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.”

“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 interservice 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 hoe 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.”

Tagged with →  

12 Responses to An Army officer sums up what makes Marines different

  1. Louis Rothenstein says:

    From an old retired Army CSM. Those of us Army NCOs who have worked with Marines a bit over the years have perhaps a different outlook than some of our officers. We worked with them a little closer to where the rubber meets the road. We had a Marine Corporal working independently with us from 1st ANGLICO. Outstanding support. He was always riding the back seat of an Army Bird Dog providing naval gunfire and air support when available. He trained a few Army and AF guys to do it as well. On an operation in Vietnam (Deckhouse V Jan 67). As an advisor with ARVN it was in my Province. I witnessed most of it from the U.S.S. Iwo Jima as I was just back from a hospital in Japan. It was an amazing thing to see how well things went even though the weather sucked. On my next tour, i witnessed the Cambodian Incursion. In between a VNMC Bn with USMC Advisors and an ARVN Ranger Bn. In my opinion, the two best combat units the Vietnamese fielded. The Marines did great things with that unit, particularly fire discipline. I also had three Marine SSGs working as PRU advisors in the AO. The other services had 7s or 8s attached to CORDS They did well. Later as a 1Sgt at an Army school I worked a joint project outlining what our 1Sgts were supposed to do (pretty similar) I learned that what the Army needed was a Company Gunny and field meritorious promotions. I had 25 or so Marine intel instructors attached to my company and they were among the top supporters of all our activities. One Captain retired as a Marine LTG. I recall that the Marine Finance office screwed up the pay and travel pay for every one of them that came in. Thank God for DFAS. When I was an instructor at the Army Sergeants Major Academy, I always asked to have at least one Marine with my group to provide that different outlook and sharing of experiences. As a CSM at a command and post, we had Marine I&I staff and some specialized elements living with us and they always did more than their share. As a retiree, I belong to many different organizations. Among them I am an Associate Life Member of the Marine Corps League. When I lived in the Bay Area, I was a member of the Marines Memorial Assn. The MCL locally supports a great program with the Devil Dogs and raises funds for charitable operations in the community. My association with Marines through the years has been very, very positive and I treasure the memories.
    My Army is organized different. Those who served in good combat divisions and special operations units have their primary allegiance with those units during and after service. Our combat support and service support unit folks who served with those elements feel the same.
    I think what makes a Marine perhaps a little different is that they always carry out their mission expertly and with little whimpering. Their training has that extra whatever it is that one sees in Ranger units. They take care of one another while accomplishing difficult tasks. They leave no one behind. I read one time years back that their is no other group of people in America more successful in the business world as former USMC officers. I believe that is partly due to the little bit more emphasis the Marines place on mission accomplishment, often in less than ideal conditions. I never saw a Marine NCO get into any trouble or caused any problems when they worked with the Army. Someone instilled in them that a Marine never embarrasses the Marine Corps. That is so important when someone in uniform works away from a unit and military installation and in the eyes of the public. That is a good thing and perhaps part of character building not seen everywhere as well executed as the Marines do in our military services.
    If the author ranks the USMC as the worst branch to join, loyalty, character and integrity were apparently not in his criteria. The Marines instill these values in their officers and men. In the end game, nothing is more important than these.

  2. Michael Pressley says:

    Folks that have not been in the Corps have no business trying to explain it. And General Armstrong was my Dad's CO when he was stationed at Barksdale AFB in the fifties.

  3. […] Here’s the link: An Army officer sums up what makes Marines different. […]

  4. Anonymous says:

    Same thing in the Army. No matter the job you are given, carrying your weapon on your person is a must at all times.

  5. D. Frank Dalton (OUTLAW) says:

    Once a Marine always a Marine! Being a Marine is not an occupation, it’s a way of life until you go to guard the streets of gold!!

  6. Dave meade says:

    Good morning marine!!!!!!
    Myself ,75-78 barracks marine peace time
    Can I get your webLog-page direct
    Without going to twitter????
    Semper fi

  7. Sgt. Mike says:

    Nothing commands more respect in a room full of veterans than the words “I’m a Marine”. Served for 7 years, MOS 0311. What makes us different? There is nothing a Marine and his rifle can’t do, enough said. I admire all veterans, I understand Marines.

  8. jose barelas says:


  9. Dawn says:

    Coming from a Marine Mom this is oh so right if I’ve been listening to my Marine sons correctly. They requalify in many different areas and are always considered a rifleman. Even though my son is in supply in Afghanistan (no off base duties) he still has to bring his weapon with him where ever he goes.

  10. DJ Black Adam says:

    >Pretty fair assesment. The ARMY doesn’t want to admit it, but (as Jack said in “A Few Good Men”) “Deep down in places they don’t want to talk about at parties, they want us on the wall, they NEED us on that wall…”

Sound Off!

Share →
Facebook login by WP-FB-AutoConnect