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United States Marine Corps

Marine Corps emblem
Marine Corps emblem

The United States Marine Corps (USMC) is the second-smallest of the five branches of the United States armed forces, with 170,000 active and 40,000 reserve Marines as of 2002. (The United States Coast Guard is the smallest.) The Corps serves as a versatile combat element, adapted to a wide variety of combat operations.

Its original purpose, giving it the name Marine Corps, comprised the provision naval infantry (combat forces serving aboard naval vessels), and carrying out amphibious operations from the sea onto land. The Marines fully developed and used the latter tactic in World War II, most notably in the Pacific Island Campaign.

The Marine Corps is part of the Department of the Navy. It is not part of the United States Navy, but the two services work closely together.

The Marine Corps has a reputation as a fierce and effective fighting force, and is famous for the fact that U.S. Marines have never resorted to a full, large-scale retreat (although the Chosin Reservoir combat of 1951 was a fighting withdrawal).



Since its inception, the Marine Corps has had a reputation for combat prowess, and the Corps' role has expanded significantly. Currently, the Marines serve as an all-purpose, quick-response task force, suitable for quick insertion into areas requiring emergency intervention, and capable of using ground, air, and sea elements.

For example, in 1990, 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 sniper fire (no casualties occurred on either side), and the Marines evacuated several hundred civilians within hours to U.S. Navy vessels waiting offshore.

The Marines have a unique mission statement, but do not necessarily fill unique combat roles. The Marine Corps is the only branch of the U.S. Armed Forces with a mandate to do whatever the president may direct. The US Army, US Navy, and US Air Force combined do overlap every area that the Marine Corps covers.

However, the Marines consistently use all essential elements of combat (air, ground, sea) together, and have perfected these tactics over the years, whereas the larger services may not work together as often, and may take some time to learn to function together in a combat theater (though the creation of joint commands under Goldwater-Nichols Act has improved interservice coordination).

The Marines argue that they do not and should not take the place of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, any more than an ambulance takes the place of a hospital, but when an emergency develops and little time remains to deal with communications or political problems, the Marines essentially act as a stopgap, to get into and hold an area until the larger machinery can be mobilized.

Other military men and politicians, such as President Harry S. Truman, have differed, and considered abolishing the Corps as part of the 1948 reorganization of the military.

The Marines have one further difference from the other U.S. military services: All Marines, male or female, no matter what the occupational specialty, receive training first and foremost as riflemen. Thus the Marine Corps, at heart, functions as an infantry corps. The Corps has a creed stating "Every Marine a rifleman."

This infantry-intensive training could be seen in the Battle of Fallujah in 2004, in which Marine battalions occupied a section of the city, instead of providing a cordon as the 82nd Airborne Division did before relief by the Marines.

Creation and history

The U.S. Marine Corps first appeared as the "Continental Marines" during the American Revolutionary War, formed by a resolution of the Continental Congress on November 10, 1775. 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 reformed on July 11, 1798. Despite the gap, Marines 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 in deposing the dictator of Tripoli (thereby restoring the rightful ruler). Separately, the Marines took part in the Mexican-American War (1846 - 1848).

After these early 19th-century engagements, the Marine Corps occupied a small role in American military history. Seeing little significant action in the American Civil War, the Marines would later become prominent due to their deployment in small wars around the world. The Marines consolidated their experience during this period in 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, winning the Marines a reputation as the "First to Fight." This battle cemented the reputation of the Marines in modern history. Rallying under the battle cries of "Retreat hell! We just got here!" and "Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?," the Marines violently expelled 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.

In World War II, the Marines played a central role in the war for East Asia and the Pacific. The battles of Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa saw fierce fighting between U.S. Marines and the Japanese Imperial Marines.

It was during the battle of Iwo Jima that the famous photograph of five Marines and one Navy medical corpsman raising the flag was taken. The acts of the Marines during the war secured their reputation, and in honor of them, the USMC War Memorial was dedicated in 1954. Some high military officers have said the United States would never have won the Battle of Iwo Jima without the secrecy afforded by the Navajo code talkers.

