The 10 Most Dangerous Jobs in the US Military



All jobs in the military carry real risks, but some jobs are much riskier than others. Here are 10 of the most dangerous:

1. Pararescue


Photo: US Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Scott Taylor

Pararescue jumpers are basically the world’s best ambulance service. They fly, climb, and march to battlefields, catastrophic weather areas, and disaster zones to save wounded and isolated people during firefights or other emergencies.

2. Special operations


Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Adam Henderson

While this is lumping a few separate jobs together, troops such as Navy SEALs, Army green berets, Air Force combat controllers, and others conduct particularly risky missions. They train allied forces, hunt enemy leaders, and go on direct action missions against the worst of America’s adversaries. They get additional training and better equipment than other units, but the challenging nature of their mission results in a lot of casualties.

3. Explosive ordnance disposal


Photo: US Navy Photographers Mate 1st Class Ted Banks

The bomb squad for the military, explosive ordnance disposal technicians used to spend the bulk of their time clearing minefields or dealing with dud munitions that didn’t go off. Those missions were dangerous enough, but the rise of improvised explosive devices changed all that and increased the risk for these service members.

4. Infantry


Not exactly shocking that infantry is one of the most dangerous jobs on the battlefield. These troops search out and destroy the enemy and respond to calls for help when other units stumble into danger. They are the primary force called on to take and hold territory from enemy forces.

5. Cavalry


Photo: US Army Sgt. William Tanner

The cavalry conducts reconnaissance and security missions and, if there is a shortage of infantry soldiers, is often called to take and hold territory against enemy formations. Their recon mission sometimes results in them fighting while vastly outnumbered.

6. Artillery


Photo: US Army

Artillery soldiers send massive rounds against enemy forces. Because artillery destroys enemy formations and demoralizes the survivors, it’s a target for enemy airstrikes and artillery barrages. Also, the artillery may be called on to assume infantry and cavalry missions that they’ve received little training on.

7. Medical


Photo: US Army Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod

Medics go forward with friendly forces to render aid under fire. While medics are protected under the Geneva Convention, this only helps when the enemy honors the conventions. Even then, artillery barrages and bombing runs can’t tell which troops are noncombatants.

8. Vehicle transportation


Photo: US Army

Truck driving is another job that became markedly more dangerous in the most recent wars. While driving vehicles in large supply convoys or moving forward with advancing troops was always risky, the rise of the IED threat multiplied the danger for these soldiers. This was complicated by how long it took the military to get up-armored vehicles to all units in Iraq and Afghanistan.

9. Aviation


Photo: US Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Daniel McClinton

Aircraft provide a lot of capabilites on the battlefield, but that makes them, their crews, and their pilots targets of enemy fire.

10. Artillery observers


Photo: US Air Force Staff Sgt. DeNoris A. Mickle

Like medics, these soldiers go forward with maneuver forces. They find enemy positions and call down artillery strikes to destroy them. The enemy knows to take them out as quickly as possible since they are usually carrying radios.

classedit2 David Nye – Staff Writer at We Are The Mighty

David is a former Fort Bragg paratrooper who deployed with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team.


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  • Renegade

    Well, with no flame throwers anymore, 1 & 2 make sense. Would move FIELD medic to at least third position

    • moecephus

      Percentage-wise, casualties to SF have been and are disproportionate to the numbers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. I trained on flame throwers and they are tricky and you have to get up close to use them. Few except the infantry ever used them and other than SOF few get up close and personal in combat. My medics were in the thick of things but we did all we could to protect them. Today aviation is not as bad as in vietnam where the enemy was harder to detect and where they also came in closer and in greater numbers in conflicts since.

  • Skypilot1992

    Vote Field Medic for third place

  • Jeffrey Saupp

    What criteria was used to quantify “most dangerous” in the “military”?

    If it was based on the number of service members that perform a particular MOS/Rate and the percentage that die performing that job, I’d sure be interested in confirming that list.

  • steve

    I knew Armor was a safe job when I took it.

  • Combat Engineer

    What about Combat Engineer???

    • 12 Foxtrot

      I agree, I was a Combat Engineer and when on the battlefield the expected lifespan was 34 seconds. I don’t think that any “real” data was used for this list.

      • 173d Engr ElTee

        Agreed, Foxtrot. Everyone forgets that we engineers built the bridges, swept for mines, booby traps and IEDs AHEAD OF THE INFANTRY so they could get there to pick the fight. I also agree with moving the medics up since they are stuck out in the open while tending to wounded and the enemy has those coordinates dialed in. Riskier than Special ops, in my opinion and deserve the #2 slot, right up there with PJ’s (who are awesome folks in my opinion).

    • LUCERO


    • Bronze Star ‘V’

      As a Vietnam vet and Combat Engineer I was with the Infantry all over Nam.Thought I was INFANTRY most of the time.Company A 27th ENG BN 18th BRIGADE(Combat) attached to 101st Camp Eagle.

