By Danielle DeSimone
You may know what the six branches of the military do, but what do they stand for? A military motto is more than just a fun saying – it is a symbol of each branch’s history and legacy of service to this nation. Each one is distinct, demonstrating the most important values of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Space Force.
So, what are the six mottos of the military? Here’s a breakdown of each one, as well as the USO’s.
U.S. Army: “This We’ll Defend”
As the oldest branch of the U.S. military, the U.S. Army’s motto is steeped in a long history of service to this country. The phrase “This We’ll Defend” was first used by the War Office of the Continental Army during the American Revolution in 1778.
Today, the motto can be found on the official U.S. Army flag as well as the Department of the Army emblem. On these images, “This We’ll Defend” is depicted on a scroll held by a rattlesnake, a symbol used on many colonial American flags during the Revolutionary War, signifying the Army’s constant readiness over the past 200+ years to defend and preserve the United States.
U.S. Marine Corps: “Semper Fidelis” – Always Faithful
The U.S. Marine Corps motto, “Semper Fidelis,” is legendary. However, “Semper Fi” (as it’s yelled, cheered, or used as a greeting) is not just a motto for the Marines – it’s a way of life. The phrase is Latin for “Always Faithful” and it embodies the Marine Corps’ forever commitment to both their fellow Marines and the United States.
Since the motto’s establishment in 1883, it has become known for its representation of Marines’ unshakeable loyalty to one another in particular. This bond can be seen not only among those currently serving in the same unit, but also between Marine veterans meeting for the first time, years after their service. “Semper Fidelis” stands for the steadfast dedication Marines will always have to fighting on behalf of this nation, as well as alongside the few, the proud, the Marines.
U.S. Navy: Undetermined
The U.S. Navy technically does not have an official motto, and there are even disagreements over what its unofficial motto might be. Some sources claim that the unofficial motto is “Non sibi sed patriae” – Latin for “Not self, but country,” a phrase inscribed above the chapel doors of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. This unofficial motto invokes the spirit of sacrifice that so many sailors and members of our Armed Forces carry with them through their service.
Some incorrectly assume that the title of the unofficial song of the U.S. Navy, “Anchors Aweigh,” is its motto, which it is not. Other sources claim that “Semper Fortis” – Latin for “Always Courageous” – is the Navy’s unofficial motto; considering that the Navy was founded in the 18th century, when sailing in a Navy required venturing out into the unknown of the vast oceans, some still uncharted, this emphasis on courage seems fitting.
Regardless of which unofficial motto is truly the one, today, the U.S. Navy continues to stand by all of these unofficial mottos’ ideals and fearlessly serves the United States both at home and abroad.
U.S. Air Force: “Aim High … Fly-Fight-Win”
Formally adopted in 2010, the U.S. Air Force’s motto of “Aim High … Fly-Fight-Win” is both a call-to-action and a promise in response. The Air Force always pushes itself to new heights (no pun intended) and expects its airmen to do the same.
The motto was chosen by the airmen themselves through an Air Force-wide survey, through which they explained to then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and other Air Force leaders that they wanted a motto that was inclusive, paying homage to the Air Force’s culture of diversity, as well as a motto that truly spoke to what it meant to be an airman. “Aim High … Fly-Fight-Win” does just that, honoring the legacy of the U.S. Air Force, while also giving currently-serving airmen something to strive for.
U.S. Coast Guard: “Semper Paratus” – Always Ready
For a military branch that is on-call 365 days a year to protect the waterways and people of the United States, the motto “Semper Paratus,” that is, “Always Ready,” seems especially appropriate. There are quite a few stories of how the Coast Guard got its motto – some say it was thanks to Capt. Francis Saltus Van Boskerck, who wrote the words to the “Semper Paratus” marching song for the United States Revenue Cutter Service, the precursor to the Coast Guard, while aboard the USRC Yamacraw.
Others say that the newspaper The New Orleans Bee bestowed the title on the branch in 1836, in praise of the USRC Ingham’s actions along the Texas coast. And there are some who say the origins are still a mystery – but it is the sentiment behind the phrase that is important. No matter the rough waters, challenging ocean rescues, or long hours of ensuring national security, the U.S. Coast Guard is always ready to respond.
U.S. Space Force: “Semper Supra” – Always Above
The newest of the U.S. military’s six branches, the U.S. Space Force recently revealed its new motto, which pays homage to its roots in the U.S. Air Force as well as the branch’s future in space. “Semper Supra” is Latin for “Always Above;” the word “always” was chosen because just as space is unending in time and depth, so too is the Space Force’s commitment to uncompromisingly protect and monitor space and U.S. satellites. “Above” was chosen to be symbolic of both the act of looking up and wondering what is beyond in space, as well as the Space Force’s value of excellence.
“Our citizens will rest easier,” Airman 1st Class Daniel Sanchez, who created the motto, said. “Knowing there is always a shield above them.”
The USO’s Many Mottos
Founded in 1941 at the outbreak of World War II, the USO has had several mottos over the years, with each one shaping how our organization spread the word to the American people about the ways in which the USO – a military support nonprofit – supports service members and their families. But a common theme in all of these mottos is the USO’s constant proximity to our troops and our unwavering dedication to the military community, no matter where their service takes them.
After all, as our mission states, “The USO strengthens America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country, throughout their service to the nation.”
- “A Home Away From Home” circa 1941-1951
- “Wherever They Go” circa 1958-1970
- “Service is Our Middle Name” (1979-1980)
- “Always Home” (circa 1991)
- “We Deliver America” (circa 1999-2001)
- “Always By Their Side” (2013)
- Be the Force Behind the Forces® (2018)
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