United States Armed Forces

The five branches of the Armed Forces have played a crucial role in America’s history since their start in 1775. Together, the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Army, and Air Force defend and serve our great country.

Service members participate in a welcome ceremony at the Pentagon. Photo credit: Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith, DOD

The United States Armed Forces consist of the nation’s five military services that are organized within four departments: the Army, the Marine Corps, the Navy, the Air Force, and the Coast Guard. The Army, Navy, and Air Force are each respectively led by a civilian secretary and a host of uniformed officers. The commandant of the Marine Corps reports to the secretary of the Navy, and the Commandant of the Coast Guard reports to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

The first element of the U.S. military was the Army National Guard, established in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636. At present, the five armed service branches employ more than 2.7 million uniformed service members and seven hundred thousand civilians to defend the nation. The Department of Defense, located in the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., administers and directs the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force. Its mission is to provide military forces to defend the country and deter war. The Secretary of Defense oversees all branches of the military and reports directly to the President, who is the Commander in Chief. Each branch of the Armed Forces has its own mission, structure, and purpose.


The United States Army, which started off as the Continental Army in 1775, is a military organization that is operationally land-based. The Army is the largest branch of the Armed Forces with 475,367 active personnel and approximately 190,902 reserve soldiers.

Soldiers receive ten weeks of basic training, or “Basic Combat Training”. Basic training is conducted at: Columbus, Georgia; Columbia, South Carolina, Louisville; Kentucky; Waynesville, Missouri; and Lawton, Oklahoma.

Mission: “The Army Mission—our purpose—remains constant: To deploy, fight and win our nation’s wars by providing ready, prompt and sustained land dominance by Army forces across the full spectrum of conflict as part of the joint force. The Army mission is vital to the nation because we are the service capable of defeating enemy ground forces and indefinitely seizing and controlling those things an adversary prizes most—its land, its resources and its population.”
Birthday: June 14, 1775
Army colors: Black, gold, and white
Army march: “The Army Goes Rolling Along”
Current slogan: “Warriors Wanted”


The United States Marines’ motto Semper Fidelis, which means “always faithful”, says much about the mission and values of the Corps. Honor, courage, and commitment support a mission of being “most ready when the nation is least ready.” The Marines are an expeditionary force that responds by air, land, and sea in combat operations or for disaster relief. Founded in 1775 to fight for independence, the Marines were first referred to as the Continental Marines. The Marine Corps consist of 184,461 active-duty and 38,994 reserve personnel.

Marines receive thirteen weeks of basic training, or “Recruit Training”. Basic training is conducted at two locations: Parris Island, South Carolina or San Diego, California.

Mission: “As America's expeditionary force in readiness since 1775, the U.S. Marines are forward deployed to win our Nation's battles swiftly and aggressively in times of crisis. We fight on land, sea and air, as well as provide forces and detachments to naval ships and ground operations.”
Birthday: November 10, 1775
Marine colors: Scarlet and gold
Marine march: “Semper Fidelis”
Current slogan: “The Few. The Proud.”


The United States Navy, founded in 1775, operates the fleet, which consists of aircraft carriers, amphibious assault ships, cruisers, littoral combat ships, destroyers, submarines and auxiliary support ships. The Navy is smaller than the Army, with 329,809 active-duty and 59,499 reserve Sailors. In addition to their rank, Sailors earn rating badges that identify their professional area of expertise. The sea-based military organization is vital because water covers about 70 percent of the earth’s surface, 80 percent of the world’s population lives near an ocean, and 90 percent of all international trade travels by sea. Navy vessels and aircraft are stationed in large homeports such as Norfolk, Virginia, San Diego, California, Mayport, Florida, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Japan, Italy, and other locations around the globe.

Sailors receive eight weeks of basic training, or “Boot Camp”. Basic training is conducted at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, Illinois. 

Mission: “The mission of the Navy is to maintain, train and equip combat-ready naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas.”
Birthday: October 13, 1775
Navy colors: Blue and gold
Navy march: “Anchors Aweigh”
Current slogan: “Forged by the Sea”


The United States Air Force became an independent service only in 1947. It was the U.S. Army Air Forces. Its mission—"fly, fight, and win"—has recently been expanded to space and cyberspace, in addition to air combat operations.

Airmen receive eight and a half weeks of basic training, or “Basic Military Training”. Basic training is conducted at San Antonio, Texas.

Mission: “The mission of the United States Air Force is to fly, fight and win in air, space and cyberspace. Our rich history and our vision guide our Airmen as we pursue our mission with excellence and integrity to become leaders, innovators and warriors.”
Birthday: September 18, 1947
Air Force colors: Ultramarine blue, golden yellow
Air Force march: “The U.S. Air Force”
Current slogan: “Aim High, Fly-Fight-Win”


The United States Coast Guard was established in 1790 when George Washington ordered ten vessels, called cutters, to enforce federal tariffs and prevent smuggling. In 1915, the Cutter Service merged with the U.S. Life-Saving Service to establish the U.S. Coast Guard. In 2003, the Coast Guard became part of the Department of Homeland Security. The Coast Guard is the only armed force to be operated by the Department of Homeland Security; however, in times of war, the Coast Guard becomes part of the Navy.

Coast Guardsmen receive eight weeks of basic training, or “Recruit Training”. Basic training is conducted at Cape May, New Jersey.

Mission: “The mission of the United States Coast Guard is to ensure our Nation's maritime safety, security and stewardship.”
Birthday: August 4, 1790
Coast Guard colors: Coast Guard Red, Coast Guard Blue, and White
Coast Guard march: “Semper Paratus”
Current slogan: “Semper Paratus” (Always ready)

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