  • cjbigcog

    You forgot carrier flight deck operations (especially at night).

    • Al_

      Not at all. In all the most recent combat events our carriers were never under attack as the other jobs were. Navy was sitting out in the water, party time.

      • Tee

        Al_; It was not all party time. We did sit back, but what we did before that would amaze even you, them we floated in and out of harms way…mostly in!!!

    • Navyjag907

      You guys have to be in the top five.

    • Tee

      As a former Carrier Flight Deck person, serving on several carriers and amphibious platforms…I too would like to know who did this criteria on the “most dangerous professions in the military” definitely left out day or night flight operations; especially night ops!

  • Dan 11b

    What no cooks? Have you ever eaten the chilimac?

  • guest

    Airborne? Hazardous duty pay even in peace time.

    Yes, carrier flight deck sailors should have been included.

    • Mike Fitz HT1 Ret.

      I agree , the flight deck was really dangerous.

    • Rooftop Voter

      I was paid a whopping 55 bucks a month for flight deck pay, when the money was available. This was 1970. We had 10 billets for flight deck pay and 20 guys so we took turns getting it. With or without it, we all were on deck at one time or another. Aviation Ordnance in a squadron was fun.

    • Allen S.

      Hey brothers we all hold or either held dangerous positions in gods most mightest military in this entire world… Hoah..

  • Tom

    I think naval aviators also face a hazardous jobs. Accidents can happen on the carrier flight deck. Night landings on four acres of sovereign American soil are always dangerous. When taking off, you better hope the catapult shooter doesn’t make a mistake and lowball the weight of your craft before taking off, otherwise cold shot into the water. You’re on a multi-month cruise that takes you to chronic trouble spots. Being shot down or malfunction can mean ejecting into the sea. And aircraft carriers on deployment don’t port for crap, so much time at sea. Plus being in the navy means being worked round the clock, between watches, readiness drills, never-ending details, training, and duties.

    • Dave

      Not a cook but…… Lame

  • Leon Suchorski

    During Nam, the door gunner on a chopper had a VERY short life expectancy. What about him?

    • mwells123

      For that war Yes, for today’s war NO.

  • hoochmooch

    I want my time back it took me to read this

  • Jim

    The list changes with the times. Before Viet Nam flight deck crewmen had the highest mortality rate in the military and did not get hazardous duty pay. That is still probably one of the more dangerous places in the peacetime military but we haven’t been at peace for a long time. When bad stuff happens on deck, many people die, quickly.

  • Scott

    Attack submarine nuclear propulsion engineer.

    • mwells123

      What makes it so dangerous?

      • Scott

        Silent Service
        40 Year old most complex piece of equipment we have

        Under water over 6 month stretch

        1/2 inch of steel from nuclear reaction radiation

        Responsible for every electrical system

        Batteries in bottom deck so crowed in you can hardly move

        Toxic explosive fumes from malfunction of batteries

        Lack of oxygen or fire underway

        Steam engine propulsion under so much pressure it would scald or cut you in half

        Normal parties of the sea

        Undisclosed underwater mountains

        North Korean, Chines, Russian subs looking for you as well as their surface fleets

        Other than that it’s not dangerous
        Hardly worth mentioning

  • old man

    Tunnel rat

    • mwells123

      That position no longer exists

  • ignacio Castilleja

    I think whom ever conducted this survey should and talk to a military professional on dangerous mos’s in the military.You will get a completely different list.

