Deciding which branch of the military to join is a major decision. Military service comes with many benefits, but each branch also has its own advantages and disadvantages. When weighing your options, it’s important to look closely at the educational benefits, salary and compensation, job training and opportunities, culture and lifestyle offered by the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Space Force.
One of the biggest perks of military service is access to money for college. Each branch of the armed forces offers excellent education benefits through the GI Bill to pay for tuition, housing, books and more. Here’s a quick overview of education benefits by military branch:
- Army: Up to $80,000 to cover the full cost of college tuition.
- Navy: Up to $80,000 to cover the full cost of college tuition.
- Air Force: Up to $80,000 to cover the full cost of college tuition.
- Marine Corps: Up to $80,000 to cover the full cost of college tuition.
- Coast Guard: Up to $80,000 to cover the full cost of college tuition.
- Space Force: Up to $80,000 to cover the full cost of college tuition.
As you can see, all branches of the military offer the same GI Bill benefits on paper – up to $80,000 to cover four years of undergraduate college tuition. This benefit can also be used for graduate school. In addition, each branch offers other education incentives like tuition assistance for active duty service members, student loan repayment programs, scholarships for dependents and more.
Salary and Compensation
While educational incentives are excellent across all service branches, the amount of base pay and compensation varies depending on rank, years of service and job role. Here’s an overview of average salary by military branch:
|Branch||Average Base Pay|
|Army||$30,000 – $50,000|
|Navy||$30,000 – $50,000|
|Air Force||$35,000 – $55,000|
|Marine Corps||$25,000 – $45,000|
|Coast Guard||$30,000 – $50,000|
|Space Force||$35,000 – $55,000|
As the table shows, base pay tends to be slightly higher in the Air Force and Space Force compared to the other branches. However, service members also receive housing allowances, food allowances, special pay for hazardous duties and other bonuses that can add $10,000 – $30,000+ per year. When you factor in the full compensation package, pay is quite comparable across the board.
Job Training and Opportunities
In addition to educational benefits, each military branch provides extensive job training and opportunities for continuing education in your chosen occupational specialty. Some of the most coveted military jobs include:
- Army: Infantry, military police, engineer, interpreter/translator
- Navy: Hospital corpsman, SEAL, air traffic controller, firefighter
- Air Force: Pilot, cyber systems operations, air traffic controller, space operations
- Marine Corps: Infantry, logistics, aviation mechanic, intelligence specialist
- Coast Guard: Boatswain’s mate, aviation survival technician, machinery technician
- Space Force: Intelligence officer, cyber operations officer, space operations officer
The training and skills gained from military occupations can jumpstart civilian careers after service. For example, skills in healthcare, engineering, computer science, mechanics and law enforcement translate very well to high-paying civilian jobs.
In addition to formal job training, serving in the military provides valuable hands-on experience. From deploying on ships and submarines in the Navy to flying planes in the Air Force, you gain technical skills and prove yourself as part of a team. The leadership, discipline and practical experience of military service gives veterans a leg up when applying for civilian jobs.
Culture and Lifestyle
Beyond tangible benefits like money for college and job training, each military branch has its own unique culture and lifestyle during and after service. Here are a few key factors to consider:
- Travel opportunities: The Navy and Coast Guard provide opportunities to be stationed abroad and travel the world by ship. The Air Force also frequently transfers personnel between bases worldwide.
- Deployments: The Army and Marine Corps are more likely to have prolonged deployments into combat zones. Other branches still deploy but not as frequently.
- Rigidity: The Marines have the strictest standards for appearance and discipline. Other branches allow a bit more flexibility.
- Technical focus: The Air Force and Space Force attract candidates interested in aviation, space and technology.
- Camaraderie: A sense of history and loyalty runs deep throughout all branches.
Veterans also talk about missing the built-in sense of community and brotherhood they felt while in uniform. After service, veterans can still find camaraderie through associations like the American Legion and events like reunions.
When weighing the educational benefits, salary, job training, culture and lifestyle of military branches, there is no definitive “best” overall. Each branch has strengths in different areas. Service members also vastly prefer their own branch over the others in terms of esprit de corps.
For prospective recruits, it’s wise to realistically examine your career goals, personality fit, desires for travel versus stability, and tolerance for rigidity versus flexibility. Talking to veterans from different branches can provide insider perspectives.
Whichever branch you ultimately choose, military service provides outstanding benefits. Educational funding, job skills, world travel, lifelong bonds and lessons in discipline and leadership reward those who choose to serve for years to come.