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The general structure of the military is pyramidal, with the president of the United States acting as the commander-in-chief of the U.S. Armed Forces. The president's responsibilities include appointing top military officers and maintaining the nation's military strength.
The Secretary of Defense is an appointed position usually awarded to a civilian. He or she is a member of the president's cabinet, presiding over the Department of Defense and directing the operations of all military branches. The Joint Chiefs of Staff—the senior commanders of the different services—work with the Secretary of Defense to advise the president on military matters.
Together under the auspices of the Department of Defense, the individual services (the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard) make up the armed forces. The Army is the senior service. It is traditionally known as the branch that fights on land. The Navy, more than any of the other services, has a special way of life. Its officers and enlisted people work and live together at sea for long periods, which is a lifestyle that demands close attention to duties and teamwork. The Air Force, the newest of all the services, is highly technical and appeals to those interested in aviation and mechanical trades. The Marines operate on land and sea, and they usually form the advance troops in military operations. The Corps is closely associated with the Navy, and like the Navy, prides itself on meeting the highest possible standards in training, military bearing, and discipline. Apart from more military duties, Marines provide security on Navy property and guard U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. The Coast Guard is the smallest of the military services, and, as such, offers unique opportunities. It is responsible largely for the enforcement of maritime law, but is perhaps most well known for its involvement in search and rescue efforts, aiding those in distress at sea. In recent years, members of the Coast Guard have been tasked with protecting the United States from terrorist attacks and the delivery of terrorist weapons via our nation’s waterways. Although opportunities exist for overseas assignments, most duties in the Coast Guard are related to the waters and shores of the United States.
Military workers fall under two broad occupational categories: enlisted personnel and officers. Enlisted personnel execute the daily operations of the military and are considered noncommissioned officers. Officers function as managers of the military, overseeing the work of the enlisted personnel.
Both the Army and Navy maintain a third classification of skilled experts called warrant officers. Enlisted soldiers or civilians who demonstrate technical and tactical ability in any one of several dozen occupational specialties may qualify as a warrant officer. Warrant officers have highly specialized training and gain additional expertise by operating, maintaining, and managing the services' equipment, support activities, or technical systems throughout their careers. Specialties include, but are not limited to, missile systems, military intelligence, telecommunications, legal administration, and personnel.
Most members of the armed forces live and work at military bases located around the world. Much of the work done on a base is similar to that done in communities anywhere. There are jobs for clerks, cooks, mechanics, electronics experts, technicians, doctors, dentists, scientists, computer specialists, and others. The military branches also employ their own police forces and intelligence and communications experts. More unusual jobs are also available. For example, the Marine Corps offers a special program for applicants with musical talent to train to play in corps bands.
In general, an enlistee, or someone just entering the military, is assigned a job based on his or her education, test results on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, the needs of the service, and the person's wishes.
The armed forces require strict discipline from all personnel. Special military laws must be followed, and military workers must wear uniforms while on duty. Those who choose to work in the armed forces can expect to move many times and also live apart from their families during their careers. Life in the military is demanding, but it does have many rewards.
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