  • Larry

    How about “Bait”? There were two types of “bait” during the Viet-Nam War. The least hazardous was to act like you were unaware of the enemy’s presence. No LP’s, no noise and light discipline, just inviting the NVA and / or VC. Meanwhile there were our snipers covering all avenues of attack. When a sapper tried to penetrate the soldiers position the sniper would take them out. The bait was usually a squad or a fire team sized element.
    The actually most dangerous job was aviation bait. They were called “SCOUTS”This usually consisted of one OH-6A and three crew members ( pilot, right rear torque (i.e. the crew chief) and an observer) Their job was to gather intelligence, flush the enemy, and to draw the enemy out by taking ground fire from a variety of weapons up to a .51 (12.7 mm) machine gun. They usually flew low (tree-top level or even below tree top level) and slow (akin to something just a wee bit faster than a hover) and find the enemy and his emplacements) When the enemy opened fire the right torque threw out a red smoke grenade towards or actually at source of ground fire and returned with suppression fire back at the enemy. That red smoke grenade was the signal for the high (birds) overhead to commence their strafing and rocket runs on the enemy’s position. Every enlisted crew member and a few pilots were all volunteers (the Army volunteer way) Among the rotary-wing units in Viet-Nam this was the most dangerous job. Causalities were high and life expectancy was very short. A good example was the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. That squadron consisted of A, B, C, D, Troops and towards the end of that war E and F Troops were added to it. Those Troops had the distinction of starting every major battle the 1 st Cav was in the entire time the division was in Viet-Nam. It also holds the record as the only unit, out of the entire US Armed Forces to have over 50% of the total enemy kills for the entire division. Uncommon valor above and beyond the call of duty was usually the norm. It is also the most decorated unit out of all the U.S. Armed Forces that served in Viet-Nam. It fought in all four Combat Tactical Zones within Viet-Nam and also in Laos and Cambodia. There was a hefty price award for the enemy on every man who was part of the 1/9. One tour with the 1/9 in combat was like three tours for all other combat units. Combat ( exchanging fire with the enemy after initial contact, being shelled, mortared, rocket attacks, was the norm also. Any combat MOS saw more action 24/7 the entire tour than any other unit in Viet-Nam. There have been written five books about people that served with the 1/9 ( Mainly by Matthew Brennan and two by 1/9 pilots) The National Archives, the 1st Cavalry Division history book, and two more are in the process of being published.
    The 1/9 Cav was know to the enemy as well as our to own units as the Headhunters.It would be a fair assessment that any combat MOS usually had over 50 to a hundred plus confirmed enemy kills. during one tour. The life expectancy of a Scout, Door Gunner, Pilot was very short indeed and our KIA’s proves that.
    I consider those the most dangerous assignments in Viet Nam and am a proud survivor of the 1/9 Cav SCOUTS and COMBAT LIFT platoons. with a few patrols with the BLUES. I never had any assignment with RED Platoon though ( Gunships: UH-1B and C models and the AH-1G Cobra)
    Actually I feel that any combat MOS were the most dangerous assignments of any individual of any branch of the service. But in the 1/9 one has to remember that their combat usually consisted of two, three, four and twenty US individuals against superior enemy numbers and fire-power and 9 times out of ten the troopers were victorious.

    • Joe Army

      As a Grunt and former 1st Cav trooper from the Nam-era…time has past by and lots of things have changed. I did 30+ years in the Army and was amazed at the ever moving, always changing military. What we did in Nam is history now…and trust me on this point…a tour in the ‘sandbox’ with our warriors of this era will convince you of how much has happened in the last 40 years. I’m sure any of our WWII vets will tell you how very dangerous it was to be a gunner on a B-17. As a diehard Grunt…you could not melt me and pour me into the cockpit of a Tomcat landing on a ‘boat’…nor get me into a ‘boat’ with no windows that was built to sink and swim under water!

  • Floyd

    Nuclear propulsion engineer is the MOST dangerous job in the Navy. If the nuclear engines do not run up to 100% the propulsion engineer has to go overboard and PUSH the sub…..

    • Dave


  • bill

    I was just a support troop. No support troops have ever been killed or injured in any war. Am I right?

  • mountainman1usa2002

    All Military jobs are dangerous…so I say all 10+ are equal, if you wear a military uniform, put into combat you are all placed at the #1 spot of most dangerous job….

    • Jaydoc

      Indeed!! Indeed!! I agree and I was pararescue…..but if you put on a uniform period …you have just joined the ranks of the most dangerous jobs in America ….especially combat! Prayers for Oeace!!

  • Ray

    Having spent 19 of my 24 years in the Navy on the flight deck of a carrier with 9 deployments on 6 carriers I will have to question who ever picked the occupations for this article. I myself think that a flight deck is a safe place to work if one adheres to all the safety regulations in place and one keeps their head on a swivel. Unfortunately many don’t adhere to the regulations and there are some accidents that catch the deck crews by surprise. While many accidents are preventable there is always the law of averages that prevail. With my time spent on deck I was only injured once and it was all due to my lapse in good thinking and safe action that caused me some time off the deck until I healed. Today what I miss most is my times on deck with all the action and comardery I experienced on those flight decks.

  • Squidtime

    As “Ray” and others have said, the aircraft carrier flight deck is far more dangerous on a day-by-day basis, in both war and peace. During my brief time on 3 peace-time decks I witnessed a man walk into a COD prop and a friend get blown overboard by a Tomcat (he was never found). I also witnessed the deaths of 7 crewman as an old EA-3B missed the barricade and slammed into the deck of the Nimitz, sliding off into a winter Mediterranean Sea. Each of this author’s top ten are dangerous, primarily during combat (which he didn’t include in the title).

    • Fred

      Ray, is this my old VS 28 shipmate? You should have been an ADR.

    • Pat McGroyne

      I figured the most dangerous job was held by whomever had to tell the Chief that they washed out and / or broke his coffee cup !

  • 12B

    Combat engineers – route clearance is as dangerous as it gets.

