7 Surprising Facts You Probably Don’t Know About the US Army



Photo Credit: US Army


1. The Army is older than the country it serves.

Americans celebrate the birth of their nation as July 4, 1776, but the Army is actually the country’s “big brother.” Which makes sense, considering the Continental Army of 1775 — led by future President George Washington — needed to start beating the British in the colonies so Thomas Jefferson could finally get some time to write.

Before the Army was established, colonists were organized into rag-tag militias with no real structure or unified chain-of-command. But in the spring of 1775, most wanted to attack the British near Boston but knew they needed more structure to confront the professional soldiers on the other side. That’s where the official birth of the Army came in, on June 14, 1775, through a resolution from the Continental Congress.

The next day, George Washington was appointed as commander-in-chief of the new Army, and took command of his troops in Boston on July 3, 1775, according to the Army History Division.


2. If the U.S. Army were a city, it would be the tenth-largest in the United States.

There are just over one million soldiers currently serving in the Army. Just about half of that number is on active-duty and serving full-time, while the rest make up the reserve components of National Guard and Army Reserve. To put it in perspective, a city filled with soldiers would have more people in it than San Jose, California, Austin, Texas, Jacksonville, Florida, and San Francisco, California.


Photo: Capt. Charlie Emmons/US Army

3. It is also the second-largest employer.

With 2.2 million people on the payroll, Walmart is America’s largest employer. But the Army maintains the second spot with more than one million active-duty and reserve soldiers. While budget cuts are going to bring the number of soldiers in uniform down substantially in 2015 to about 1,042,200, the Army still beats the next-largest employer of Yum! Brands, which has 523,000 total employees.


Photo: US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael Holzworth

4. Specialist is the most-prevalent rank among soldiers — by far.

There’s a reason many soldiers joke about the existence of an “E-4 Mafia.” That’s because if you want anything done in the Army, you’ll probably need a Specialist (or three) to get it done. Across active-duty and reserve ranks in 2015, there are 264,890 specialists, making up more than one-quarter of the U.S. Army.

Though the Army used to have Specialist ranks that had grades from Spec-4 to Spec-9, it eliminated that system in 1985, setting aside Specialist-4 as a junior-enlisted rank called just “Specialist” from then on. Unlike Corporals who are also E-4s, the Specialist rank isn’t considered a non-commissioned officer, which is probably why some are very good at earning their “sham shield.” 


5. The service burns through nearly one billion gallons of fuel every year.

Just like any other large organization that needs energy to sustain operations, the Army needs fuel. A lot of fuel. A 2011 Army fact sheet estimated the Army used over 22 gallons every day, per soldier — much more than only one gallon required per soldier during World War II.

A 2008 Army report said the service purchased approximately 880 million gallons of fuel for mobility operations. The report is a little dated though, and the Army has been working hard to bring down its energy usage — along with the rest of the DoD — citing a reliance on fossil fuels as a major national security risk and logistical problem for troops in the field.


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

6. Among U.S. Presidents with military service, most served in the Army.

Of the 44 men who have served as President of the United States, 31 had military service. Twenty-four of them served in the Army, or in state militias (our modern-day National Guard). Though being in the military is not a requirement for the presidency, President George Washington started a trend that saw future presidents in some cases making their name as war heroes: Theodore Roosevelt received the Medal of Honor for his famous charge up San Juan Hill, and George H.W. Bush received the Distinguished Flying Cross during World War II and barely escaped after his plane was shot down.


7. The Army owns so much land that if it were a state, it would be larger than Hawaii and Massachusetts combined.

Not surprisingly, the Army has a ton of infrastructure. Soldiers serve at 158 installations around the world, and the service owns more than 15 million acres of land across the U.S., which totals up to roughly 24,000 square miles. That would make the “State of Army” larger than smaller states like Maryland, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Vermont.

profilePaul SzoldraExecutive Editor at We Are The Mighty

Paul served eight years as a Marine Corps infantryman in Japan, Korea, Afghanistan, and many others. He founded the military satire site Duffel Blog, and previously served as the West Coast Editor for Business Insider.


18 Terms Only Soldiers Will Understand

11 Things New Soldiers Complain About During Basic Training

5 differences between Army and Marine Corps infantry

We Are The Mighty (WATM) is dedicated to serving the military community with authentic entertainment and original content. With a team of military veterans and civilian military supporters, WATM features premium original and curated video programming of all genres as well as photography, stories, quizzes, lists and much more. For more, visit the We Are the Mighty site.


  • Skypilot1992

    A little apples and oranges here. In comparing the Army population to a city, don’t forget to add dependents then compare. Otherwise only employed civilians count.

    For ease of exercise don’t try to factor reservist/civilans.

    • wtpworrier

      If they had added all the dependents to that number, it would probably be around two, or three million, may be more. They only used service members. The Army Reserves is a branch of the active Army, because the Army sign off on their pay checks, the NG not so much, but the Army do train them.

