The U.S. Armed Forces consist of six different branches, each of which has unique specialties, duties, and responsibilities. While each branch shares the same purpose—to protect and defend the United States—they all have unique histories and symbols to represent them.
Learning more about the different military branches helps you understand what our military does and the kind of service our veterans and active-duty members give to their country. Explore the different U.S. military branches and their duties with this guide.
The U.S. Army is the country’s largest and oldest military branch. This branch has its roots in the Revolutionary War and has served as the primary ground force for the United States ever since. The Army consists of land troops, tanks, and artillery.
While a majority of Army members serve as a general ground force, there are a few specialized teams. For example, the Army Mariners serve on the water. There are also elite groups, like Army Rangers, that receive specific training to handle unique combat situations.
The official flag of the U.S. Army displays a blue version of the War Office Seal on a field of white. A red scroll with the words “United States Army” sits beneath the seal. Beneath the scroll is the year 1775—denoting the formation of the Continental Army—in blue numerals.
The U.S. Navy revolves around the sea. This military branch serves on, above, and below water. The Navy acts as America’s forward-deployed force, focusing on patrolling and defending waters across the world. Naval forces use battleships, aircraft carriers, submarines, and other vehicles to keep waters safe for both travel and trade.
While there are several elite groups within the Navy, the most famous is the Sea, Air, and Land Forces, also known as Navy SEALs. As the Navy’s primary special operations force, SEALs undergo extensive training to prepare them for a diverse range of challenging missions.
The U.S. Navy flag features the official seal of the U.S. Department of the Navy—which includes imagery of an eagle, an anchor, and a ship—on a dark blue background. Beneath the seal is a yellow scroll with the words “United States Navy” in blue letters.
The U.S. Marine Corps are a component of the Navy, but they stand alone as an individual military branch. The Marine Corps consist of amphibious and ground units that can deploy quickly to land or sea. The Marine Corps work closely with both the Navy and the Army, which means some Marines serve on Navy ships or at U.S. embassies.
The Marine Corps flag features gold and gray—the two colors of the Marines. The center of the flag bears a gray and gold eagle, globe, and anchor on a scarlet background. Beneath this emblem is a banner that reads “United States Marine Corps” in scarlet letters.
The U.S. Air Force started as the Aeronautical Division of the Army, but it became a separate military branch in 1947. The Air Force specializes in air and space capabilities. The speed and flexibility of the Air Force can deliver troops anywhere in the world in just a few hours.
In addition to air capabilities and combat, members of the Air Force can serve as engineers, computer scientists, and more.
The U.S. Air Force flag bears Air Force’s official crest and shield. This emblem consists of the Air Force coat of arms circled by 13 white stars to represent the original colonies. The crest and shield sits on a field of blue.
The U.S. Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security. Their duties revolve around serving, patrolling, and protecting domestic waterways. The Coast Guard also serves as law enforcement, preserving the country’s water borders, preventing drug smuggling, and even conducting ocean rescues.
The duties of the Coast Guard change during wartime. While the Coast Guard protects the country beneath the Department of Homeland Security during times of peace, they operate under the Department of the Navy to defend against foreign threats during war.
The official flag of the U.S. Coast Guard features a dark blue version of the Great Seal of the United States on a white background. Above the seal are the words “United States Coast Guard.” Below it is the Coast Guard motto of “Semper Paratus,” or, “Always Ready,” and the year 1790, which denotes the founding of the Coast Guard’s predecessor, the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service.
The Space Force was signed into law in 2019, making it the newest U.S. military branch. The Space Force exists to protect the nation and its interests through military space development and systems. Other responsibilities of the U.S. Space Force include organizing, training, and equipping space forces.
These responsibilities used to belong to the Air Force Space Command, and part of the initial development of the Space Force included transferring relevant Air Force personnel to the Space Force.
The U.S. Space Force flag features the Space Force seal on a field of black. The seal itself contains symbols like the delta wing, globe, elliptical orbit, Polaris star, and star clusters. Beneath this emblem are the words “United States Space Force” and, beneath that, “MMXIX” in white lettering to indicate the name and date of the branch.
The National Guard isn’t technically one of the official military branches, but it’s still an essential part of understanding the different U.S. military branches and their duties. The National Guard is a state-based force, meaning each state and U.S. territory has its own force. As such, both the president and individual governors can activate their National Guards.
The National Guard consists of both Army National Guard and Air National Guard, making it a versatile force that can aid in combat, domestic emergencies, humanitarian efforts, and more.
The Army and Air National Guards have separate flags. The Army National Guard flag displays the official seal of the Army National Guard on a field of white. The flag of the Air National Guard features the shield of the Air National Guard beneath an eagle and surrounded by stars in the same style as the Air Force flag. The Air National Guard flag has a blue background.
Veterans, active-duty members, and families of military members use military flags to show support for our Armed Forces. Each flag represents a history of service, duty, and sacrifice. With US Armed Forces flags from Flags USA, you can show support for the service members in your life and proudly display your dedication to our troops.