volunteer Coast Guard Auxiliary. The U.S. Coast Guard has a number of special operation forces, otherwise known as deployable specialized forces (DSF):

  • Deployable Operation Group
  • Maritime Safety & Security Teams (MSST)
  • Maritime Security Response Team (MSRT)
  • Port Security Units (PSU)
  • Tactical Law Enforcement Teams (TACLET)
  • National Strike Force (NSF)
  • Regional Dive Lockers
  • Naval Coastal Warfare Squadrons


The Navy, known as the defender of the seas, provides carrier for transporting aircraft and providing runways at sea to supplement Air Force air power. The Navy is also responsible for transporting Marines to areas of conflict. The Navy is supported by the Naval Reserves but does not currently have any National Guard component associated with it. Navy SEAL training is the most commonly sought after specialized training within the Navy. SEALs specialize in operations on, in or underwater in addition to on dry land within jungles, deserts, mountains, and arctic conditions.


When established in 1775, the Marines were under the Navy as a ground force supporting element. It became its own branch in 1798 and has slowly moved towards ground force operations. Although the Marines have their own air support, the Navy provides most of their air and sea operations. The Marines are supported by the Navy medical corps, therefore there are no positions for medical personnel positions within the Marines. The Marines are often the first on the ground in combat situations. They are considered a “lighter” force in comparison to the Army, making them easier and quicker to deploy. The United State Marine Corps has several special operations elements including:

  • Marine Raider Regiment (MRR)
  • Marine Special Operations Schools
  • Marine Raider Support Group
  • Force Recon
  • Scout Snipers

Within all branches of the military, the rank structure is basically the same although some branches may use different names for each rank.

“Coast Guard Special Operations.” American Special Ops. 2018. www.americanspecialops.com/coast-guard/

“Navy SEALs” American Special Ops. 2018. americanspecialops.com/navy-seals/

Powers, Rod. “U.S. Military 101 – Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines.” The Balance Careers. 23 Nov. 2017.

“Specialized Schools.” Go Army. 2018. goarmy.com/soldier-life/being-a-soldier/ongoing-training/specialized-schools.html

“Types of Military Service.” Todays Military. 2018. todaysmilitary.com/joining/types-of-military-service

“Understanding the Five Branches of the Military.” Military Spot. 2018. militaryspot.com/enlist/understanding-the-five-branches-of-the-military

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