About the Marines

The United States Marine Corps (USMC) is a branch of the U.S. military. 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 (Navy, Marine Corps, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard) of the U.S. military, with 172,000 active and 40,000 reserve Marines as of 2005. Only the United States Coast Guard, part of the Department of Homeland Security, is smaller. In absolute terms, the US Marine Corps is nonetheless larger than the armed forces of many major nations; it is larger than the British Army, for example.

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.

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 Expeditionary Forces, or “MEF’s”. The 1st MEF is based out of Camp Pendleton, California, the 2nd out of Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, while the third is based on Okinawa, Japan. Within the MEF’s are the individual Marine Divisions (MARDIVS) and Force Service Support Groups (FSSG’s).Force Reconnaissance companies are composed of Marines specially trained in covert insertion, reconnaissance, and surveillance tactics, and some have even received special operations training. The “Recon Marine’s” basic mission is to scout out the enemy and report what they find.

Air combat elements are similarly grouped in the first, second and third Marine Aircraft Wings (MAW’s).

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 basic riflemen, and thus the Marine Corps at heart functions as an infantry corps. The Marine Corps is famous for the saying “Every Marine 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 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.

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.

The Oath of Enlistment

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same. That I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

The Oath of Office

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely; and without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter; So help me God.


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, after Iraqi forces had already been bloodied by the Corps in the first ground engagement of the war at Khafji, 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.

The Marine Corps has also recently initiated an internally designed 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. Due to an expectation that urban and police-type peacekeeping missions will become more common in the

21st century, which will place Marines in even closer contact with unarmed civilians, it is expected that the Marines will benefit from having a larger and more versatile set of less-than-lethal options for controlling hostile, but unarmed individuals.

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 public perception of the Corps’ as both an agressive organization and an elite force within the US military, has at times led to public relations issues surrounding accusations of bullying, harrassment and hazing since WWII.

In its post-World War II history, the Marine Corps reputation has been damaged several times. The first major event was the Ribbon Creek Incident on April 8, 1956, when the junior DI, Staff Sergeant Mathew Mckeon, led his assigned platoon into a tidal stream on Parris Island in the purpose of disciplining his platoon, while violating several basic Marine and training regulations. In the end, 6 recruits died, McKeon was court-martialed, and, with significant media coverage, an extensive Congress investigation took place.

This issue was revived in the late 1980s with the release of the movie Full Metal Jacket, which, although it meant to associate loosely to the incident in 1956, was completely located in the Vietnam era. Still, it projected some attention on then-current basic training in the USMC.


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. Another motto is Marines – The Few. The Proud.

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 naval 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 uniform made them look like mason jars, or that the regulation “high and tight” haircut gave the appearance of a jar-lid), “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: Teufelshund) after the Battle of Belleau Wood.

This nicknaming extends to the Corps itself. The acronym ‘USMC’ is regularly reworked into “Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children” or, even, “Upper Sandusky Motorcycle Club”. The word ‘Marine’ is said to stand for ‘My Ass Rides In Navy Equipment’ or ‘My Ass Really Is Navy Equipment’. Even Marines themselves have semi-derogatory nicknames for their Corps, with Marines during the Vietnam era labeling it ‘the Crotch’ and Cold War era Marines preferring ‘the Suck’.

A spirited cry, “Oorah!”, is common among Marines, being similar in function and purpose to the Army’s “Hooah” cry, but is probably more commonly used among Marines than “Hooah” would be in the Army. “Oorah!” is usually either a reply in the affirmative to a question, an acknowledgment of an order, or an expression of enthusiasm (real or false).

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. Haitians called Marines participating in relief operations “whitesleeves” because of the way they roll up the sleeves of their utility uniform, called “cammies” colloquially. In Somalia, they were referred to as “The Devils in black boots”, due to their rapid deployment preventing them from acquiring desert boots.

Other Facts

  • Marines guard U.S. embassies (Marine Corps Security Guard) and other foreign missions, in cooperation with the Diplomatic Security Service. Marines also stand guard at the White House.
  • The president’s helicopter is Marine One, part of HMX-1, in Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.
  • Marines do not serve as chaplains or medical workers. Naval personnel fill those roles. They generally wear Marine uniforms with Navy markings when serving with the Marines. For example, when wearing utility uniforms, Navy Corpsmen wear their rank on the left collar, a shield with the Cadecus on the left, and U. S. Navy over the right breast pocket.
  • The Marine Corps Band, known as “The President’s Own”, is charged with providing music for the President of the United States and often plays during state functions.
  • Three infamous former Marines are Lee Harvey Oswald, Clayton Lonetree, and Charles Whitman. Lonetree was a Marine embassy guard who was court-martialed for spying for the Soviet Union.
  • Academy Awards
    • Four former Marines have been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor: Lee Marvin (won for Cat Ballou), Steve McQueen (nominated for The Sand Pebbles), George C. Scott (won for Patton but returned the statue), and Gene Hackman (won for The French Connection).
    • Gene Hackman also won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Unforgiven.
    • Director Sam Peckinpah was nominated for the Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay for The Wild Bunch.