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The Navy and the Marine Corps: A Winning Team

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Garas

As long as navies have taken to the sea, groups of specially trained, seafaring infantry have accompanied them and the United States Navy is no different.

Since November 10, 1775, when the Continental Congress approved a resolution to establish two battalions of Marines “able to fight for independence at sea and on shore,” the United States Marine Corps has teamed with the Navy to create a unique expeditionary force whose mission remains essential to the defense of the U.S. to this day.

Shared Culture

According to Royal Connell and William Mack’s “Naval Ceremonies, Customs, and Traditions,” nations with a strong naval heritage as far back as the ancient Egyptians have used marines to spearhead landing operations.

This tradition continues to this day, as the navies of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands include marines as an integral component of their naval forces.

In a March 2004 statement before the House Armed Services Committee, then-director of the Naval History and Heritage Command, Dr. William Dudley said, since the beginning, Marines have been subject to naval discipline and to the commands of naval officers when aboard ship. Historically, their mission was to serve the commanding officer of a ship of war– to protect naval officers,  maintain order, and act as an offensive force.

As a result, Marines and Sailors share many naval traditions, especially terminology and customs.

Marines work on “decks,” gaze out of “portholes,” and walk through “hatches” just as their brethren Sailors. Marine Corps Medal of Honor recipients wear the Navy variant of this and other awards; and with few exceptions, the awards and badges of the Navy and Marine Corps are identical.

As a fighting force, first and foremost, Marines do not recruit or train noncombatants such as chaplains, medical, or dental personnel; naval personnel fill these roles.

Aside from shared traditions, the United States Navy and the Marine Corps share a rich history.

Shared History

The history of both organizations working together to project power from the sea dates back to the Revolutionary War, when they performed what could be considered America’s first joint special operation.

According to the online Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, a naval squadron traveled south to the Bahamas in February 1776 with a battalion of Marines aboard. Under the command of Commodore Esek Hopkins, the squadron launched an amphibious landing on March 3 and raided the British colony of Nassau for military supplies that would benefit the Continental Army.

According to the book “John Paul Jones and his Marines,” by Roy Meador, Sailors and Marines from the Continental Navy sloop Ranger made a landing near dawn on April 23, 1778 on the shores of England herself. The citizens of Whitehaven awoke to find the ships burning in the harbor and one of their pubs liberated of its liquor.

So stunned were the townsfolk that the British newspaper, Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, May 5, 1778, claimed “two thirds of the people are bordering on insanity; the remainder on idiotism.”

“The strength and flexibility of the Navy-Marine Corps team, along with its shared roots and long history, allow it to continue as America’s rapid response to an increasingly complex and dangerous world.”

Following the Revolutionary War, the Marines would keep a force of trained and reliable men at the ready for the next century, participating with the Navy in conflicts from the Mexican-American War through the American Civil War and beyond. Their ability to rapidly respond on short notice to expeditionary crises made them an important asset in American foreign policy.

According to the United States Marine Corps History Division, the sight of Marines aboard ship was so regular that in 1863, Admiral David Dixon Porter stated in a letter to Marine Commandant, Colonel John Harris, “A Ship without Marines is like a garment without buttons.”

Documents to the U.S. State Department, during the 19th century note that the Navy was frequently called upon to protect American lives and property in remote parts of the world. Marine detachments would take part in these operations and occasionally were expected to protect diplomatic missions, or quell smaller insurrections, as they did in a series of actions throughout Central and South America in the latter part of the 19th century and early 20th.

In the early 1900s, when the world descended into war, the Marines’ force of readily trained men was one of the first to head to France. Sailors were there, right alongside them in the form of Hospital corpsmen. Sick call and preventive medicine were continuous roles that remained unchanged for corpsmen, but facing artillery, mustard gas, and machine gun fire were new experiences. The Marines became fiercely protective of their corpsmen, who accompanied them and treated their wounded throughout the bloodiest battles of the conflict.

The Navy would be there with Marines again for World War II, escorting them during the island hopping campaign in the Pacific, while fighting the Imperial Japanese Navy the entire way. The same is true of their Navy Chaplains.

It would be on a tiny island where the dynamic relationship between the two organizations would become immortalized in Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photograph of five Marines and a Navy corpsman raising the American flag on the island of Iwo Jima.

The Navy would continue to partner with Marines after World War II and well into the modern age in such places like Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and maintain a quick reaction force that would respond to crises around the world, earning the Marines a reputation as America’s 911 force.

The strength and flexibility of the Navy-Marine Corps team, along with its shared roots and long history, allow it to continue as America’s rapid response to an increasingly complex and dangerous world.

As long as the president gives the order to send in the Marines, the Navy will undoubtedly be there with them.

An information graphic for the U.S. Navy to commemorate the Marine Corps 240th birthday. (Infograph by Petty Officer 1st Class Daniel Garas, U.S. Navy/Released). Click here to download.