An Army officer sums up what makes Marines different

By Col. Daniel F. Bolger, USA

What makes Marine infantry special?

Asking the question that misses the most fundamental point about the United States Marine Corps. In the Marines, everyone–sergeant, mechanic, cannoneer, supply man, clerk, aviator, cook–is a rifleman first. The entire Corps, all 170,000 or so on the active rolls, plus the reserves, are all infantry. All speak the language of the rifle and bayonet, of muddy boots and long, hot marches. It’s never us and them, only us. That is the secret of the Corps.”

“If Army infantry amounts to a stern monastic order standing apart, on the edge of the wider secular soldier world, Marine infantry more resembles the central totem worshipped by the entire tribe. Marines have specialized, as have all modern military organizations. And despite the all-too-real rigors of boot camp, annual rifle qualification, and high physical standards, a Marine aircraft crew chief or radio repairman wouldn’t make a good 0311 on a squad assault. But those Marine technical types know that they serve the humble grunt, the man who will look the enemy in the eye within close to belly-ripping range. Moreover, all Marines think of themselves as grunts at heart, just a bit out of practice at the moment. That connections creates a great strength throughout the Corps.”

We take our flag everywhere we go!
Marines in Hue, Vietnam

“It explains why Marine commanders routinely, even casually, combine widely disparate kinds of capabilities into small units….

Marines send junior officers and NCOs out from their line rifle companies and expect results. They get them, too.”

“Even a single Marine has on call the firepower of the air wing, the Navy, and all of the United States. Or at least he thinks he does. A Marine acts accordingly. He is expected to take charge, to improvise, to adapt, to overcome. A Marine gets by with ancient aircraft (the ratty C-46E Frog, for example), hand-me-down weapons (such as the old M-60 tanks used in the Gulf War), and whatever else he can bum off the Army or cajole out of the Navy. Marines get the job done regardless, because they are Marines. They make a virtue out of necessity. The men, not the gear, make the difference. Now and again, the Marines want to send men, not bullets.”

“This leads to a self-assurance that sometimes comes across as disregard for detailed staff-college quality planning and short shrift for high-level supervision. Senior Army officers in particular sometimes find the Marines amateurish, cavalier, and overly trusting in just wading in and letting the junior leaders sort it out. In the extreme, a few soldiers have looked at the Corps as some weird, inferior, ersatz ground war establishment, a bad knockoff of the real thing. ‘A small, bitched-up army talking Navy lingo,’ opined Army Brigadier General Frank Armstrong in one of the most brutal inter-service assessments. That was going too far. But deep down, many Army professionals tend to wonder about the Marines. Grab a defended beach? Definitely. Seize a hill? Sure, if you don’t mind paying a little. But take charge of a really big land operation? Not if we can help it.”

“Anyone who has watched an amphibious landing unfold would be careful with that kind of thinking. The Marines actually have a lot in common with their elite Army infantry brothers, if not with all the various Army headquarters and service echelons. True, Marine orders do tend to be, well…brief. But so do those of the airborne, the air assault, the light-fighters, and the Rangers, for the same good reason: Hard, realistic training teaches soldiers how to fight by doing, over and over, so they need not keep writing about it, regurgitating basics every time. More enlightened soldiers consider that goodness. A three-inch thick order, a big CP, and lots of meeting do not victory make. The Marines consciously reject all that.”

“A Corps infused with a rifleman ethos has few barriers to intra-service cooperation. The Army talks a great deal about combined arms and does it down to about battalion level, often with great wailing and gnashing of the teeth. Marines do it all the way down to the individual Marine. Soldiers have defined military occupational specialties and guard their prerogatives like a union shop stewards. Finance clerks don’t do machine guns. Mechanics skip foot marches to fix trucks. Intell analysts work in air-conditioned trailers; they don’t patrol.

Marines, though, are just Marines. They all consider themselves trigger pullers. They even like it, as might be expected of an elite body.

Semper Share:
Author: Cpl. Beddoe
Cpl, USMC 1981-1985 MCRDSD Plt 3042, Aug 28, 1981 Work hard. Be kind. Pay it forward. Twitter: @txdevildog
5 1 vote
Article Rating
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Karl Milhon
Karl Milhon
2021/02/04 09:06

‘A small, bitched-up army talking Navy lingo,’ opined Army Brigadier General Frank Armstrong in one of the most brutal inter-service assessments. That was going too far. But deep down, many Army professionals tend to wonder about the Marines. Grab a defended beach? Definitely. Seize a hill? Sure, if you don’t mind paying a little. But take charge of a really big land operation? Not if we can help it.”
ROFLMAO… But of course… I have characterized it thusly. Marines are the tip of the spear. They will cut you bad, really bad…but it takes an army like the haft on the spear to run you through. Different missions, different approach. You isolate a single soldier and strip away all of the logistics and rigidity of detailed orders and he isn’t much different than a Marine. That’s because they are all Americans reflecting that intrinsic strength. The Army Regiment at the Chosin Reservoir that died almost to a man buying time for the Marines and ROK forces illustrates this. But, The Marines never have a logistics train they are tied to psychologically and physically. Grab your rifle and go, that’s it. And you always go toward the fire, not away… Always…

2021/02/02 15:25

My take, the Army is vast, Marines, few and proud. The Army is about numbers. Marines is about individual sacrifice. One example: 26 Army and 26 Marines. The mission, kill bin Laden. The Army, if all 25 Army get killed and yet one Army makes it through, bin Laden dead, Army considers mission, a failure. Marines, if all gets killed and yet one Marine makes it through, Marine considers mission, a success. Army, all about TEAM, what is best for TEAM. Marine, what gets the mission done. Army, living to fight on, Marine, expects death. Those dumb hollywood movies and stupid tv military shows, a bunch of b.s. Reality, war is hell, for real, none of the glamor as falsely depicted by media, the “glory of war”. Army guys fight, yet Army is more “family” oriented while Marines, who also fight, more “dying” aware.

Reece Bradley
Reece Bradley
2017/12/16 06:08

You MARINES get brainwashed in boot camp. Just go on doing what you are doing. You have become nothing but a 2nd ARMY. Something you where not to be. But a ground force for The NAVY. If any if you MARINES read history and took your heads out your Ass You find the ARMY has a very proud History as well. An FYI, the ARMY soldier is made to use his head. You MARINES are made to not question and just fallow. My Dog can do that.

2017/04/29 23:41

I’ve served in both the army and Marines and make no mistake, there is a very clear difference. At the conventional level, the army has good people but it’s hit or miss from unit to unit. To my brother Marines, don’t underestimate Rangers and SF just because they’re army, they are squared away and the real deal. In the Corps, E-V-E-R-Y S-I-N-G-L-E Marine wants to fight, and now. I never once saw a Marine say “I just joined for the education benefits”. I never once heard an admin Marine complain about getting out in the field. I saw both, frequently, in the army. The good thing about the army is training courses. You so much as sneeze anything that sounds like jump school or air assault and you’re in, Marines would kill for that kind of opportunity. The down side to the army is also training courses. You don’t do ANYTHING unless you’ve been to school for it first. Marines improvise as easily as breathing and are expected to do so. That’s a HUGE no no in the army – you do 1)what your sergeant says without question 2)what you’ve been to school for and not a step beyond. As an E4 in the Corps, I had a squad and was never questioned on my decision making process. As an E4 in the army, you’re not allowed to mop a floor without a sergeant supervising you. That’s just not how they think – they have so many more people than the Corps and for a lot of them, they have to justify why they’re there. Rank makes right in the army and until you’re an E5, you’re nothing. In the Corps, senior E3’s are entirely capable of running a squad successfully.