What to Consider When Picking Which Military Service Branch to Join

Army Reserve drill sergeant candidates motivate future soldiers.
Army Reserve drill sergeant candidates with the 415th Infantry Regiment motivate future soldiers during a physical readiness training exercise at the Future Soldier Mega Event at Pershing Field, Fort Carson, Colorado, May 12, 2018. (Scott Prater/U.S. Army photo)

This time of year, high school seniors are making decisions that will affect the next several years of their lives. Thank God there are many who have a calling to serve our country in the armed forces. Even if you know you want to serve, there are still a few options that can determine where you will live, how you will serve and what uniform you will wear. 

Below is an email from a young man who has excelled in high school and is considering Army or Marine Corps officer programs after graduation:

Dear Stew,

I am a high school senior who is about to graduate and go to college. I'm trying to decide between the Army ROTC or the NROTC Marine Option. I've known the military was my calling for a long time now, and I'm down to the final decision. The Army or the Marine Corps.

If I was to be a Marine, the only thing I would consider doing was infantry and, if Army, maybe infantry or a Ranger battalion. There are a few things that I also consider, though. The NROTC Marine Option is extremely competitive. You must earn a scholarship by the end of your sophomore year, or you're booted from the program.

To sum it up, I'm stuck. I'm drawn to being a warrior and fighting, but I feel I need to keep my options open for the future. If I join the Army, I'm afraid I will regret not being a Marine, and If I become a Marine, I'm afraid I will regret not being a soldier. I would appreciate any advice.


John -- first of all, thank you for your desire to serve this country. No matter where you are, you will be proud of your future service, I promise.

I do not think you can go wrong with either option. Both infantry units are exceptional at what they do and are proven warriors. The Army has the Ranger and Special Forces as an option after infantry, and as an officer, you likely will attend Ranger School. 

The Marines have RECON and MarSOC as a progression if you feel you need to keep moving into different challenges within the Marine Corps. You will have more exposure to the ocean in the Marine Corps, so if that interests you, consider becoming a Marine.

There are several other considerations as well. What region of the country will you likely be living in once you graduate? Do you want to be stationed near your childhood home or other family members? If you grew up along the coasts, most of the Navy and Marine Corps bases are in beach towns. Not a bad life.

However, the Army tends to place its bases and ranges throughout the United States. The Army has Schofield Barracks in Hawaii and Fort Carson in Colorado, and both are beautiful places to live. Don't forget some of the Army bases in Europe and Asia, or the Marine Corps bases in Japan. Both options offer culturally rich opportunities.

You cannot go wrong with your choice. In the end, consider what environments you prefer to work in and what regions of the United States and possibly the world you would like to reside.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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