Chapter Six
Service Identity and Joint Warfighting

Joint Service Color Guard advances colors during retirement ceremony of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Henry H. Shelton, Fort Myer, Virginia, October 2, 2001

Joint Service Color Guard advances colors during retirement ceremony of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Henry H. Shelton, Fort Myer, Virginia, October 2, 2001

Helene C. Stikkel

[Note: This chapter was first published as chapter 8, “Service Identity and Joint Warfighting,” in The Armed Forces Officer (NDU Press and Potomac Books, 2007). The original version has been modified here.]

The days of any Service (Active duty or Reserve component) operating as a truly independent actor are gone. The five Services fight together as a team, which means they must plan and train as a team. This in turn means that, in order to be effective leaders, 21st-century noncommissioned officers/petty officers must know something about the other Services.

Fighting, living, or operating as a joint force does not mean that all Services play equal parts in every battle or exercise. It does mean that they are partners in the overall business of defending the United States, its territory, population, and national interests, and therefore the best each has to offer must be woven into every plan, exercise, and battle. There can be no “lone wolves” among the Services because U.S. security cannot afford such free agency. When the Nation is threatened, the Navy does not go to war, nor does the Army; the Nation goes to war, using all of the Services’ capabilities in the combination that best suits the particular threat posed and the war plan designed to defeat it.

While “jointness” has become the shorthand description for this five-Service partnership (with its own color, purple), there is another way to characterize the relationship among them, one with deep roots in American history and political culture: E pluribus unum—from many, one. Inscribed on the banner held in the beak of the eagle on the Great Seal of the United States, approved by Congress on June 20, 1782, these words convey the reality that out of the original 13 colonies, one nation emerged.1 The 13 new states kept their own identities, but together they constituted one nation that was not just the sum of the 13, but greater than the total when combined.

So, too, from five Service branches comes the one entity charged with the defense of the Nation—the Armed Forces of the United States. Tradition and identity, including uniforms and customs, matter. So do the requirements generated by the distinctive roles the various Services perform in fighting on land, at sea, in the air, and in space, and the different capabilities they bring to the battle. Thus, the Services keep their separate traditions and identities, their distinctive uniforms and customs, but out of them emerges a single armed force that, because of the synergies among them, is greater, more flexible, and more capable than the mere sum.

This book is all about being an NCO or PO in the Armed Forces of the United States in the 21st century. This involves being a Soldier, Marine, Sailor, Airman, or Coastguardsman, each maintaining a distinctive identity, but it also involves being a member of something larger. Being a fully effective NCO or PO requires knowing one’s own Service well (its capabilities as well as its limitations), and knowing the other Services well enough to appreciate their strengths and weaknesses, what they bring to the fight, and how their capabilities can best mesh.

On a deeper level, each Service has its own culture. It is culture that best defines and describes any organization. It also best defines and describes what it means to be a member of that organization. Thus, part of this chapter’s contribution to understanding what it means to be an NCO or PO in the Armed Forces is to capture, albeit in snapshot style, the culture of each of the Services. As used here, culture is taken to have two meanings: at the organizational level, how this Service defines and sees itself, and at the individual level, what it means to be a Soldier, Marine, Sailor, Airman, or Coastguardsman.


Army Service culture is founded on a fundamental belief in the human dimension of war and the centrality of land combat in its prosecution. The Army sees its two core competencies as “[t]raining and equipping soldiers and growing leaders” and “[p]roviding relevant and ready land power to Combatant Commanders as part of the Joint Force.”2 It believes that its purpose, as part of the joint team, is to fight and win the Nation’s wars. Since its founding during the American Revolution, the Army has operated in concert with allies and the other Services. The Army acknowledges the interdependence of all the Armed Forces, indeed their necessary operational integration, but Soldiers cannot imagine any military objective worth accomplishing that does not require dominance on land—“boots on the ground,” to be decisive. Historian and veteran T.R. Fehrenbach wrote in his history of the Korean War: “[You] may fly over a land forever; you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life—but if you desire to defend it, protect it, and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman legions did, by putting your young men into the mud.”3

I want you for the U.S. Army Poster

Every Soldier a Warrior. The Army’s unique function is found in Title 10, U.S. Code: “It shall be organized, trained, and equipped primarily for prompt and sustained combat incident to operations on land.” The Army culture puts a high premium on the quality of individual and unit endurance.

The Army perceives its operational environment to be complex and challenging. Its ground forces are organized in a hierarchy of headquarters, each of which controls a number of subordinate units performing multiple coordinated tasks simultaneously. Command and control are fragile. The risk of surprise is omnipresent, and mobility advantage is often relatively limited vis-à-vis the adversary’s. Land forces fight with multiple echelons from theater commander to squad leader, compared with two or three for sea or air forces.

