What Separates the Marines From the Other Branches?

By Sydney Johnson

Each branch of the United States Armed Forces has unique characteristics. They each have specialized units, different uniforms and different traditions. But what specifically separates the Marines from the other branches?

Although they are one of the smaller military branches, they are elite and mighty like the rest. Here are six traits that set them apart.

The Marines Operate as a Part of the Department of the Navy

The Marine Corps is the only branch that is independent but serves as part of another branch. Originally, the branch was founded as the Continental Marines in 1775, as a separate entity from the Navy. Then, in 1834, President Andrew Jackson expressed that he wanted the Marines to be part of the Army. However, the then-Marine Corps commandant, Archibald Henderson, had proven the branch’s effectiveness on sea, in addition to land, persuading Congress to put the Marines in the Department of the Navy. The Navy and Marine Corps have been considered “sister services” ever since.

The Marines are Often First on the Ground

U.S. Marine Corps Capt. David Reece liaises between air and ground elements during Exercise Red Flag-Alaska near Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. | Photo credit Cpl. Seth Rosenberg

The Marines Corps often serves as a quick reaction force and has special units that are trained to respond to crises wherever and wherever necessary.

In fact, the branch is sometimes referred to as the “tip of the spear,” because these combat-ready units typically spearhead these conflict operations. One of these special types of units, Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs), remain prepared for combat at all times, which often means they are among the first to respond during contentious military situations.

The Marines Guard U.S. Embassies

Each branch of the military has its designated duties, and some may seem very similar. Thanks to the Marines’ versatility, they have one particularly unique responsibility: protecting our embassies.

This responsibility is exclusive to the Marines, so they have a specialized unit called the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group, which is dedicated to protecting U.S. embassies all over the world.

Photo credit Lance Cpl. Colton Garrett

U.S. Marines patrol during a simulated embassy reinforcement in Okinawa, Japan.

As of 2016, the former Commandant of the Marine Corps Robert Neller stated, “Marines are routinely serving at 174 embassies and consulates in 146 countries around the globe.”

They Learn Martial Arts

Every service member undergoes specialized training upon entry into their respective branch and before deployments, but the Marine Corps is the only branch with a program dedicated to martial arts.

Implemented in 2000, the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) prepares Marines for hand-to-hand and close quarter combat, in case they find themselves unarmed. The programs utilizes several fighting styles including Jiu-Jitsu, Taekwondo and Krav Maga.

Photo credit Lance Cpl. Devin Darden

Students in the Martial Arts Instructor course conduct sustainment techniques and physical training on Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C.

They Award “Honorary Marines”

Awarding civilians with the title “Honorary Marine” is a tradition that dates back to 1992. These individuals earn the title by making noteworthy contributions to the Marine Corps. Among those honored are Chuck Norris, Gary Sinise (who played Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump), Bugs Bunny and Bob Hope.

Photo credit Sgt. Ben Eberle

Honorary Marine and USO tour veteran Chuck Norris shakes hands with Marines in Iraq.

Honorary marines are not always famous. For example, in March of 2020, the Marines awarded photographer Barbara Mathews the esteemed title, for selflessly volunteering over 10 years to capture amazing images and video of hundreds of Marine Corps events. Fewer than 100 people have been given this title.

They Have a Very Special Holiday Mission

You’ve probably heard of Toys for Tots – the organization known for distributing toys to children whose parents struggle to afford new toys for them during the holiday season. This program is not just a nice nonprofit, it’s a Marines mission.

Photo credit Petty Officer 1st Class Cory Asato

Marine Corps Pfc. Amayrani Aguilar gives a stuffed animal to a child during a Toys for Tots distribution.

The organization, owned by The Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, is run by the Marine Corps Reserve. The Marines lead humanitarian missions all over the world, but they’ve been delivering toys since 1947. To date, they have distributed 584 million toys to children across the United States.

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