Two National Guard men on active duty
Understanding the Military Experience
Understanding Military Culture

Male and Female Service Members standing at attention on a Navy shipAlthough Veterans will differ in the extent to which they continue to identify with military cultures after separation from military service, rarely do they consider their service to be a minor event in their lives. Often, the values and identities they acquired on active duty will continue to be important as they move forward.

Each Veteran will have their unique story about their military service but it is invaluable to the clinician to have an appreciation for and understanding of the larger context in which that story takes place.

Knowledge and understanding of military culture can lead to:

  • Increased ability to relate to and support your Veteran client resulting in a stronger therapeutic alliance - the strongest determinant of treatment outcome.
  • Deeper understanding of the context for mental health symptoms and conditions.
  • Improved treatment planning that is informed by increased military cultural knowledge.
  • Increased appreciation for military service.

Learning about military culture includes a deeper understanding of both the:

  • Structure of the military such as branches and ranks.
  • Missions, ideals and core values of military culture.

Military Culture Training

Take the Military Cultural Competence Online Course or the Understanding Military Culture Course developed by the National Center for PTSD.

Speaking the Language: Structural Components and Functions

Understanding the structure of the military removes a barrier to understanding the military experience and allows you and your client to speak in a common language about their background.

There are five military service branches, all with different "skill-and equipment-sets" and each with their own unique traditions, language, value systems, and procedures. The five branches are: Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, Navy, and the Coast Guard.

Although unique, there are some capabilities which all branches may have. For example, in Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF), these have included provision of ground combat forces, airlift capabilities, and logistics capabilities.

Below we have provided a number of handouts to help you to better understand the structure and function of our military:

1. What do our five military branches do?
Learn more about the structure of the military and read brief descriptions of what each branch does in our Structure & Branches handout.

2. Rank and leadership in the military:
Learn about the different types of military personnel and the order of ranks in each military branch in our Military Ranks handout.

3. Want to better understand the hierarchy or 'chain of command' in the military and military personnel's regard for authority?
Read our Chain of Command & Authority handout.

4. As with any large organization, the military has its own set of terms and lingo.
Read our Common Terms & Lingo handout to learn some selected terms, acronyms, phrases, and slang terms that may be of use to you.

5. Need to know what a military term means?
Use the Department of Defense's Dictionary of Military & Associated Terms.

Military Ethos: Guiding Ideals and Core Values

Overarching values embedded in military culture include "teamwork, selflessness and working towards meeting shared goals, as opposed to personal needs."

Perhaps most central is being of service to others, measuring one's worth by how well one serves others selflessly. In the military oath of enlistment or commissioning which each Service Member takes upon entry, the Service Member promises to remain faithful to and defend the social order of the United States of America, as embodied in the constitution.

Even upon separation from the military service or retirement, the implicit military ideals and values often continue to be deeply held by the individual.

In addition to the above, each branch has their own set of values and mottos.

1. What are the explicit core values of the 5 branches?
Learn more about the unique mottos and values of the different branches by reading our, Military Core Values: the Branches handout.

2. Mission Orientation: Teamwork and Shared Goals.
Values of teamwork and working towards shared goals are essential to effectively carrying out a mission. Learn more about that orientation by reading our What It Means to be Mission Oriented handout.

3. What are some of the benefits of military service?
Veterans report many benefits and positive changes as a result of their military service. To learn more, read our Positive Changes Following Military Service handout.

" Effective patient-centered care includes cultural competence."