The nature of land combat underscores a preference for organizational autonomy and redundancy, which tends to prejudice Soldiers against relying on others for essential ingredients of tactical survival and success. It also makes Army officers and NCOs instinctive planners who try to minimize chance by detailed study and anticipation.

America’s Army. The Army identifies itself intimately with the Nation. Because it sees itself as a citizen force, it perceives itself to have a unique relationship with, as well as unique obligations to, the American people. Officers and NCOs alike are inculcated with a sense of obligation to ensure the Soldier’s well-being that sometimes achieves a near parity with the obligation to accomplish assigned missions: “Mission First, People Always.”

Soldiers value doctrine, theory, and history. The Soldier prefers troop duty to the staff, training to education, and the practical to the theoretical. At the same time, many NCOs read some theory, and there is always a subculture of thinkers ready to fill the pages of the Services’ professional journals. Professional schools form a central part of the Army career for both commissioned and noncommissioned officers. Success in the Army is built on the cult of the commander, the one who gets things done, personally responsible for all that the unit does or fails to do. The NCO is an integral partner in that effort.

The Army Is People. The Army views itself as the most human-centered Service, yet it demands enormous human sacrifice. The Soldier is seen both as indomitable in battle and merciful to those in need, noncombatants and defeated foes alike. Consider General Order 100 from 1863: “Men who take up arms against one another in public war do not cease on this account to be moral beings responsible to one another.”4 The Army perceives itself to be an institution of values. At the core of the Army’s self-identity is The Soldier. The Army asserts that it equips Soldiers; it does not man equipment.

Selfless service is a core value of the Army and of the Soldier: sacrifice for comrades, sacrifice for country, and if necessary, wounds and loss of life. The Tomb of the Unknowns is its most sacred monument. At Antietam, the Soldier Monument is marked with the phrase “Not for themselves but for their country.”

Marine Corps

Marines are different. They have their own air arm, and they deploy on land and at sea. They have a hymn, not a song. Marines are different because of their ethos. Chapter 1 of Marine Corps Warfighting Publication 6-11, Leading Marines, is titled “Our Ethos.” The introduction to that publication captures the essence of the Marine Corps ethos:

Being a Marine comes from the eagle, globe, and anchor that is tattooed on the soul of every one of us who wears the Marine Corps uniform. . . . Unlike physical or psychological scars, which over time, tend to heal and fade in intensity, the eagle, globe, and anchor only grow more defined—more intense—the longer you are a Marine. “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”5

Marine recruiting poster

That tattoo reflects a selfless spirit of being one of the few. Ask any Marine what he or she does, and the answer will be “I’m a Marine.” What is most important to a Marine is being a Marine, not what rank or military occupational specialty he or she holds. It is the culture of the Marine Corps that makes it different not only from society as a whole, but also from the other Services. The Marine Corps is determined to be different—in military appearance, obedience to orders, disciplined behavior, adherence to traditions, and most important, the unyielding conviction that the Corps exists to fight. It has a deep appreciation for its rich history and traditions, which instills pride and responsibility in every Marine down to the lowest levels. Older Marines pass the traditions of the Corps to younger ones, ensuring they understand that the successes and sacrifices of the past set the path for the future. Since the first two battalions of Marines were raised by an act of the Continental Congress in 1775, many recruited from Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, the Corps has distinguished itself in every conflict in our nation’s history. What follows are some of the more important characteristics that have shaped Marine Corps culture not only in the past, but also today.

Every Marine Is a Rifleman. In fact, every Marine, officer or enlisted, is trained first to be a rifleman before being trained in any other specialty. It is this bedrock premise and the training that goes with it that set all Marines on a common foundation. Leaders are molded with the same training given to those they will lead, building empathy and understanding unattainable in the other Services. Every facet of the Marine Corps exists to support the rifleman, and every Marine understands that.

Taking Care of Our Own. The characteristic that best defines Marines is selflessness—a spirit that places the self-interest of the individual after that of the institution and the team, all working toward a common goal. It is important that the unit succeed, not the individual. It is common to hear Marines speak of their leaders based on how well they take care of subordinates. “Take care of your people” and “take care of each other” are imbued in Marines from their first day in the Corps. Officers and NCOs eat last. They inspect the chow hall by eating in it. They know how their troops live in the barracks because they go there, and in the field they never have more creature comforts than their troops do. The only privilege of rank is that of ensuring that your subordinates are cared for. This culture defines what the Marine Corps is and who Marines are: men and women who exhibit extraordinary leadership and courage, both physical and moral, shaped by their dedication to the institution and each other.

