Understanding Veterans – Part Two

February 19, 2018

In Part One, we discussed the demographics and composition of the veteran community, addressing who veterans are and what they ‘look like’ upon transitioning out. If you missed it, here’s the link to the first of this three-part series about service members and veterans.

For Part Two, we introduce the military’s structure. Misconceptions about the military, limited opportunities to clarify stereotypes, and influence from the entertainment industry all contribute toward shaping a civilian’s understanding of military service. The second part in this series attempts to distinguish the five service branches and clarify organizational structure.

There are five branches of the U.S. military: the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. The Department of the Army, Navy and Air Force are directed by the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Marine Corps actually falls under the Department of the Navy. Alternatively, the Coast Guard—which initially fell under the Department of Transportation—was transferred in 2003 and now falls under the Department of Homeland Security. While the role of the armed services is predominantly to serve as a peace time force, there is an additional obligation to protect the United States, as well as its interests around the world.

The Army, with its members known as soldiers, are considered the primary land force;
The Marines act as an expeditionary force, and are often the first units to respond;
The Navy, with its members usually known as sailors, has a focus on protection of the seas;
The Air Force, with members identified as airmen, are responsible for the air and space;
The Coast Guard, with members known as coast guardsmen or ‘coasties’, has a primary mission of water rescue missions and homeland security.

Two other support structures exist that are sometimes forgotten, but still an important part of the military. Members of the National Guard and Reserves, referred to as guardsmen or reservists, are primarily responsible for responding to state emergencies and serving as a support force to active duty service members. However, in the last 16 years, both the National Guard and Reserves have played a major part in the country’s mission overseas in support of the War on Terrorism.  

The structure of the individual branches can be confusing, as every service member falls under a series of groupings, ranging from squads or teams of less than ten to units consisting of 1,000s. Essentially, each branch of service is made up of many smaller units illustrated by these graphics in Table One.  

Table 1

There is a distinct chain of command in the military starting with the President of the United States for the active duty components, and the governors of each state for the National Guard. Both have final say in activating and deploying units when necessary. Next, three categories of rank make up the framework of the services: commissioned officers, warrant officers and enlisted personnel and are outlined in Table Two. Their roles are further outlined below.

Table 2

A commissioned officer receives their commission either from a service academy like West Point, a Reserve Officer’s Training Corp (ROTC), often offered at a four-year college, or by attending an Officer Candidate School (OCS). Commissioned officers command all members of their unit to include other officers which are junior to them, but often will rely on non-commissioned officers, our next group for their expertise and guidance.

Enlisted members are the most junior of these categories and perform jobs specific to their own military occupational specialty (MOS) and normally do not have a leadership role until they reach the status of non-commissioned officers (NCO’s). Typically, NCO’s enter the service as an enlisted person or recruits, and are promoted to positions of responsibility only after proving their competence and attending specific leadership courses. NCO’s are in charge of service members junior to them, referred to as enlisted members and don’t normally command officers unless it is a training environment.

Finally, warrant officer, the third group of service members, are individuals with an advanced level of technical knowledge and are predominantly in roles as technical leaders, trainers, and managers. Warrant officers are considered higher-ranking than senior non-commissioned officers and although referred to as officers, they are subordinate to a commissioned officer.

The military’s structure can be compared to a large corporation, with officers filling roles such as president, CEOs, planners, and decision makers. NCO’s would be comparable to key leaders and supervisors in charge of personnel and/or projects. Warrant officers may serve as the technical advisors, process improvement specialists or logistics supervisors. Lower-enlisted personnel are comparable to entry-level workers and general laborers.

As mentioned in our last entry, one way to identify a veteran might be by their use of military jargon. The military uses plenty of acronyms and slang terms which are part of the military culture and service members have many ways to describe a person or an object. The result is a language all its own which could be further discussed in an entire book. To make matters more confusing, each branch has their own slang terms that can also vary from era to era. Terms like “head” (urinal), “joe” (coffee or soldier) and “POG” (person other than grunt), are all terms understood by a particular branch or by those in a specific “MOS” (Military Occupational Specialty).

Finally, the branches of service have always maintained a rivalry which has created competition and bragging rights over the years. Rivalries are an important part of our military culture, they can motivate service members to excel, created and provide comradery, and even help carry on traditions. With that said, no matter how much the different branches seem to disagree, when it comes down to it, all service members recognize they are part of a team, and work together to create the strongest volunteer force in the world.

In the final component of this three-part, we will discuss military deployments, discharges and transitions, and military benefits.

Opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of NASPA. If you agree or disagree with the content of this post, we encourage you to dialogue in the comment section below. NASPA reserves the right to remove any blog that is inaccurate or offensive.

To comment, you can login to your preferred social network. Comments are lightly moderated and we do provide the option for users to flag a comment as inappropriate.

Posted by

Get in Touch with NASPA