United States Marine Corps

United States Marine Corps Emblem
United States Marine Corps Emblem

The United States Marine Corps (USMC) is a branch of the United States armed forces. While concerned almost exclusively with shipboard security service and amphibious warfare in its formative years, the Marine Corps has evolved to fill a unique, multi-purpose role within the modern United States military.

The Marine Corps is the second smallest of the five branches of the United States armed forces, with 176,000 active and 40,000 reserve Marines as of 2002. Only the United States Coast Guard, part of the Department of Homeland Security, is smaller.

Both the Marine Corps and the United States Navy fall under the umbrella of the Department of the Navy. While organizationally separate forces, the two services work closely together.



The Marine Corps serves as a versatile combat element, and is adapted to a wide variety of combat operations. The Marine Corps was initially composed of infantry combat forces serving aboard naval vessels, responsible for security of the ship, its captain and officers, offensive and defensive combat during boarding actions, by acting as sharpshooters, and carrying out amphibious assaults. The Marines fully developed and used the tactics of amphibious assault in World War II, most notably in the Pacific Island Campaign. Template:United States armed forces Since its creation in 1775 the Corps' role has expanded significantly. The Marines have a unique mission statement, and, alone among the branches of the U.S. armed forces, "shall, at any time, be liable to do duty in the forts and garrisons of the United States, on the seacoast, or any other duty on shore, as the President, at his discretion, shall direct." In this special capacity, charged with carrying out duties given to them directly by the President of the United States, the Marine Corps serves as an all-purpose, fast-response task force, capable of quick action in areas requiring emergency intervention.

The Marine Corps possesses organic ground and air combat elements, and relies upon the US Navy to provide sea combat elements to fulfill its mission as "America's 9-1-1 Force." Ground combat elements are largely contained in three Marine divisions, or "MarDivs." The 1st Marine Division is based out of Camp Pendleton, California, the 2nd out of Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, while the third is based on Okinawa, Japan. Recon battalions are composed of the elite Marines, and their mission is to scout the enemy or even to penetrate the enemy line.

Air combat elements are similarly grouped in the first, second and third Marine wings.

Marine tactics and doctrine tends to emphasize aggressiveness and the offensive, compared to Army tactics for similar units. The Marines have been central in developing groundbreaking tactics for maneuver warfare; they can be credited with the development of helicopter insertion doctrine and modern amphibious assault.

The Marines also maintain an operational and training culture dedicated to emphasizing the infantry combat abilities of every Marine. All Marines receive training first and foremost as riflemen, and thus the Marine Corps at heart functions as an infantry corps. The Marine Corps is famous for the saying "Every Marine is a rifleman."

While the Marine Corps does not necessarily fill unique combat roles, only when combined do the US Army, Navy, and US Air Force overlap every area that the Marine Corps covers. As a force, the Marines consistently use all essential elements of combat (air, ground, sea) together. While the creation of joint commands under the Goldwater-Nichols Act has improved interservice coordination between the larger services, the Marine Corps' ability to permanently maintain integrated multi-element task forces under a single command provides a special ability to respond to flexibility and urgency requirements.

The Marines argue that they do not and should not take the place of the other services, any more than an ambulance takes the place of a hospital. Nonetheless, when a pressing emergency develops, the Marines essentially act as a stopgap, to get into and hold an area until the larger machinery can be mobilized. The opinions of other military men and politicians have, at times, differed, and President Harry S. Truman considered abolishing the Corps as part of the 1948 reorganization of the military. As Harry Truman said, "The only propaganda machine that rivals that of Stalin is that of the United States Marine Corps." Truman, a former U.S. Army artillery captain, felt that the Marines were useless, despite their many successes in World War Two and Korea. The United States Marine Corps is mainly used as an immediate resource of troops that can be deployed immediately to any part of the world. The Marines do not win wars by themselves. Their mission is to hold an area until the heavy reinforcements (i.e. the Army) arrive. Note that in the Second Iraq War Marines were deployed first while Army units organized themselves.