Combined Arms Expeditionary Forces in Readiness. Operationally, there are four generally accepted characteristics that define and describe the Marine Corps. First, although capable of deploying and employing by various means, the Marine specialty is amphibiousness: the Corps comes from the sea, thus Marines think of themselves as “Soldiers of the Sea.” Therefore, the Service focuses primarily on the coastal or littoral regions of the world. Second, the Marine Corps trains and operates as a Marine Air-Ground Task Force, a combined-arms, air-ground team, logistically self-sustainable for short periods of time. Third, as a force-in-readiness, the Marine Corps is a national “swing force”—forward deployed and expeditionary by nature—ready to respond rapidly to crises. Fourth, the Marine Corps considers itself a light-to-medium force, packing a quick and lethal punch. Although prepared to operate across the full spectrum of conflict, the Corps is more at home and most effective as a light-to-medium force that can be on scene quickly with enough firepower and sustainability to conduct operations as an “enabling force” until heavier units arrive.

The Marine Corps Is Small. As part of its expeditionary nature, the operating forces of the Marine Corps live on “camps,” not forts or bases, and maintain a high tooth-to-tail ratio, relying on the other Services for a large portion of logistics, transportation, education, and combat service support. Many Marines receive specialized training at the other Service schools. There are no Marine doctors, nurses, dentists, field medical corpsmen, or chaplains—all of these are provided by the Navy. The Air Force and Navy get the Marines to the fight, with the Army assisting toward sustainment if Marines are forward deployed for extended periods.

Most Active-duty Marine forces are in the operating forces, with the bulk of those forces in the Fleet Marine Forces. These operating forces provide the combat power that is immediately available to the combatant commanders for employment.

To Marines, expeditionary means more than just getting there quickly. The Marines in the operating forces—most living in a Spartan-like “temporary-residence” mindset when not deployed—are eager members of the combined-arms team. This team is tailored toward a maneuver warfare approach to combat, where power from the sea is projected across the littoral, ideally maximizing the combined effect of its resources at a critical seam of the enemy’s defense.

In 1957, the Commandant of the Marine Corps asked Lieutenant General Victor Krulak, “Why does the United States need a Marine Corps?” Five days later, General Krulak replied:

Essentially, as a result of the unfailing conduct of our Corps over the years, they (our nation’s citizens) believe three things about Marines. First they believe when trouble comes to our country there will be Marines—somewhere—who, through hard work, have made and kept themselves ready to do something useful about it, and do it at once.

Second, they believe that when the Marines go to war they invariably turn in a performance that is dramatically and decisively successful—not most of the time, but always. Their faith and their convictions in this regard are almost mystical.

The third thing they believe about Marines is that our Corps is downright good for . . . our country; that the Marines are masters of a form of unfailing alchemy which converts unoriented youths into proud, self-reliant stable citizens—citizens into whose hands the nation’s affairs may safely be entrusted.

Krulak concluded:

I believe the burden of all this can be summarized by saying that, while the functions which we discharge must always be done by someone, and while an organization such as ours is the correct one to do it, still, in terms of cold mechanical logic, the United States does not need a Marine Corps. However, for good reasons which completely transcend logic, the United States wants a Marine Corps. Those reasons are strong; they are honest, they are deep rooted and they are above question or criticism. So long as they exist—so long as the people are convinced that we can really do the three things I mentioned—we are going to have a Marine Corps. . . . And, likewise, should the people ever lose that conviction—as a result of our failure to meet their high—almost spiritual standards—the Marine Corps will then quickly disappear.6

In 1935, Gunnery Sergeant Walter Holzworth was asked how the Marine Corps came by its reputation as one of the world’s greatest fighting formations. He replied, “Well, they started right out telling everybody how great they were. Pretty soon they got to believing it themselves. And they have been busy ever since proving they were right.”7


“The profound influence of sea commerce upon the wealth and strength of countries was clearly seen long before the true principles which governed its growth and prosperity were decided,” wrote Alfred Thayer Mahan in his classic, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660–1783.8 As Margaret Tuttle Sprout put it, “Mahan’s studies convinced him that sea power, conceived on a broader scale, would constitute for the United States . . . an instrument of policy serving to enhance the nation’s power and prestige.”9

Join the Navy advertisement

Like many other navies, the U.S. Navy has always seen itself intimately tied to national power—protecting it, enhancing it, advancing it. From the seed of this idea has grown the rich heritage that has shaped the way the Navy has done business for centuries on any of “the seven seas.” As a seagoing service, the Navy is built on surface ships, submarines, and aircraft, supported by a seaborne logistics force, protecting U.S. interests at sea and on the land immediately adjacent to the sea. Moreover, the culture of the Navy is built on this idea, shaped by—and shaping—this rich heritage.

Those Who Go Down to the Sea in Ships. The Navy—and its Sailors—go to sea. For Sailors, tours at sea and tours ashore are two different things entirely. Sailors often pride themselves, indeed brag about, how many months or years of their careers they have spent at sea. The oceans are vast, so tours at sea are long, usually measured in months rather than weeks. The Navy culture is a deployment culture—deployments form the rhythm of Navy life for the Sailors and for their families. If “home is where the heart is,” then many, perhaps most, Sailors have two homes, one with family and friends ashore, and the other with shipmates on deployment. The Navy’s worldwide presence and availability are its hallmarks, and usually make the Service the first on the scene when trouble erupts affecting U.S. interests in any corner of the globe. To this day, the Navy says, and on some level believes, that when a crisis springs up, the first question the President of the United States asks is, “Where are the carriers?”

