Ask Stew: Which Military Branch Is Right for Me?

Recruits are instructed on the proper way to ride a stationary bike.
James Schena, a physical fitness instructor at U.S. Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, instructs recruits in the proper way to ride a stationary bike, Sept. 10, 2014. (John Edwards/U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Here is an email from a young college student who is destined for a life of service. The problem is selecting which service. This is a very tough question with which I, too, once struggled when in high school.

Stew --

My career goal is to join the FBI or U.S. marshals. However, my short-term goal is to serve my country. I've been dead-set on the Army Rangers, but since I learned more about what the USCG does with policing and security, I've been attracted to their work, too. What do you think is a better path to take? I know both are good paths, but one is always better than the other.

I have to start off the answer to this question by giving a non-answer. Truthfully, you cannot go wrong with either route, but which one is right for you? Personally, growing up in Florida, I have a fondness for beach towns. When I was looking at the Army and Navy while in high school, I noticed that all Navy bases pretty much had towns attached to them. Most Army bases did not, so for me, the places where I possibly would live played into the decision. 

If you used the same criteria, it really depends on what type of environment you enjoy when working and not working. Something else to consider is whether you like boats or land and air ops? Rucking and jumping out of planes are going to be a big part of your job if you select the Army. Boats, swimming, port security and other domestic anti-drug and anti-terrorism operations will be the focus in the Coast Guard.

Both are different jobs but provide excellent skills to a follow-on career in federal law enforcement. So good luck with whatever you decide and thanks for considering service to our country. I am glad we still have a younger generation who claims service as a duty.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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