An example of this coordinated, time-sensitive capability could be seen in 1990, when the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (22nd MEU) conducted Operation Sharp Edge, a noncombatant evacuation operation, or NEO, in the west African city of Monrovia, Liberia. Liberia suffered from civil war at the time, and civilian citizens of the United States and other countries could not leave via conventional means. Sharp Edge ended in success. Only one reconnaissance team came under fire, with no casualties incurred on either side, and the Marines evacuated several hundred civilians within hours to U.S. Navy vessels waiting offshore.

Creation and history

The Marine Corps was originally created as the "Continental Marines" during the American Revolutionary War, were formed by a resolution of the Continental Congress on November 10, 1775, and first recruited at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They served as landing troops for the recently created Continental Navy. The Continental Marines were disbanded at the end of the war in April 1783 but re-formed on July 11 1798. Despite the gap, Marines worldwide celebrate November 10 as the Marine Corps Birthday.

Historically, the United States Marine Corps has achieved fame in several campaigns, as referenced in the first line of the Marine Corps Hymn: "From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli". In the early 19th century, First Lieutenant Presley O'Bannon led a group of seven Marines and several hundred Egyptian Mameluke soldiers in deposing the dictator of Tripoli. Separately, the Marines took part in the Mexican-American War (1846–1848) and assaulted the Castillo de Chapultepec, or the Castle of Chapultepec, which overlooked Mexico City. The Marines were placed on guard duty at the Mexican Presidential Palace, "The Halls of Montezuma."

After these early 19th-century engagements, the Marine Corps occupied a small role in American military history. They saw little significant action in the American Civil War, but later become prominent due to their deployment in small wars around the world. During the latter half of the 19th century, the Marines saw action in Korea, Cuba, the Philippines, and China. During the years before and after World War I, the Marines saw action throughout the Caribbean in places such as Haiti and Nicaragua. These actions became known as "The Banana Wars," and the experiences gained in counter-insurgency and guerrilla operations during this period was consolidated into the Small Wars Manual.

In World War I, the battle-tested, veteran Marines served a central role in the U.S. entry into the conflict, and at the Battle of Belleau Wood, Marine units were in the front, earning the Marines a reputation as the "First to Fight". This battle marked the creation of the Marines' reputation in modern history. Rallying under the battle cries of "Retreat hell! We just got here!" (Captain Lloyd Williams) and "Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?" (Gunnery Sergeant Dan Daly, two time Medal of Honor receipient), the Marines drove German forces from the area. The Germans referred to the Marines in the battle as "Teufelhunde", literally, "Devil Dogs", a nickname Marines proudly hold to this day.

Missing image
(Joe Rosenthal / Associated Press)
U.S. Marines raise the American Flag on Iwo Jima on February 23, 1945

In World War II, the Marines played a central role in the Pacific War, and the war saw the expansion of the Corps from two brigades to two corps with six divisions and five air wings with 132 squadrons. The battles of Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa saw fierce fighting between U.S. Marines and the Imperial Japanese Army. The secrecy afforded their communications by the now-famous Navajo code talkers program, is widely seen as having contributed significantly to their success.

During the Battle of Iwo Jima, the famous photograph of five Marines and one Navy hospital corpsman raising the U.S. flag on Mt. Suribachi was taken. The acts of the Marines during the war added to their already significant popular reputation, and the USMC War Memorial in Arlington, VA was dedicated in 1954.

The Korean War saw the Marines land at Inchon and assault north into North Korea along with the Army. As U.S. forces approached the Yalu River, the People's Republic of China, fearing an incursion by American forces, sent armies over the river to engage American forces within Korea.

At the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, the First Marine Division fought Chinese forces, vastly outnumbered but vastly better equipped and trained. Recovering equipment left by Army forces who had scattered in disordered retreat, the Marines regrouped, assaulted the Chinese, and inflicted heavy casualties during their fighting withdrawal to the coast.