Independence. The Navy has always been the most independent of the Services. In its formative years, when a ship went to sea, the Navy cut nearly all of its ties to its place of origin. The often harsh nature of the operating environment at sea forces the Navy to a culture of self-reliance. In the days before modern communications, when the captain of a ship surveyed the horizons from the bridge, he was the master of all he surveyed. There was no one else, including senior officers, there.

Autonomy of Command at Sea. With the captain being the sole word of authority onboard, every decision rested squarely on his shoulders. Even after technology created the ability to “talk to the boss” around the clock, anywhere in the world, the habit of autonomous operations continued to reside in the naval forces. Command by negation, a concept unique to naval command and control, allows subordinate commanders the freedom to operate as they see best, keeping authorities informed of decisions made, until the senior overrides a decision. The Navy is the only Service that uses the acronym UNODIR—UNless Otherwise DIRected—by which a commanding officer informs the boss of a proposed course of action, and only if the boss overrides it will it not be taken. The subordinate is informing the boss, not asking permission.

Community Subcultures. One other important element of Navy culture does not have ancient roots, but is rather a function of the evolution of the Service and, to a great extent, the evolution of technology and hardware. More so than members of the other Services, Sailors identify with a specific warfare specialty or community. The Army has its infantry, artillery, and armor troops, for example, but the powerful identities of the warfare communities in the Navy exceed anything their other comrades in arms know. While some of this power comes from parochialism, there is a more substantial reason for it. No matter their branch, all Soldiers operate on, or near to, the ground. Land warfare is their specialty; they work on the ground. In contrast, some Sailors operate on the surface of the water, some underneath it, others fly high above it, and still others use the water as the springboard for special operations on land. They think differently because they have to—the varying mediums in which they operate demand it.

Surface Sailors see themselves as the backbone of the naval service, involved in all facets of our nation’s defense from power projection ashore to maritime interdiction operations and law enforcement. Submariners take pride in being known as the “Silent Service,” referring not only to the stealthiness of their platform, but also to their culture of not discussing their specific operations with others. Since 1910 when the first naval officer was ordered to flight training, naval aviators have assumed an increasingly important role in the Navy, and with it, a style in many ways more like those of their fellow aviators in other Services than like those of their fellow Sailors in other communities. The SEALs (Sea, Air, Land) embody both a flexibility beyond that of their fellow Sailors and a bond between officers and enlisted that is unique within the Navy. This latter is both the reason for and the product of the single Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) course that all SEALs—officers and enlisted members—must complete.

Navy–Marine Corps Team. One other element of the Navy culture has to do with the close linkage between it and the Marine Corps. With both branches united under the Department of the Navy, sharing one academy as a commissioning source, and bearing a history of partnership dating back to the 18th century, the Navy–Marine Corps team is able not only to influence events at sea but also to project power ashore, defending and advancing U.S. interests around the world.

Air Force

“Man’s flight through life is sustained by the power of his knowledge.” These words, written by Austin “Dusty” Miller and inscribed on the Eagle and Fledglings statue at the U.S. Air Force Academy, capture Air Force Service culture. At the heart of this culture is an idea that aviation transformed both civil society and warfare. Aircraft revolutionized war by adding a third dimension to land and sea operations, along with unmatched speed, range, mobility, and flexibility in both combat and support activities. In a like manner, evolving space technology transforms warfare on the Earth’s surface. Space capabilities provide revolutionary strides in global presence, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, communications, geolocation, navigation, weather, and precision weaponry. The airplane and spacecraft also changed society dramatically by opening new horizons of knowledge and shattering previous barriers of time and distance. They made the world smaller. The realities of technology’s impact altered profoundly how we travel, how we view the world, and how we fight.

Air Force Ad

Current Air Force culture emphasizes the term Airman. In the past, this word referred to pilots and navigators, but now it refers to anyone who understands and appreciates the full range of air and space capabilities and can employ or support some aspect of airpower and space power. The Air Force understands that not all aviators wear a blue uniform; some wear green or khaki or fight from ships. Moreover, not all Airmen are aviators. Nonflying air and space operators, combat support and rescue forces, security forces, and intelligence and logistics troops, and numerous others in “support” functions vitally contribute to air and space superiority. They are all Airmen, and together they form the air and space team.