The Korean War saw the Marines land at Inchon and assault north into North Korea along with the Army. It was deep within North Korea, in the dead of winter in one of the coldest places on earth, that the Marines again fought the good fight. As U.S. forces approached the Yalu River, the People's Republic of China, fearing an incursion by American forces, sent vast armies pouring over the river to engage American forces within Korea.

At the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, the First Marine Division made a stand against Chinese forces, fighting desperately in the coldest conditions known to man for their own survival. Recovering equipment left by Army forces who had scattered in disordered retreat, the Marines regrouped, assaulted the Chinese, and inflicted heavy casualties during their ordered withdrawal to the coast.

The Marines also played an important role in the Vietnam War at battles such as Da Nang. 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, 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 1996, Marines performed a successful mission in Bosnia, rescuing a downed Air Force fighter pilot, in what is called a TRAP (Tactical Rescue 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 Marines take pride in their gung-ho attitude and are inculcated 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' reputation often affects enemy planning and operations before and after combat, and possess a degree of fame and infamy among the enemies they fight. During the 1991 Gulf War, General Norman Swarzkopf 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 took special note of Marine Cobra helicopters and the distinctive look of the Marine combat uniform. The Marines have taken steps to improve this strength, for instance, in recent years the Marines have developed a new utility uniform that makes Marines easier to distinguish from other US servicemen.

They have also initiated a martial arts program, not only to accentuate a warrior spirit but to make them more feared by the enemy -- an idea borrowed from the Marines of South Korea, who train in martial arts and, during the Vietnam War, were widely rumored to all be black belts.

(The Army and Navy have adopted these concepts and incorporated training similar to the basic-training "Crucible" period, and the Army is also adopting a unique field uniform to meet its needs.)

However, 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 the Battle of the Chosin Reservior in the Korean War, when a Marine officer disparaged the undermanned Army infantry regiment which took the initial Chinese attack.

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.

Symbols of the Marine Corps

The Marine motto "Semper Fidelis" means "Always faithful." This motto often appears in the shortened form "Semper Fi!"

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".

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.

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 "Teufelhunden" (Devil Dog) after the Battle of Belleau Wood.

In the 1991 Gulf War, Iraqi soldiers nicknamed the Marines "Angels of Death." 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.


Typical organization of ground units includes:

There are four Marine divisions; the 4th Marine Division is a reserve unit.

Typical aviation units are squadron, group and wing. There are four Marine aircraft wings; the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing 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.

The smallest MAGTF is the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). The MAGTF 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. I MEF (First 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.

Marine bases and stations

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


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" in Marine jargon).
  • The service uniforms of Marines consist of khaki shirts with olive-green (olive-drab) trousers (men), slacks and skirts (women); soldiers wear light-green shirts with green trousers (men), slacks and skirts (women). This uniform is roughly equivalent to business attire.
  • 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 patches 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.

Differences in the utility uniform include:

  • The hat (cover) of the utility uniform is constructed differently. Marine hats have eight sides and corners (hence the name "eight-point cover").
  • Marines typically wear green-colored "skivvie" undershirts with their utility uniform, even in the desert. Soldiers wears brown undershirts.
  • 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.


Pay grades and ranks, in ascending order

Enlisted :

Warrant officers

  • W-1, warrant officer 1
  • W-2, chief warrant officer 2
  • W-3, chief warrant officer 3
  • W-4, chief warrant officer 4
  • W-5, chief warrant officer 5

Commissioned officers:


The commandant of the Marine Corps functions as the highest-ranking officer of the Marine Corps. Even though occasionally higher-ranking Marine officers 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 September 2004, the commandant of the Marine Corps is General Michael W. Hagee.


Marines guard U.S. embassies 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 may wear Marine uniforms.

Three "infamous" former Marines are Lee Harvey Oswald, Clayton Lonetree and Charles Whitman.

Initial Training

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.

Officers new to the Corps may be trained through ROTC, the Reserve Officers Training Corps; OCS, Officer Candidate School, followed by The Basic School, both at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia; or the United States Naval Academy.

See also



External links

Last updated: 11-03-2004 16:52:11