The Marines also played an important role in the Vietnam War at battles such as Da Nang, Hue City, and Khe Sanh. Marines were among the first troops deployed to Vietnam, as well as the last to leave during the evacuation of the American embassy in Saigon.

After Vietnam, Marines served in a number of important events and places. In 1983, a Marine barracks in Lebanon was bombed, causing the highest peacetime losses to the Corps and leading to the American withdrawal from Lebanon. Marines were also responsible for liberating Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War, as the Army made an attack to the west directly into Iraq. In 1995, Marines performed a successful mission in Bosnia, rescuing Captain Scott O'Grady, a downed Air Force fighter pilot, in what is called a TRAP (Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel).

Most recently, in 2003 and 2004, the Marines served prominently in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the occupation of Iraq, where a light, mobile force was and is especially needed.

Reputation of the Marine Corps

The Marine Corps has a widely-held reputation as a fierce and effective fighting force and the Marines take pride in their gung-ho attitude, are indoctrinated with a strong belief in their chain of command and the importance of esprit de corps, a spirit of enthusiasm and pride in themselves and the Corps. The Marine Corps is popularly seen as possessing a degree of fame and infamy among the enemies they fight, and examples of this effect are readily seized upon and publicized by the Corps and its supporters. During the 1991 Gulf War, U.S. Army General Norman Schwarzkopf used a public demonstration of a Marine landing on Kuwait and the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr to pin down Iraqi units, while the Army then executed a sweep from the West.

Most recently, Iraqis in the Persian Gulf War and 2003 invasion of Iraq were said to have taken special note of Marine Cobra helicopters and the distinctive look of the Marine combat uniform. The Marines have taken steps to build on this psychological advantage by, for instance, developing a new utility uniform that makes Marines easier to distinguish from other US servicemen. See the Web site of the Permanent Marine Corps Uniform Board (PMCUB) (http://www.marcorsyscom.usmc.mil/sites/mcub/PAGES/uniform_plates.htm) for illustrations of the various Marine uniforms.

The Marine Corps has also recently initiated a martial arts program; an idea borrowed from the South Korean Marines, who train in martial arts and who, during the Vietnam War, were widely rumored to all be black belts. This program marks another step in a series of calculated efforts to bolster the perception of the Marine Corps as a fierce and effective "warrior culture" both with outside observers, and with its own servicemembers.

While the reputation of the Marine Corps has remained largely positive in recent years, at least within the United States, the Corps has still struggled with occasional negative press and perceptions. In many conflicts, members of the other armed forces of the United States have complained that the Marine Corps often emphasizes its prowess at the expense of the reputation of Army or Navy units which are nearby. An example occurred at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War, when a Marine officer (probably Lt. General Lewis "Chesty" Puller) disparaged the undermanned Army infantry regiment which took the initial Chinese attack. Additionally, the aggressive tradition of the Marine Corps, and the Corps' widespread efforts to inculcate its Marines and the American public with this image have also sometimes backfired, leading to numerous accusations of sexism, racism and bullying over the years.


The Marine motto "Semper Fidelis" means "Always faithful" in Latin. This motto often appears in the shortened form "Semper Fi!" It is also the name of the official march of the Corps, composed by John Phillip Sousa.

The colors of the Marine Corps are scarlet and gold. They appear on the flag of the United States Marine Corps, along with the Marine Corps emblem: the eagle, globe, and anchor, with the eagle representing service to the country, the globe representing worldwide service, and the anchor representing sea traditions. The emblem, adopted in its present form in 1868, derives partially from ornaments worn by the Continental Marines and the British Royal Marines, and is usually topped with a ribbon reading "Semper Fidelis".

Two styles of swords are worn by Marines. The Marine Corps officer sword is a Mameluke sword, similar to the sword presented to Lt. Presley O'Bannon after the capture of Derne during the First Barbary War. Noncommissioned officers carry a different style of sword, similar in style to a Civil War cavalry sabre, making them the only enlisted personnel in the U.S. military authorized to carry a sword.