The concept of independence formed the bedrock of Air Force identity in its early days. Pioneer Airmen believed that the air arm must achieve Service independence in order to operate most effectively and provide the single-minded focus to maximize airpower’s potential. At the core of that belief was their understanding, gained through theory and experience, of the strengths and weaknesses of airpower and space power. Early airpower theory stressed strategic airpower, that is, the ability to destroy an enemy’s warmaking capability by attacking vital centers of industrial or communications infrastructure. Important too was the airplane’s capability to provide support to ground troops and air superiority. Indeed, at its inception in 1947 as a distinct and separate Service, the Air Force began with three primary commands: Strategic Air Command, Tactical Air Command, and Air Defense Command.

Although strategic attack, tactical support, and air defense remain important operational functions of airpower and space power, contemporary air and space doctrine emphasizes support to joint and combined operations. It describes the contribution of airpower and space power to the joint warfighting team through “the tenets of air and space power.” Air Force Doctrine Document 1, Air Force Basic Doctrine, Organization, and Command, describes the tenets of airpower as the “fundamental guiding truths” that reflect not only the unique historical and doctrinal evolution of airpower, but also the specific current understanding of the nature of airpower. These tenets, which are interconnected, overlapping, and often interlocking, emphasize that airpower must:

  • be centrally controlled and decentrally executed
  • be flexible and versatile
  • produce synergistic effects
  • offer a unique form of persistence
  • be prioritized
  • be balanced.

These tenets reflect the specific lessons of air and space operations over history and require informed judgment in application. On the other hand, historically, there were inherent limitations of airpower. They too were recognized early in the airplane’s development:

  • technology and capital dependent: not every country has the industrial, scientific, or financial resources to build modern aircraft
  • transitory: aircraft cannot live in their medium as surface forces can; they must land to refuel and re-arm
  • weather and night: the natural phenomena of rain, wind, clouds, and darkness present formidable barriers to flight
  • inability to hold ground: for surface advocates, this is the most damning limitation; only troops can occupy and therefore control events on the ground.

Over the past century of flight, technology enhanced airpower’s strengths and diminished its traditional weaknesses. While space assets do not share the same limitations, scientific, technological, and budgetary obstacles pose challenges. Today’s Air Force emphasizes mastery of the capabilities and potential of airpower and space power, while understanding fully their limitations. Along the same lines, in order to appreciate Air Force Service culture, the NCO/PO should comprehend the following ideas that mark the Air Force vision.

Unity of Command and Centralized Control/Decentralized Execution. Airmen still believe that the Air Force is the Service most oriented to think in strategic, operational, and tactical dimensions; to think globally; and to appreciate and emphasize time. Hence, Airmen should work for Airmen, and the senior Airman should work for the geographic combatant commander (theater commander) to maximize the capabilities of the joint Service team.

Future-oriented and Technology-focused. Advances in technology dominate both the official and unofficial culture of the Air Force. In one sense, Air Force personnel tend to identify with their plane, space system, or Service specialty. Since it often takes years to master the technology and procedures involved, this cultural trait is natural, but today’s Air Force emphasizes a common mission and doctrine to minimize division. Additionally, since rapid technological advances dominate air war, Airmen believe in the words of one of the pioneers of airpower theory, Italian Air Marshal Giulio Douhet: “Victory smiles upon those who anticipate the changes in the character of war, not upon those who wait to adapt themselves after the changes occur.”10

Space: Unlimited Horizons. With scientific advances opening exciting vistas of space, Douhet’s remark captures Air Force thinking for the 21st century. Today’s Airman appreciates the value of space as “the ultimate high-ground” and views American space supremacy as an imperative. Today’s Air Force is committed to developing tomorrow’s space capability in three vital areas: unsurpassed military and civilian space cadre, a strong and consistently funded space industrial base, and commitment to leading-edge space research and exploration. Thus, the Air Force considers itself a genuine air and space force.

Adaptability and Change. From the dawn of flight, Airmen understood the vital role of nonmilitary aviation. The founders of the Air Force consciously developed ties to civilian aerospace industry and the airlines as well as to popular culture in an attempt to develop “air mindedness” and public acceptance. Like civilian industry, the Air Force is based on adaptability and change: new ideas are encouraged, and new management trends are often adopted.

Expeditionary and Forward-deployed. For most of its first 50 years, the Air Force conducted global operations from fixed bases within the continental United States or overseas. With the end of the Cold War and a rise in overseas contingency operations, Air Force culture and operations shifted to an expeditionary, forward-deployed reality. Concentrating on rapid, effective deployment, bare-base operations, and crisis-response actions, the Air and Space Expeditionary Force represents not only a new organization and training focus, but also a new attitude.

With a shorter Service history, fewer cherished traditions, and more emphasis on change, the Air Force often struggles with identity. Airmen master their individual specialties and become highly skilled, but they sometimes become overly specialized, and thus lose perspective on broader Service concerns. Nevertheless, the Air Force prides itself on mission focus and accomplishment. Air Force culture looks to the future and attempts to lead technological trends.

