Marines vs soldiers: The difference and why it matters

There is a growing disconnect between the forces protecting America and the very people being protected

Marines vs soldiers: The difference and why it matters

Capt. Matthew E. Baxley, right, a CH-46 pilot, briefs soldiers with 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group, before the soldiers conduct a fast-roping exercise at the U.S. Army’s Torii Station Aug. 31. Baxley is with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262, Marine Aircraft Group 36, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force.

Many civilians have no real understanding of the military.

There is a growing disconnect between the forces protecting America and the very people being protected. They have no idea what is being done on their behalf, 24 hours a day, around the world. Ignorance leads some Americans to ask questions that may seem very rudimentary, even childish, to service members and veterans.

This has always been true, but now there are a fair number of these people in Congress. They control the budget but don't know how the armed forces actually do the job. That's a problem.

The most common mistake is confusing the various branches of service: Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. The problem usually occurs when folks are talking about soldiers; they get mixed up with Marines. It happens all the time in the news. Usually people assume that the Marines are a subset of the Army, sort of like an amphibious Ranger regiment.

If you served then you know intuitively that it's not true, but the question can't be dismissed so easily. It must be explained.

Are Marines and soldiers the same at some fundamental level? They are both organizations dedicated to the infantryman, after all. They do seem pretty similar in many ways, even though most military people exaggerate the differences in a good-natured way. Everyone has their favorite acronym dismissing the other branch:

- Army stands for "Ain't Ready to be Marines Yet"

- Marines actually means "Muscles Are Required, Intelligence Not ESsential"

And so on.

Maybe the two are more alike than not? That is a legitimate question; one that the Joint Chiefs and heads of each service need to answer in a way that Congress can understand. With the Army's reorganization into Brigade Combat Teams, they are lighter and more agile than before. Occupying land armies aren't exactly in high demand, so that's a natural adjustment.

However, it’s an adjustment that encroaches on Marine Corps territory. As the Army transforms into a more expeditionary force (i.e. starts to resemble Marine Regimental Combat Teams) then there is pressure on the Corps to differentiate itself. What makes Marines so special? Is it just that they are trained to integrate with the Navy?

Anyone who served or is serving can tell you stories about the cultural differences among the military branches. While entertaining, these are not evidence in favor of business as usual. The Army and Marines actually are blending mission sets, especially as people around the world keep flocking to large coastal cities.

We can't just say "The Marines go in, and then the Army takes over." Combat operations are not nearly so simple anymore - the primary goal is never to simply hold territory. The fluidity and complexity of recent wars has shown how important it is for the services to work together.

Over time such operations will become more frequent, and a vital question must be answered: Are Marines simply soldiers of the sea?