Marines have several generic nicknames, mildly derogatory when used by outsiders but complimentary when used by Marines themselves. They include "jarhead" (it was said their hats on their unifom made them look like mason jars), "gyrene" (perhaps a combination of "G.I." and "Marine"), "leatherneck," referring to the leather collar that was a part of the Marine uniform during the Revolutionary War period, and "Devil Dog" (German: Teufelshunde) after the Battle of Belleau Wood.

In the 1991 Gulf War, Iraqi soldiers nicknamed the Marines "Angels of Death." Another so-called term of endearment for Marines was "blackboots." This was due to supply shortages, leaving tan, desert boots unavailable to most Marine units. Somalians and Haitians called Marines participating in relief operations "whitesleeves" because of the way they roll up the sleeves of their utility uniform, called "cammies" colloquially.


Here is the typical organization for ground units:

  • Fire team: four Marines
  • Squad: three fire teams and a corporal or sergeant as squad leader
  • Platoon: three squads, a platoon sergeant, and a lieutenant as platoon commander
  • Company: three platoons, a Navy corpsman, a company gunnery sergeant, first sergeant, a first lieutenant as executive officer, and captain as commander
  • Battalion: three or four companies, commanded by a lieutenant colonel
  • Regiment: three or four battalions, commanded by a colonel
  • Brigade: uncommon in the Marine Corps, but typically made up of one or more regiments and commanded by a brigadier general
  • Division: three or four regiments, officers and others, commanded by a major general

Battalions and larger units have a sergeant major, and an executive officer as second in command, plus officers and others for: Administration (S-1), Intelligence (S-2), Operations (S-3), Logistics (S-4), Civil Affairs [wartime only] (S-5), and Communications (S-6).

As of 2004, there are four Marine divisions:

In World War II, two more Marine Divisions were formed: the Fifth and Sixth, which fought in the Pacific War. These divisions were disbanded after the end of the war.

Typical aviation units are squadron, group and wing. There are four Marine aircraft wings:

There are also four Force Service Support Groups; the 4th FSSG is a reserve unit.

Air-ground task forces

The Marine Corps organization is flexible, and task forces can be formed of any size. Modern deployed Marine units are based upon the doctrine of the Marine air-ground task force, or MAGTF. A MAGTF can generally be of any of three sizes, based upon the amount of force required in the given situation; however, all MAGTFs have a similar organization.

A MAGTF is comprised of four elements: the command element (CE), the ground combat element (GCE), the air combat element (ACE) and the combat service support element (CSSE).

The smallest type of MAGTF is the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). It is based upon a rifle battalion with usually an aircraft squadron (helicopters or both rotor- and fixed-wing) and an appropriately sized support unit attached. The specific makeup of the MEU can be customized based upon the task at hand—more artillery, armor, or air units can be attached, including squadrons of F/A-18 Hornet and Harrier jets.

There are usually three MEUs assigned to each of the U.S. Navy Atlantic and Pacific Fleets, with another MEU based on Okinawa. While one MEU is on deployment, one MEU is training to deploy and one is standing down, resting its Marines, and refitting. Each MEU is rated as capable of performing special operations.

A Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) is larger than a MEU, and is based upon a Marine regiment, with larger air and support contingents.

A Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), as deployed in Iraq in 2003, comprises a Marine division with an artillery regiment, several tank battalions, several LAV battalions, as well as an air wing. The I Marine Expeditionary Force as deployed in the Persian Gulf War ultimately consisted of the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions as well as considerable Marine air and support units.


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The new camouflage 'Marine pattern', aka 'MARPAT', used by the Marines. Shown here is the woodland pattern. There is also a desert pattern.
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Marine blue dress uniform.