Coast Guard

In 1790, the First Congress of the United States established a small maritime law enforcement agency to assist in collecting the new nation’s customs duties. For the next eight years this Revenue Marine (later called the Revenue Cutter Service) was the nation’s only naval force and so was soon assigned military duties. Over time, the Revenue Cutter Service . . . acquired new responsibilities. . . . The result is today’s U. S. Coast Guard—a unique force that carries out an array of civil and military responsibilities touching on almost every facet of the maritime environment. . . .

Coast Guard ad

[T]he Coast Guard’s legal core is as a military service, invested with unique law enforcement authorities and leavened with a well-earned reputation for humanitarian service. These singular attributes enable us to satisfy a broad, multi-mission mandate from our nation. Our core values of Honor, Respect, and Devotion to Duty are key to fulfilling that mandate.11

The Coast Guard’s foundation doctrine articulates the essence of the Nation’s smallest branch of the Armed Forces. Two hundred plus years as the only armed Service assigned a vast array of civil responsibilities and missions have caused the Coast Guard’s culture to be distinctly different from its four larger military cousins. The Nation has long recognized that the Coast Guard requires military discipline and training to perform its national defense duties and its often dangerous maritime security and safety missions successfully. When Alexander Hamilton originally suggested forming the Revenue Marine, he insisted on organizing it along military lines and convinced President George Washington to commission Revenue Marine officers. Thus began the formation of the military culture and history of this small, unique naval Service.

To understand the Coast Guard’s unique service culture, one must recognize that it is the compilation of several interrelated histories and cultures. Formed in 1790 as what would later be called the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, it combined with the U.S. Life-Saving Service in 1915 to form the U.S. Coast Guard. The Coast Guard would later absorb the U.S. Lighthouse Service and Bureau of Maritime Inspection and Navigation. The distinctive service that exists today includes attributes and core values from each organization, expanding and strengthening the Coast Guard’s maritime culture. Here are a few highlights of the things that form Coast Guard culture today.

A Naval Service. The Coast Guard is a naval service. It honors the same naval ceremonies, customs, and traditions as its larger sea Service cousins. From the titles it attaches to its ranks and rates to the nautical nomenclature used in everyday speech, the Coast Guard shares a common maritime history with Sailors everywhere. Coastguardsmen have a deep affection for the sea and its lore. Coast Guard cutters are U.S. warships. The Cuttermen who sail in these ships continue a long and distinguished seagoing heritage. Having fought side by side at home and abroad in our nation’s conflicts, the Coast Guard is inspired by the history and tradition of the U.S. Navy as well as its own. Every Coastguardsman must remain Semper Paratus—Always Ready—to answer the call.

All Things Maritime. The Coast Guard’s many roles and missions require it to possess a rare blend of humanitarian, law enforcement, regulatory, diplomatic, and military capabilities. The Coast Guard’s many broad regulatory mandates require it to monitor and understand all manner of activity on or near the water. In short, the Coast Guard protects those on the sea, protects Americans against threats delivered by the sea, and protects the sea itself. This omnipresence provides a “cop on the beat” familiarity with the waterfront and a deep understanding of the many occupations and enterprises that make their living on or around the sea. A long, distinguished history of enforcing international maritime treaties and successful joint naval operations extends this comprehensive knowledge and understanding of all things maritime far beyond the borders of the United States.

Face-to-face Interaction with the Citizens It Serves. The Coast Guard’s many civil, peacetime missions require it to have far greater day-to-day interaction with the American public than the other branches of the Armed Forces. From rescuing a recreational boater in distress to conducting an inspection on a large merchant ship, many citizens have reason to have routine contact with Coast Guard personnel. This frequent interaction presents extraordinary challenges for the organization and individual Coastguardsman. Coast Guard personnel must exercise their powers prudently and with restraint. In his 1791 Letter of Instruction to Revenue Cutter officers, Alexander Hamilton charged them to “overcome difficulties . . . by a cool and temperate perseverance in [your] duty.”12 That standard remains integral to Coast Guard culture today.

Small Units in Small Places. The Coast Guard has very few large bases. It is an organization dominated by small boat stations, small cutters (ships), and small air stations—often in equally small coastal communities far from other military facilities. These small units are integral parts of the community. Often operating far from higher command authority, junior Coast Guard leaders, including POs, enjoy a clear mandate for on-scene initiative, but also bear immense responsibility for the well-being and conduct of their crews.

“You Have to Go Out but You Don’t Have to Come Back.” Coastguardsmen are taught to avoid or mitigate unnecessary risk, but this historic, deep-rooted saying from the U.S. Life-Saving Service captures the Coast Guard’s heritage of selfless service to the Nation. Whether it is combat, law enforcement, or search-and-rescue operations, the Coast Guard does dangerous work in hostile environments. Selfless acts by courageous men and women using their tools and their wits under dangerous conditions to get the job done are the foundation of Coast Guard culture. A lifeboat crashing through the surf or a helicopter in a low hover over a vessel in distress are the enduring images of the Coast Guard at work.

