U.S. Army Vs U.S. Marine Corps: What’s The Difference?

By Chris Kolmar - Jan. 6, 2021

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A military career is not easy, but it can be rewarding. Not only do you have the satisfaction of defending your country and your loved ones, but you also have access to long-term practical benefits such as having your college education paid for.

If you’re interested in joining the military, whether you’re looking for a long-term career or a temporary stint before looking for other jobs, the United States Marine Corps and the United States Army are some of the most popular branches to enlist in.

In this article, you’ll learn a little bit about both of these branches and the differences between them. This way, you’ll know how to continue your research as you decide which one you want to enter.

About the U.S. Army

The U.S. Army was founded on June 14, 1775, making it the oldest branch of the U.S. military. It’s also the largest since, as of 2018, it made up 35% of the U.S. Armed Forces. The Army Reserve and National Guard are technically part of the U.S. Army as well, which adds to its size.

The Army’s motto is “This We’ll Defend,” and its purpose is to protect the U.S. on the ground, which usually involves infantrymen, tanks, artillery, and aircraft.

To enlist in the Army, you need to be at least 17 years old and not over 35 years old. (You’ll need parental consent to enlist if you’re under 18, though.) You’ll also need to be a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident.

Once you’re accepted into the Army, you’ll go through ten weeks of basic training before you begin more specialized training. This is called Advanced Individualized Training (AIT).

There are 190 types of jobs, called Military Occupational Specialties (MOSs), available in the Army, giving you a wide variety to choose from.

The Army also has several elite forces, including the airborne, the Rangers, and the Green Berets, all of which require additional training.

About the U.S. Marine Corps

While the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) was also founded in 1775, it’s a few months younger than the Army. Its motto is “Semper Fidelis,” which is Latin for “always faithful,” and it’s often shortened to “Semper Fi.”

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Even though they’re their own branch of the military, the Marine Corps is technically under the Department of the Navy and usually travels on Navy ships. They are the ground force that can attack from the sea, whether they do so in the water itself, on land, or in the air, and they’re able to be anywhere in the world within days.

The Marines Corps is one of the smallest military branches, making up only 14% of the U.S. Military in 2018. It’s bigger than the Coast Guard but smaller than the rest of the main five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, which are the Army, the Marine Corps, the Navy, the Coast Guard, and the Air Force.

The Marine Corps members are called marines, not soldiers, and they typically have to go through much more intense basic training than those in the Army do, creating a reputation for being some of the toughest and most highly trained fighters.

Marine boot camp training lasts about 13 weeks and is followed by USMC Specialty School. Marines must be between 17 and 28 years old to enlist.

The Marine Corps also has special forces, including the Marines’ Special Operations Command (MARSOC) called the Raiders and the Force RECON Units.

Five Differences Between the Army and the Marine Corps

As you’re trying to decide whether to join the Army or the Marine Corps, it’s important to know the differences between the two. While the points in this article aren’t exhaustive by any means, they are some of the major ones to take note of as you continue your research.

  1. They have different purposes. Both the Army and the Marine Corps are responsible for defending the United States, but they have different roles within that responsibility.

    The Marines Corps’ job is to seize and control land, oil rigs, or ships. One of the Marines’ defining features is that they are amphibious fighters, which means they fight on the land by way of the sea, which sometimes requires underwater combat.

    Because they can deploy anywhere in the world within a few days, they’re often the first to arrive at a conflict or carry out an objective.

    While they have many tasks similar to those of the marines, the Army is generally composed of land-based fighters who use troops, tanks, and artillery to get the job done. They do use planes and helicopters as needed, and some of the Army special forces are trained in amphibious combat, but all of this is to further their missions on the ground.

    Because they’re the largest branch, the Army has the widest variety of responsibilities around the world and people who are trained to make it happen.

  2. They have different combat styles. Because both the Army and the Marine Corps have different purposes and jobs, they go about their missions differently.

    A Marine Expeditionary Unit will usually have assets in the air, on land, and in the sea. Other units will get back up from the Navy and Air Force, whether that comes in the form of planes, helicopters, or ships.