Marines are often confused with soldiers, who are in the United States Army. Some differences in appearance are:

  • Marines do not wear berets.
  • Marines wear boots only with the utility uniform, not other uniforms.
  • Marines do not salute unless they are wearing a hat (known as a "cover").
  • Marines do not wear covers indoors, unless they are "under arms", i.e. carrying a weapon or wearing a duty belt.
  • The Marine service uniform, roughly equivalent to business attire, has a khaki shirt. The equivalent Army uniform has a light-green shirt. Enlisted Marines wear their rank insignia on the sleeve of the service shirt, officers on the collar. Army soldiers wear their rank insignia on epaulets over the shoulder.
  • The Marine class "A" service coat is olive green (as opposed to forest green for the Army) and has a waist-belt. The Marine service uniform is worn with either a barracks (service) cover, which has a bill and a round top, or a garrison cover, which comes to a peak.
  • Marines are less generous with awards and unit identification. For example, with the exception of breast insignia denoting a few specialized qualifications such as airborne (parachute), pilot or scuba qualification, or red stripes on trouser legs of NCO's, E4 and above, sewn on the trouser legs and covers of some logistics Marines, Marines do not normally wear any insignia or device on their utility uniforms denoting their unit, MOS (military occupational specialty), or training. Further, many senior Marines involved in ground combat operations eschew the wearing of multiple rank insignia on the theory that it simply makes them targets (as in Vietnam). Enlisted Marines know who their leaders are, regardless of whether or not they are wearing rank insignia.

Utility uniform

Differences in the utility uniform include:

  • The cover (hat) of the utility uniform is constructed differently. Marine covers have eight sides and corners (hence the name "eight-point cover").
  • Marines wear green-colored "skivvie" undershirts with their utility uniform, even in the desert. Soldiers wear brown undershirts. (Note, as of 2004, the Marine Corps has announced the intention to switch to brown undershirts when desert camouflage is worn.)
  • Soldiers roll up the sleeves of their utility uniform so the camouflage is facing out. Marines roll their sleeves so that the lighter-colored underside faces out.
  • Marines "blouse" their boots. That is, they roll the cuffs of their trousers back inside and tighten them over the boots with a cord or an elastic band known as a boot band. Soldiers either blouse their boots or tuck their trousers directly into their boots.
  • Marines do not wear any rank insignia or other device on the utility cover. The front of the cover has instead the Marine Corps Eagle, Globe, and Anchor emblem.
  • On their utility uniforms, Marine officers typically wear their rank insignia on both collars, while Army officers typically wear insignia on one collar and an insignia identifying their specific occupational specialty (i.e. infantry, artillery, armor) on the other. In a garrison environment, Marine officer's insignia is usually shiny metal, and is affixed in a manner similar to a pin, while Army officers usually wear a subdued stitched-on insignia.
  • Marines wear a colored belt, often referred to as a "rigger's belt", that is color coded to represent their specific qualification under the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program.
  • Marines used to wear black combat boots with the utility uniform, as do the Army and Air Force. But in 2002, light-brown combat boots were introduced along with a new type of camouflage, the "MARPAT" uniform. (See photo.) Effective 1 October 2004, black combat boots were declared obsolete and no longer authorized for general wear by Marines. Exception is made for black safety boots worn for certain tasks, such as parachuting.
  • As of 1 October 2006, the old-style camouflage utility uniform, also worn by the Army and Air Force, will be declared obsolete. The only utility uniform authorized for Marines will be the MARPAT uniform.
  • As of 2004, both the Army and the Air Force have announced plans to replace their old-style "pickle suit" camouflage utility uniforms with newer designs similar to the Marine Corps digital "MARPAT" pattern.


This list is in ascending order. It includes pay grades and abbreviations in the style used by the Marine Corps.