Maritime Cop on the Beat. Maritime law enforcement and border control are the oldest of the Coast Guard’s many responsibilities and the historic core of its existence. Stopping and boarding ships at sea provided the foundation upon which the Coast Guard’s broader and more complex present-day mission set is built. The burden of being the Nation’s primary maritime law enforcement service is an essential and inescapable component of Coast Guard culture.

The Coast Guard’s relatively small size, assignment within the Department of Homeland Security, and civil responsibilities and missions make its culture and authorities unique among the U.S. Armed Forces. As stated in Coast Guard Publication 1, U.S. Coast Guard: America’s Maritime Guardian, “What makes the Coast Guard unique is that in executing our diverse missions, we harmonize seemingly contradictory mandates. We are charged at once to be police officers, sailors, warriors, humanitarians, regulators, stewards of the environment, diplomats, and guardians of the coast.”13

Guard and Reserve

To keep the United States secure and to protect its vital interests across the globe, the Armed Forces rely on a Total Force construct composed of both Active-duty and Reserve components. The Reserve components consist of the Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, Air Force Reserve, Coast Guard Reserve, Army National Guard of the United States, and Air National Guard of the United States. The purpose of the Reserve components, as prescribed by law, is to “provide trained units and qualified persons available for active duty in the armed forces, in time of war or national emergency . . . whenever more units and persons are needed than are in the regular components.”15

National Guard Ad

The Reserve components are commensurately organized, trained, and equipped as their Active-duty counterparts, and over recent decades have steadily transformed from a strategic reserve to a fully operational force capable of seamlessly integrating with Active-duty forces for roles across the spectrum of conflict and engagement. They play a vital role in the global security environment through both integrated missions with Active-duty forces, as well as specialized missions that the Reserve component is uniquely suited for and fully prepared to perform. They not only integrate with Active forces operationally, but they uniquely represent the Armed Forces’ closest link to the American public through their roles within their communities.

Members of the various Army National Guard, Air National Guard, and Service Reserve forces share the culture and heritage of their Services, but in at least three ways their cultures are somewhat different from that of their Active component brothers and sisters.

First, most Guardsmen and Reservists spend most of their lives as part of the broader civilian population, and thus serve as military ambassadors to the American people. Unless activated for a specific purpose, they spend 1 weekend a month and 2 weeks a year as full-time Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen, and Coastguardsmen. People who join the Guard or Reserves maintain their full-time civilian employment while serving on weekends, completing training, and ultimately deploying. They make this choice knowing the hardships of balancing family commitments, civilian employment, and military obligations.

National Guard armories and Reserve bases are located in more than 3,000 communities across the United States. Guard and Reserve members are located in nearly every congressional district. They have links to their local civic and elected leadership, with relationships developed in schools, churches, clubs, sports, and civic organizations. They are responsible for telling the military’s story to the vast majority of the American people who have never served. They also help ensure that a more diverse military population is better aware of, and connected to, the citizens it serves.

Second, National Guardsmen have a distinctive role as ambassadors abroad through the State Partnership Program (SPP). With partnerships with 65 foreign countries, located in all six geographic combatant commands, the National Guard’s SPP builds enduring relationships that meet U.S. global security objectives. This innovative, low-cost, and high-impact program delivers a significant return on investment by motivating partner countries to share in the burden of global security. For over 20 years, National Guard members and their partner country counterparts have focused on small footprint activities, including exercises, rotational presence, and advisory services to achieve security objectives. Servicemembers often forge relationships with partner countries that last throughout their careers. Some partner countries observed the U.S. military’s model of empowering NCOs/POs to take on a greater share of leadership responsibilities and decided to apply it in their own armed forces.

Third, Army and Air National Guardsmen can serve in several different legal statuses: state Active duty (SAD), Title 32, and Title 10 of the U.S. Code. They can have two different commanders in chief: their state governor and the President of the United States.

SAD allows militia members to perform their military duties within their respective states without violating Federal laws, such as the Posse Comitatus Act, which normally prohibits law enforcement by military personnel. This legal status provides the governor with an option to use militia members for law enforcement purposes within the state. The governor of each state retains command and control over the National Guard forces called to state Active duty. Thus, in contrast with their Active-duty counterparts, Guardsmen are more solidly anchored in their respective states.

Title 32 of the U.S. Code is another attractive flexible legal option particular to the National Guard. Under this legal provision, militia members serve on Active duty for a specific Federal purpose. Following the 9/11 attacks, for example, National Guard members provided security details at airports within their states in Title 32 status after being called upon by the President. Out of all legal statuses, Title 32 offers states the most flexibility, insofar as it allows the governor to retain control over the state’s own militia while ensuring that the Federal Government subsidizes the costs of activating the force.

