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Strategic Horizons: Does America Need Two Armies?

Steven Metz Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013

While teaching at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in the 1980s, I once heard a confused student officer from a foreign country say, "I'll never understand your military. Not only does your navy have an army, but your navy's army has an air force." By navy’s army, he meant the U.S. Marine Corps, which is larger than most armies and possesses an air component far bigger than most air forces. This observation drew chuckles from the foreign officer's fellow American students, but it raised an important issue: Does the United States need two separate ground forces in a time of shrinking defense budgets?

While both the U.S. Army and Marine Corps were created during the American Revolution, until the 20th century they had very different missions. The Marines, like their European counterparts, were seaborne, protecting U.S. Navy ships against boarding and mutinies, as well as leading raiding parties. The Army's focus was frontier security and coastal defense -- in addition to cavalry patrols and garrisoning western forts, the Army manned the large fortresses guarding major East Coast ports. ...

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