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Life Stages: What Branch of the Military Should I Join?


From the desire to serve our nation to wanting to see the world, people like you join the military because they seek one of the many opportunities it offers. The United States military has six branches, and each branch is different. It’s important to research them all to find the right fit for your interests, goals, and personality. Read on to learn more about the branches of the military and what they do.

What Are All the Branches of the Military?

The six branches of the U.S. military are the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Space Force. Each branch has different missions, operations, training, and cultures. Before signing on the dotted line, it’s important to understand the different branches of the military and what they do.

1. U.S. Army

  • Military Role: The Army’s purpose is to defend the land and possessions of the U.S. and its territories by providing forces for sustained combat and stability on land. The largest and oldest U.S. military branch, the Army also provides logistics and support to other branches.
  • Training: The Army’s Basic Combat Training lasts about 10 weeks with three phases. The Army lets you choose an occupational specialty (MOS), which will determine some of your training. All members of the Army do have to go through “Chemical Radioactive Biological and Nuclear Readiness” training, which includes being exposed to gas while wearing the proper masks. Army recruits also must pass physical training, navigational training, and weapons training, including hand-to-hand combat.
  • Deployments: Army members are deployed often, generally 220 days out of the previous 365, or 400 days out of the previous 730. Deployments often last 12 to 18 months.
  • Core Values: Loyalty, duty, respect, personal courage, honor, integrity, and selfless service.

2. The U.S. Marine Corps:

  • Military Role: As part of the Department of the Navy, Marines carry out global missions on both land and sea. The Marines are a rapid-reaction, expeditionary force, meaning they are usually the first boots on the ground during conflict.
  • Training: Marine Recruit Training is rewarding but intense, pushing recruits to their physical and mental limits. Boot camp begins with weapons, martial arts, and other physical training. By phase two, training gets tougher, including gas chamber exercises and a grueling 45-mile march known as “the crucible.”
  • Deployments: Marines typically are deployed for one year, home for two, or 1:2 deployment-to-dwell ratio.
  • Core Values: Honor, Courage, and Commitment.

3. U.S. Navy

  • Military Mission: The Navy oversees combat-ready maritime forces that are designed to discourage aggression and preserve freedom of the seas.
  • Training: The U.S. Navy’s boot camp lasts about seven weeks and includes physical fitness, firearms, and seamanship training. Training includes physical training and basic military education, including both classroom and hands-on training, covering firefighting, emergency shipboard training, and water survival. Recruits must also be able to swim 50 yards and complete a five-minute prone float. The final week of training involves the “Battle Stations” exercise, which consists of multiple obstacles that test the things learned throughout basic training.
  • Deployments: These vary by the type of mission, but typically last around seven months. During this time, sailors may not see land for most of their deployment, and they are often required to stand for 6-12 hours without breaks. There are also no holidays or days off. Different roles have different deployment schedules.
  • Core Values: Initiative, Accountability, Integrity, and Toughness.

4. U.S. Air Force

  • Military Mission: The U.S. Air Force provides rapid, flexible, and sometimes lethal airpower capabilities, delivering forces anywhere across the globe in less than 48 hours. While the Air Force does have a role in combat, it largely participates in humanitarian, peacekeeping, and evacuation missions.
  • Training: Air Force basic training lasts eight-and-a-half weeks and trains recruits in academics, physical fitness, and weapons, including tactical and pistol training.
  • Deployments: The Air Force’s deployment frequency depends on the career field you choose. These range from a 1:4 ratio (120- or 179-day deployments, then 480 to 716 days home), to a more frequent 1:1 ratio, which is typically six months deployed, six months home.
  • Core Values: Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do.

5. U.S. Space Force

  • Military Mission: The U.S. Space Force assembles and trains forces in order to protect the country and its interests in space, and to contribute capabilities to the joint force.
  • Training: Because the Space Force is the newest military branch, their training is still being developed. Currently, their basic training can be compared to that of the Air Force, with the Space Force adding some additional, branch-specific components. This includes 21 hours of additional instruction, eight hours of self-paced instruction focusing largely on emotional intelligence, and seven instructional blocks totaling 13 hours that include Space Force structure, ways forward, unclassified intelligence briefings, and briefings from senior leadership about military doctrine.
  • Deployments: Eventually, the Space Force will deploy troops to orbit, but field assignments can take place on land as well. The first deployment of Space Force troops occurred in September 2020 when 20 enlisted and commissioned Airmen assigned to the 16th Expeditionary Space Control Flight and 609th Air Operations Center were deployed overseas to Qatar. The unit — referred to as Space Forces Central Command — is still in place as of August 2021, and could serve as a blueprint for similar sister units around the globe.
  • Core Values: Character, Connection, Commitment, and Courage.

6. U.S. Coast Guard

  • Military Mission: The Coast Guard enforces safety on the water, assists with marine protection, and provides naval support when needed. The Coast Guard patrols the shores, performs emergency rescue operations, contains and cleans up oil spills, and helps prevent illegal drugs from entering the U.S.
  • Training: Boot camp is eight weeks, beginning with physical fitness and basic military training. Recruits must learn things like firefighting, seamanship, water survival, and marksmanship.
  • Deployments: Members of the Coast Guard perform their duties daily, and some units can be away from home for months. Actual deployments are usually shorter though, lasting a few days to a few months.
  • Core Values: Honor, Respect, and Devotion to Duty.

AAFMAA Helps Servicemembers from All Branches

Since 1879, AAFMAA has supported the financial security and independence of military families and Veterans. With services including always-affordable life insurance, expert wealth management services, customized residential mortgage loans, and exclusive survivor assistance services - Membership means more at AAFMAA. Contact us online or at 888-862-5932 to learn more about our services and how we can help you throughout your military career and beyond.