      • Mckky

        You have no idea about what you have just said. The NG deploys more than the reserve and have being in more wars in the history of the US

    • Mark Rushing

      That would make too much sense.

  • Skypilot1992

    Oh yes add #8. Has more watercraft than Navy.

    • Smitty

      Support type vessels, the USN has more combat vessels, heck in Vietnam the Army had to use Navy boats to lug the 9th ID around on river operations. In WWII & Korea the Navy carried the Army around and also landed them on D-day and at Inchon. I prefered they rode Army boats when available. Because the land lubbers were prone to puking Att sea all they did was eat poop and squack we called themcalled them seagulls heh heh

      • Carl

        All you say is correct but I wish the Army would put more heavy arms aboard its ships and aquire subs and beach assault craft.

      • wtpworrier

        That’s what the Navy is suppose to do, give the real war fighters a ride to the combat zone…that’s what they were created for.

    • skwilliamsusnr

      One of the most waste of money I saw in my 24 year as a Sr Naval Officer was working with the Army’s ships. The Army are great people, but their ships were poorly maintain, and did not know how to drive them. Why pay two services to do the same thing. Plus they never used them.

  • Carl

    In true, the U.S. Army was the “First to Fight,” and saved this country twice, once during the Revolutionary War and again during the Civil War. Of course the U.S. Navy helped out much more during the Civil War but the U.S. Army did most of the real fighting and had by far the most casualties.

  • wtpworrier

    Hey! the Army is the biggest man in this neck of the woods, none come close.

  • Jeremy

    George H.W. Bush was in the Navy.

    • Mike

      That is correct, did someone say otherwise?

  • Deb

    the US Army is the oldest and largest employer of musicians in the world.

    • Carl

      And riflemen, and artillerymen, and supply clerks, and cooks, and cavalrymen etc, etc, etc.

    • LDH2O

      Assuming you mean military musicians (otherwise there are older musical companies) it is hard to believe that the UK regimental system is not older even if the US Army is larger.

  • Leon Suchorski

    And isn’t it funny, that an article about the ARMY, shows Washington crossing the Delaware River, and we know that those are MARINES, getting him there. LOL

    • Andy

      NO! They were NOT Marines!

    • runswithscissors

      The boats were operated by experienced local watermen…..not marines… more like militia.

    • wtpworrier

      Even back then, the Army did it all. From the Army, all branches sprung, Air Force, Navy, and the Marines…And one more thing, The Army is still capable of doing it all. We fly, we sail, we pound the ground…We Blazed a Path to Glory for the Other Branches to follow.

  • Essayons

    Add in the number of Dept of Army civilian employees and their dependents too. Another 1 mil plus.

  • kevin

    I always thought the Marines was the oldest branch, but after checking, the Army started about 5 months earlier!!

    • skwilliamsusnr

      No the second oldest was the Navy, then after the Navy was formed they started the Marine a month later. And the fact that the Marine are not even a branch of service, they are only part of the Navy. The three branches are the Army, Navy and Air Force. The Marine without the Navy would be, well, the Army.

  • Guest

    As a former E-4 Specialist-I stayed that rank because my MOS did not have E-5 promotion potential within 6 years. Also I was offered a corporal rank, BUT ONLY BECAUSE MY UNIT WAS LOSING our 1LT Platoon Leader, E-7 Platoon SFC, E-6 asst. PLT sgt., and several GS’s. The only option left was to “laterally promote” an existing E-4 to corporal and pile all that responsibility on him/her. I turned it down, and the next longest serving E-4 was stuck with it. (the only blue falcon I ever pulled, I apologized to him after turning it down, and I still feel bad about it.)

  • John Hedges

    You comment that the militia were rag-tag. The first cavalry troop of what is now the Mass National Guard went on avtive duty in 1626, 2 years before Briatin’s Household Cavalry, otherwise the oldest military organisation in the world. Before the Revolution, Minute companies of what is now the Guard had been paid to drill 2 days a week, and were far better than the British regulars because they were allowed to practice marksmanship. Guard units have many battle honors from before the revolution, Such as Gibraltar, Jamaica, Pondicherry, the Plains of Abraham.

  • skwilliamsusnr

    President George H.W. Bush was a LTjg (02) in the US NAVY. He served on the USS San Jacinto and was shot down near Iwo Jima and rescued by a Navy submarine, the USS Finback. The Army has a great history so you do not have to claim him, He was Navy!

  • SEA Spec.4

    I believe it took all branches of our military to get the job done, they all had a job to do and done it well
    I once took the time to count the MOH list of the Korean and the Vietnam wars
    Korean: AF 4; Navy 7 ; Marines 42; Army 80.
    Vietnam: AF 13 ; Navy 15 ; Marines 55 ; Army 155.

  • lcdr kent

    Presidents who served in the Navy:
    John F. Kennedy (1961-63)
    ● Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-69)
    ● Richard M. Nixon (1969-74)
    ● Gerald R. Ford (1974-77)
    ● Jimmy Carter (1977-81)
    ● George Bush (1989-93)
    Sorry, they are not that great a crew.