The best military branch is a point of contention among service members and Veterans alike. Sure, all service members represent the military, and because of that, they all support each other. But when it comes down to it, every service member has a deep sense of pride for their branch — and won’t let the other branches forget it.
Each military branch has its own set of rules, regulations, and duties; kind of like the different branches of the U.S. government. There are five military branches: the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.
Just because the Army has more personnel than the Coast Guard doesn’t make them better, and just because the Navy has been around longer than the Air Force doesn’t make them better, either. Here, we’ll go over what each branch is responsible for and why they’re all integral to the operation and defense of the United States of America.
So, what really is the best military branch?
The U.S. Army is the main ground component of the military. By far the largest branch, the Army has a lot of manpower with just under 500,000 active duty soldiers and many more in the Reserves. The Army’s function is to protect and defend America through “boots on the ground” soldiers, as well as tanks, artillery, attack helicopters, tactical nuclear weapons, and more.
While the Marines have claimed the phrase, “First to Fight,” the Army definitely takes the cake on “Most in the Fight.” And, as an Army soldier, you’re expected to be ready to deploy at pretty much any time. In fact, if you’re bogged down by injury or lack of fitness for too long, the Army will actually discharge you.
The Army is also the oldest of the branches, established in 1775 (before the U.S. was officially established). To bolster its active forces are two Reserve components — the Army Reserves and the Army National Guard. The National Guard can be called upon for emergencies on both a federal and local level.
Overall, those who “Go Army” can’t go wrong with this centuries-old and proven military branch.
US Air Force
You’d think the US Air Force wouldn’t be able to call itself “Best military branch,” given that they’re also the newest military branch. But that doesn’t keep them from trying!
The Air Force is exactly what it sounds like: The force that defends our skies. After air power was discovered as a means of military power, the Army Air Corps was created; filled with brave pilots who accomplished everything from aerial one-on-one combat to covert surveillance to tactical bombings.
Then, with the National Security Act of 1947, the Department of Defense and the Air Force were created. Since then, the Air Force has been the leader in pushing forward the evolution of military aircraft and pilot training. They’re also responsible for military satellites, nuclear ballistic missiles, and astronaut training.
Like the Army, the Air Force also has a Reserve and an Air National Guard. Overall, it’s known for its high quality of life, as well as transferability of skills to civilian life.
The U.S. Navy is the second-oldest military branch and was also established by the Continental Congress in 1775. Its purpose has always been to defend the United States by sea — and their motto is actually “Forged by the Sea.”
Interestingly enough, the Navy also has a large force in the air. Because of their ability to have aircraft carriers and runways at sea, they’re supposed to supplement the Air Force in times of war, and have formidable pilot training programs of their own (ever seen Top Gun?)
The Navy is stationed all over the world, and uses submarines to gather intel from other nations. That way, if conflict breaks out, we’re already in the area and ready to fight. The Navy also provides transportation of Marine Corps forces into war zones.
Like the Air Force, the Navy is usually considered a little more “tame” or “safe” than the Army and Marine Corps, but honorable nonetheless. They offer a lot of jobs with good civilian transferability. Unlike the Army and Air Force, the Navy does not have a National Guard.
US Marine Corps
The U.S. Marine Corps specialize in amphibious operations — or waterborne attacks — and work in conjunction with the Navy to carry out these missions. They’re the second-smallest military branch, but have a reputation as the most badass.
The Marine Corps was initially created as part of the Navy in 1775, though it became its own separate service in 1798. They’ve always been classically known for amphibious operations, such as the infamous Battle of Iwo Jima. However, in recent years they have become more known for ground operations, and often work together with Army forces to carry out missions.
With nicknames like jarhead and leatherneck, it’s easy to see why people view Marines as all rough and tumble. They’re a prideful bunch, and rightfully so. It should be mentioned that there are fewer jobs available, and many of these missing positions are supplemented by the Navy (such as medics).
US Coast Guard
The U.S. Coast Guard is the smallest branch of the U.S. military, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the best military branch. It was originally established as the Revenue Cutter Service in 1790, but became the Coast Guard in 1915. It’s the only branch of the military that doesn’t operate under the Department of Defense. Instead, it’s controlled by the Department of Homeland Security, which is why Coast Guard members weren’t paid during the recent government shutdown.
During times of war, Coast Guard members can be transferred over to the Navy to essentially perform the same duties — protecting U.S. interests at sea. However, most of the time the Coast Guard protects U.S. interests right here in the U.S.
The Coast Guard’s many ships, boats, helicopters, and shore stations are used for law enforcement, boating safety, sea rescue, and immigration control. The movie The Guardian illustrates the sea rescue portion of this (though in an over-glorified, Hollywood way).
This small branch is supplemented by their Reserve, as well as a voluntary Coast Guard Auxiliary. While they’re tiny, they’re mighty, and defending Americans on the homefront is just as important as defending them overseas.
Best Military Branch
Now that we’ve gone over what each of the military services does, which is the best military branch?
With the risk of giving a cop-out answer: There isn’t one. Each branch performs necessary duties, which is why they exist in the first place. And many of the branches actually work together to do their jobs; the Marine Corps and the Navy with seaborne missions, the Navy and the Air Force with airborne missions, the Army and the Marine Corps with ground operations, and the Coast Guard and the Navy with defense on the sea.
You really can’t go wrong joining any one of these branches over another. It all depends on your individual goals and aspirations, and where you feel you’d fit in best. Veterans of every branch feel that same sense of pride and commitment, which is the bond that ultimately glues them all together.
For more, read about which branch has the best uniforms.