    The Army also gets backup from the Air Force and Marine Corps, but they don’t usually get help from the Navy.

    However, the Army typically is the first of the two branches to receive the latest and greatest weapons. The Marine Corps get them as well, but only after the Army does. They also both prefer different weapons in some cases.

  3. They structure their platoons differently. While they share many similarities in this area, there are some variations between the Army and Marine Corps platoons.

    Marine rifle platoons have three squads led by sergeants. Each squad has three fire teams led by corporals and composed of an automatic rifleman, an assistant automatic rifleman, and a rifleman.

    The Army’s platoons have an additional squad dedicated to infantry weapons, which the Marines don’t have in their platoons.

    The rest of the squads are also led by sergeants and are made up of fire teams. A team leader, an automatic rifleman, a grenadier, and a rifleman comprises each of these. One rifleman in each squad is also a long-range marksman.

  4. They offer different career opportunities. If you join the U.S. Army, you will find more than a few opportunities to work in a non-combative role such as a doctor, linguist, or chaplain. You could even put your microbiology or engineering degree to work for the Army or find a position in the financial offices.

    If you want to work in the field, though, there are a wide variety of opportunities available. A few of the areas you can enter include:

    • Infantry.

    • Corps of Engineers.

    • Field or Air Defense Artillery.

    • Aviation.

    • Armor.

    • Signal Corps.

    • Electronic Warfare.

    • Military Intelligence.

    There aren’t as many options for non-combative roles in the Marine Corps, but there are a wide variety of jobs available in other areas such as aviation, as the Marines have their own air force, as well as Combat Support Roles such as:

    • Counterintelligence specialist

    • Logistics chief

    • Military police and corrections marine

    • Military working dog handler

    • Cyber Security technician

    In addition to the variety of positions you can have as a soldier or marine, there are also different opportunities for pushing yourself further and joining the elite units of both branches. As a marine, you could join one of these teams:

    1. The Marine Raiders. A part of the U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command (MARSOC), the Raiders go on special missions with small teams, often behind enemy lines. Joining this group requires you to pass several testing and selection phases before beginning your nine-month Raider training.

    2. Force RECON Marines. Force RECON Marines are in charge of collecting intelligence about the enemy. To do so, they often go deep into dangerous territory. Marines who volunteer for the RECON course must also go through several training stages after they pass both boot camp and The Marine Corps School of Infantry.

    3. Scout Snipers and Other Special Operations Jobs. There are additional special operations positions available to marines, such as the Marine Scout Snipers. Their jobs are to provide backup for those on the field through long-range firepower. Only Lance Corporals can be selected for this training program.

    The Army has several elite forces as well, but they perform different tasks:

    1. Airborne. The soldiers in this program go through parachute training for three weeks so that they are ready to drop down into combat from a plane. Soldiers can sign up to begin this program after they finish basic training.

    2. Rangers. The Rangers are similar to the Force RECON Marines, as they conduct special operations in dangerous territory. There are two ways to become an Army Ranger: graduating from Ranger School or being selected from the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program.

    3. The Green Berets. These special forces soldiers have more specialized training than the Rangers, as their job is to train and participate in unconventional warfare around the world. Their 63-week-long training begins with the Special Operations Preparations Course, where soldiers are selected to go through Green Beret training.

    4. Snipers and other Special Forces jobs. The Army also has a sniper school that soldiers can be selected for, as well as the opportunity to be chosen for additional Special Forces jobs such as engineer sergeants or weapons sergeants.

  5. They organize infantrymen into their specialties differently. Infantrymen in the Army are assigned or can choose a specialty to pursue after basic training. Some of these include:

    • Airborne

    • Mountain

    • Mechanized infantry

    On the other hand, Marine infantrymen are all trained for amphibious warfare and choose or are assigned to different weapons systems and tactics, rather than the specialties that the Army has.

    These include:

    • Rifleman

    • Machine gunner

    • Mortarman

    • Assaultman

    • Antitank missileman

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Chris Kolmar


Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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