    • jp2336

      no, its monotonous and boring unless you’re riding a husky…maybe digging up things with the buffalo. then you call EOD. other than that its nothing more than a very slow convoy, just like every other convoy.

      • 173d Engr. EL-Tee

        Things have changed a lot since Viet Nam where I served. Back then we didn’t have any of the protections you mentioned. We walked the route with only a flak jacket for protection, swinging a metal detector by hand, probing for anything the detector beeped at, and then either dug it up, or blew it up. I’m glad to see how much the process has improved. Better bored than shot!

  • cornelius

    I bet the Admin pogues are gritting their teeth over this one… AGAIN!!!!!

  • racerxxxx

    Basicaly anything you do is hazardous unless you are behind a desk stateside.

  • Winston

    I think there would have been more interest in a list of the “safest jobs.”

    • Bill

      Who took the photos of people doing the “most dangerous jobs” I was a combat photographer and when the shooting started and people with any sense hit the dirt , that’s when we had to stand up, move around and start taking pic’s of the action Any votes for Combat Photographer ?

  • retired462


  • usmc0846

    I doubt there was any “research” per se used to quantify this list…it’s just an opinion the author has. So feel free to make your own list. My opinion is any job where your near or around outgoing or incoming rounds, or in and around planes, armour or big pieces of moving equipment is dangerous…or a bad cook would not be all that safe. Me, well I was on an arty gun crew, then fire control and an FO…..

  • Ed C

    Should’ve been titled…..”most dangerous jobs in the Army!” Come on now….flight deck worker has been deemed one of the most dangerous jobs in the world much less the military.

  • artymgysgt

    I don’t understand why you have placed artillery observers in the 10th place on your list as the work hand in hand with the infantry and from my experiences are always called forward in any engagement with the enemy. This includes NGF Spotters . FACs and mortar team FO’s.

  • wtpworrier

    Tunnel Rat, now that was a dangerous job!

  • PolicyWonk

    Hmmm… And here I would’ve thought being a USCG Rescue Swimmer in the Bearing Sea would measure up.

    While you’re not getting shot at – its a job that takes serious intestinal fortitude in the best of times.

  • Pat McGroyne

    The “most dangerous ” ? The guy that has to tell a Navy Chief that his coffee cup got washed out and/or broken !

    • Rooftop Voter

      Pat, You old memory jogger:

      Back at VA-42 Oceana, Virginia, we had an AOCS who was vein-popping furious that someone had cleaned out his coffee cup that he had nurtured since Bull Run or something like that. The buildup of crud inside the cup only made room for about an ounce of coffee; yeah it was that thick!

      No one told the newbie in the squadron that coffee cups belonging to Chiefs are sacred property. The FNG was tasked with cleaning up the coffee mess area and he took it to task literally and bleached all the cups, cleaned the inside of that ever-famous standard 20 gallon Navy issue coffee pot and had that little coffee table ‘showroom ready’ in no time. The Chief never found out who did it. It wasn’t me but I know who it was and I was sworn to secrecy.

      This happened in 1970 and I think it is OK to reveal it to the world now. Not to worry, no sailors were harmed over this, the Russians did not overfly us and the world was still safe after it was all over. Whew!

  • John

    Inflight missile repair…definitely should be number one.

  • Iron Sapper

    Since when does Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) clear minefields? Combat Engineers do! EOD can always refuse the “long walk” and send in a robot; Combat engineers do not have the option of not going into a breach or on route clearance mission. Give credit where credit is due!

  • Marcial Santiago

    As a chemical Staff Specialist I though I was getting off easy. Think again. Tunnel Rat, Sniffer Missions (low ship), CS drops on enemy positions, Flame thrower, Guard duty on a lonely LZ and yes spraying agent orange (backpack) and on choppers on enemy rice paddies. Yes Agent Orange is still disabling and killing people 45 years later. We were a small group (11) 27th Chemical Detachment with the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, on LZ baldy back in 1968, but we did a lot of damage (mostly to our self”)

  • Keith Anklam

    How about rearming warships in heavy seas or riding out typhoons on a loaded ammo ship in Vietnam coastal waters?

  • Dennis H. Patterson

    I worked the flight deck on the U S S Yorktown C V S-10 while in V S-23 for 2 tours on Yankee Station. If you have NEVER done this at night-you have missed MAJOR drug free rush. Friend of mine was a tunnel rat. As far as dangerous goes-when you signed on and put on the Uniform you were ready to go in dangers path. I also flew part time aircrew in Grumman S/2 Ds and Es. My arse hole got just as tight on the flight deck as it did when my plane was shot at. I also miss the flight deck. The dangerous part kept me alive.

  • dave

    All gave some, some gave all. SemperFi! Old Marine.

  • Treana

    I’m going into the Army to be a combat medic, I enlist next week.