NOTE 1: The E-8 and E-9 levels each have two ranks per pay grade, each with different responsibilities. Gunnery Sergeants indicate on their annual evaluations, called "fitness reports," or "fitreps" for short, their preferred promotional track: Master Sergeant or First Sergeant. The First Sergeant and Sergeant Major ranks are command-oriented, with Marines of theses ranks serving as the senior enlisted Marines in a unit, charged to assist the commanding officer in matter of discipline, administration and the morale and welfare of the unit. Master Sergeants and Master Gunnery Sergeants provide technical leadership as occupational specialists in their specific MOS. First Sergeants typically serve as the senior enlisted Marine in a company, battery or other unit at similar echelon, while Sergeants Major serve the same role in battalions, squadrons or larger units.

NOTE 2: The Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps is the senior enlisted Marine of the entire Marine Corps, personally selected by the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

Warrant Officers

  • W-1, Warrant Officer 1, WO1
  • W-2, Chief Warrant Officer 2, CWO2
  • W-3, Chief Warrant Officer 3, CWO3
  • W-4, Chief Warrant Officer 4, CWO4
  • W-5, Chief Warrant Officer 5, CWO5

NOTE 3: A Chief Warrant Officer, CWO2-CWO5, serving in the MOS 0306 "Infantry Weapons Officer" is designated as a special rank: "Marine Gunner". A Marine Gunner replaces the Chief Warrant Officer insignia on the right collar with a bursting bomb insignia. Other Warrant Officers are sometimes informally also referred to as "Gunner" but this usage is not considered correct.

Commissioned officers:

NOTE 4: There has never been any 0-11 "five-star" General rank thus far in the Marine Corps, though such a rank could theoretically be created at any time by act of Congress. Currently, no officer in any branch of the U.S. military holds such a grade.


The Commandant of the Marine Corps functions as the highest-ranking officer of the Marine Corps. Even though higher-ranking Marine officers occasionally exist, the commandant is still in charge of the Marine Corps. The commandant is a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and reports to the Secretary of the Navy, but not to the Chief of Naval Operations.

As of September 2004, Marine Generals Peter Pace (Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) and James L. Jones (Commander in Chief of the United States European Command; NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Europe; and a former commandant of the Marine Corps) are senior in time in grade to the commandant. However, the commandant does not report to them.

The commandant is responsible for keeping the Marine Corps in fighting condition and does not serve as a direct battlefield commander. However, he is the symbolic and functional head of the Corps, and holds a position of very high esteem among Marines.

As of April 2005, the Commandant of the Marine Corps is General Michael W. Hagee, who became Commandant in January of 2003.

Initial training

Training for commissioned officers occurs through NROTC, the Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps; OCS, Officer Candidate School, including the Platoon Leaders Course (PLC), or the United States Naval Academy. After that, all officers spend their first six months, regardless of accession route or further training requirements, at The Basic School at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. The Basic School, solely for freshly commissioned second lieutenants learning the art of infantry and combined arms warfare, is an example of the unique approach the Corps takes to fostering the credo that "Every Marine is a rifleman first".

Enlisted Marines attend boot camp, at either Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island or Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. All women attend Parris Island. Men attend either, depending on whether they leave from the western or eastern part of the country.

Enlisted Marines then attend School of Infantry training at Camp Lejeune or Camp Pendleton. Infantry Marines begin their Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) training immediately with the Infantry Training Battalion (ITB), while all other Marines train with the Marine Combat Training (MCT) Battalion before continuing on to their MOS schools.

In 1997, the school at Camp Lejeune expanded the MCT program to integrate female Marines. This basic infantry training for all Marines is one element of the philosophy that "Every Marine is a Rifleman."

Marine bases and stations

Main article: List of U.S. Marine Corps bases


  • Marines guard U.S. embassies and other foreign missions, in cooperation with the Diplomatic Security Service. Marines also stand guard at the White House.
  • Marines do not serve as chaplains or medical workers. Naval personnel fill those roles. They wear Marine uniforms when serving with the Marines, unless there is a corresponding Navy uniform.

See also

Missing image
The "Commandant's Own" Drum and Bugle Corps

External links

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