Finally, the President can call the National Guard to Active duty under Title 10. Federalizing the National Guard places control of the forces under the President as Commander in Chief, just like any other Federal force. A federalized National Guard member is no different from an Active-duty member with same rights and protections.


These five powerful Services, as well as the Guard and Reserves, are diverse but complementary, and together they constitute the Armed Forces of the United States. The challenge for NCOs/POs is to be simultaneously masters of their own Services and knowledgeable partners of the others. Taking appropriate pride in one’s own Service is in order, but that should never stray into arrogance regarding the other Services. Different does not mean inferior; it means different. The talented, professional NCO/PO—at any pay grade—must be ready, willing, and able to leverage the best of each of the Services as the mission requires.

Joint warfighting is the employment of the Armed Forces in a common effort to achieve a desired end. Joint warfighting is not new. George Washington’s victory at Yorktown depended on cooperation with naval forces, that is, the French fleet. Ulysses S. Grant’s victories on the western rivers were built largely on Navy cooperation with Army forces onshore. The great amphibious landings of World War II could not have taken place without imaginative and detailed integration of the efforts and complementary capabilities of all the Nation’s military forces.

What has changed in the 21st century is the overlapping nature of individual Service capabilities within a single area of operations. Essentially, the range of weapons and communication systems, combined with the ability to create and operate sophisticated information networks, promises to reduce the theater of war to a single battlespace on which effects created by forces of all Services can be employed selectively and simultaneously throughout the area, much as Napoleon Bonaparte directed subordinate units around early 19th-century battlefields.

As Napoleon’s cavalry, artillery, and infantry retained unique characteristics because of differences in capabilities, operating requirements, and skills, so today’s military Services necessarily retain their unique identities, founded on their histories and on the continuing differences in the functional requirements of operating in their respective mediums. Conflicting pressures—full operational integration of effects for greatest collective impact and organizational separation to maximize individual means—have required the development of new organizational concepts to guide the Services in achieving the greatest possible operational integration, while maintaining their more or less traditional organizational diversity.

Central to 21st-century warfare is the concept of joint interdependence, which is broadly the notion that Service capabilities provided to joint operational commanders are combined to achieve their full complementary effects, at the lowest possible level, to obtain the greatest possible collective effects. Achieving joint interdependence requires that officers and NCOs/POs alike understand the differing strengths and limitations of each Service’s capabilities and know-how to integrate them in order to speed mission accomplishment. Service rivalries have no place on the battlefield, where success, not credit, is the professional currency.

Because seamless cooperation at all levels is increasingly important, reciprocal respect of members of other Services as fellow warriors and members of the Profession of Arms is vital. Operational integration begins with mutual understanding and respect, as well as shared adherence to the professional military ethic born out of the Oath of Enlistment, which this book invokes as common ground for all noncommissioned officers and petty officers. Joint synergy, the ability to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts, begins with understanding the several Service cultures. E pluribus unum.


1 “Original design of the Great Seal of the United States (1782),” available at <>.

2 R.L. Brownlee and Peter J. Schoomaker, United States Army 2004 Posture Statement, Presented to the Committees and Subcommittees of the United States Senate and the House of Representatives, 108th Cong., 2nd sess. (Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, Special Actions Branch, February 5, 2004), 1, available at <>.

3 T.R. Fehrenback, This Kind of War: A Study in Unpreparedness (New York: Macmillan, 1963), quoted in Field Manual 3-0, Operations (Washington, DC: Headquarters Department of the Army, June 14, 2001), 1–2.

4 War Department, Adjutant General’s Office, Washington, April 24, 1863, General Orders No. 100, “Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field,” prepared by Francis Lieber, LLD, and revised by a board of officers, of which Major General E.A. Hitchcock is president . . . in War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series III, Volume III (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1899), 150.

5 Marine Corps Warfighting Publication 6-11, Leading Marines (Washington, DC: Headquarters United States Marine Corps, 1995), 3

6 Victor H. Krulak, First to Fight: An Inside View of the United States Marine Corps (New York: Pocket Books, 1984), xix–xxi.

7 Ibid., 1

8 Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660–1783 (New York: Dover Publications, 1987), 1.

9 Margaret Tuttle Sprout, “Mahan: Evangelist of Seapower,” in The Art and Practice of Military Strategy, ed. George Edward Thibault, 114 (Washington, DC: National Defense University, 1984).

10 Giulio Douhet, The Command of the Air, trans. Dino Ferrari (New York: Coward-McCann, 1942; reprint, Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1983), 30.

11 Coast Guard Publication 1, U.S. Coast Guard: America’s Maritime Guardian (Washington, DC: U.S. Coast Guard, 2009), 1, 73–74.

12 Ibid., 88.

13 Ibid., 1.

14 Bruce Stubbs, “We Are Lifesavers, Guardians, and Warriors,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings (April 2002).

15 United States Code, 2006 Edition, Section 10102, Title 10—ARMED FORCES, available at <>.