The 10 Things Most People Get Completely Wrong About the U.S. Military

As a civilian, it can be really hard to imagine what it’s like in military life. So much of our exposure to it is in some form of dramatized fiction on TV or film. This has led to a lot of misconceptions about military life and how the military works.

We found some of the things that most people get completely wrong about the U.S. military and organized them into the 10 most common.

1. Everyone in the military fights

Malstrom Air Force Base

There are more support personnel in the military than combat troops. | Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder/Wikimedia Commons

Very little of the military are actual combat troops. If you look at the number of troops in a particular operation, the number of people actually firing weapons is relatively small. The ratio is anywhere from 7:1 to 12:1 according to this report. The rest are support positions like “logistics, communications, liaison, medics, field maintenance, ammunition and sundry stuff.”

That being said, every soldier is trained to fight. They are all very capable soldiers, but when it comes to an army or navy, they are way stronger to have support through the battle.

Next: When it comes to speaking in the military, terminology is everything.

2. Every branch uses the same language

During a Hell Week surf drill evolution, a Navy SEAL instructor assists students from Basic Underwater Demolition class 245 with learning the importance of listening. |

Not all terminology is transferred between branches. | Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Eric S. Logsdon/U.S. Navy via Getty Images

Take “Drill Sergeant”, for example. Would you use this term in the Marines? You would if you wanted the Drill Instructor to tear you apart. Marines, in particular, take their terminology very seriously. One soldier recounts to us about his time in basic training when a recruit referred to his Drill Instructor as “Drill Sergeant.” Apparently, he was “incinerated before our eyes.”

Next: Just because you serve in a certain branch doesn’t mean you do that one job.

3. Everyone in the Air Force is a pilot

U.S. Air Force Reserve Command

U.S. Air Force Reserve Command | Air Force Reserve via Facebook

The air force is comprised of dozens of areas of expertise and they just so happen to have a few pilots. Of the 318,057 active-duty airmen, only 12,504 are pilots. Being a pilot in the air force is an extremely specialized job that requires the highest degree of training. To even be considered becoming a pilot in the Air Force requires a lot of caveats.

Next: The fact that anyone would consider this falsehood is infuriating.

4. Recruits are real-world dropouts

Unemployment Leads To Rise In Military Recruitment

Recruits need to pass the ASVAB. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

For some reason, people think that service members are of a lower intelligence bracket or are criminals deferring prosecution. This is simply not true. The military does an extensive background check and scrutinizes every minor intersection with the law. On top of that, in order to join you have to pass the ASVAB. Which is essentially the equivalent of an SAT.

Next: Sometimes this isn’t the case, but that’s why people get charged with war crimes. 

5. Soldiers blindly follow orders

u.s. army reservists

Soldiers are taught to question their orders. | Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

“I was only following orders” is probably the scariest phrases you can hear coming out of a soldier. It usually follows being confronted with charges of a war crime. The fact is, the way our military is set up, that is not an excuse. Orders are regularly challenged by soldiers.

In fact, if a subordinate notices something that is unsafe, unethical, or illegal, they are expected to bring it up to the officer in charge. Quality leadership actually depends on this collaboration. When it isn’t followed is when problems arise.

Next: You have definitely seen this come up in action movies, but it has never been true in the U.S. Military.

6. There are self-destruct buttons on bases and ships

Navy’s-USS-Zumwalt

There isn’t an auto-destruct button on ships or bases | U.S. Navy/ General Dynamics Bath Iron Works

As much sense as this makes, there aren’t self-destruct buttons for bases or ships. If there is any intelligence that an enemy wants from a base, it can be destroyed without all the Micheal Bay style explosives. Ships can be scuttled in extreme cases, but they aren’t equipped for that. Having that ability is actually a weakness that the enemy could easily exploit.

Next: Think about the benefits that you get from your day job for this next one.

7. Benefits and pay are terrible

The VA is no more broken than the rest of the healthcare system. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

With the fervor of the health care debate going strong as ever, the general perception of socialized medicine is that is in some way inferior to privatized health care. The simple fact is, the health care benefits that the military offers are just as competitive with civilian jobs. Sure it has some issues, but so does all health care these days.

Their pay is competitive as well. You’re not going to become a millionaire by any means, but, you will be making a relatively good salary serving in the military. Not to mention your retirement benefits are pretty great as well.

Next: Nothing in this life is free, even if you are a soldier.

8. Benefits are free

social security

Soldiers have to pay bills too. | William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

From housing to food, pretty much all of it comes out of a soldiers paycheck. There are some benefits that are “paid for”, but ultimately everything costs something. Nevertheless, every soldier earns every benefit they get and no one can say they “got it for free.”

Next: Beleive it or not, they have political opinions just like you.

9. Everyone in the military is conservative

two voting machines, one with Republican and one with Democrat signs on them

The military doesn’t vote in a bloc — and that’s a very good thing. | Paul J. Waters/AFP/Getty Images

Despite what the rhetoric may be, soldiers possess a wide range of political beliefs. Some are liberals and some are conservative. Heck, even one of the most controversial subjects talked about in the media, kneeling during the anthem, was started by a green beret. The simple fact is, they are people just like us and have similar opinions as you on how we should be governed.

Next: Can you name the four departments of the U.S. military? If you said yes, you’re wrong. 

10. The Marines are their own branch

Military recruiting Marines

The Marines serve under the Department of the Navy. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The U.S. military is comprised of three departments: The Department of the Army, The Department of the Airforce, and the Department of the Navy. The U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy serve under the Department of the Navy. If you are to ask a Marine about this misunderstood concept, they would respond “Sure, the Marine Corps is part of the Department of the Navy: the Men’s Department.”

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