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Legions were the original Space Marine unit before the Horus Heresy civil war. Each Legion consisted of Space Marines of a single Primarch 's gene-seed, making a total of 20 Legions differentiated by Roman numerals I to XX. When the Primarchs were united with their respective Legions, they chose iconic names such as Ultramarines , Blood Angels and Raven Guard.
The size of Legions was not set, and there was much variance, but their strength is estimated at around 10,000 Marines, some perhaps reaching 15,000. After the Horus Heresy, the remaining Legions were divided into smaller Chapters limited to approximately 1,000 Marines each.
The original Legions [ ]
- 1 Primarchs
- 2 Captain Titus
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Who are Space Marine 2’s new Chaos antagonists, the Thousand Sons?
Another one bites the dust
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When Space Marine 2 was first announced , its debut trailer led players to believe the biggest enemy to fight would be the hungry hordes of Tyranids swarming the Imperium. They’re still a major threat, but the latest gameplay trailer revealed the game’s other antagonist: the Thousand Sons, servants of the God of Change. But who are these bad guys, exactly, and why are they such a threat to Titus and the Imperium of Man?
Over 10,000 years ago, before the current grimdark setting of Warhammer 40,000, the Emperor of Man created 20 Space Marine legions. Things immediately started going off the rails; two legions were purged from history, their fates unknown. A civil war called the Horus Heresy split the remaining 18 legions 50/50, with half on the side of humanity and the Emperor. The other half, including the Thousand Sons, ended up siding with the extra-dimensional and wholly malevolent Chaos Gods.
The Thousand Sons are arguably the most tragic traitor legion, and some fans have argued that their primarch, Magnus, did nothing wrong. (He absolutely did a whole lot of things wrong, but that’s a whole other article.) Each legion, loyalist or traitorous, has their own specialization; the Imperial Fists love to fortify, the Raven Guard is the best at stealth, and members of the Death Guard are tough to the point of near-invulnerability. Magnus and the Thousand Sons are top-tier pyskers; these guys aren’t just Space Marines, they also have a ton of space wizards in their ranks.
Back in the days around the Horus Heresy, Magnus the Red — who enjoyed a lot of freedom and power as one of the Emperor’s sons — spent a lot of time mucking about in the Warp. What he didn’t know, because his dad never clued him in, is that the Warp is the domain of the Chaos Gods. One of these malevolent entities, Tzeentch, reached out to Magnus and started some space Skype calls.
Tzeentch offered to fix up a little problem the Thousand Sons were dealing with: a rampant mutation called the flesh change. Magnus traded his eye for a solution to the flesh change. This started a series of bargains that eventually accidentally turned Magnus against his dad and loyalist brothers, and ruined his father’s master plan for the future of humanity.
Making matters worse, the flesh change returned. Ahriman, the favored son of Magnus, decided to engage in a little paternal rebellion of his own. He cast a complicated spell, called a rubric, in an attempt to cure the flesh change. It kind of worked; Ahriman stopped the flesh change because the spell turned every non-psyker Thousand Son into a storm of dust trapped inside their armor. Oopsie doodle!
The Thousand Sons have been a long-running antagonist to the Imperium, and Magnus even showed up at the beginning of the current Era Indomitus to try and stop the Ultramarines primarch Roboute Guilliman from making it to Terra. The Thousand Sons showing up in Space Marine 2 is a little bit of a grudge match. As Titus stomps his way through Rubric Marines and Tzeentchian sorcerers, I’ll be thinking: My dad could beat up your dad.
Tzeentch is a tougher boss to depict in video games than the other Chaos Gods. Change, manipulation, and fate are abstract concepts compared to Khorne’s bloodshed or Nurgle’s plagues. The Thousand Sons are a good way to put a face — well, or a helmet full of dust — on Tzeentch and his infinite number of schemes. I hope we see some of this Chaos God’s weirder elements, like two-headed demons that can tell the past and future, but not the present.
Space Marine 2 is due to be released this winter on PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X; it has no concrete release date.
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List of Space Marine Chapters
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The icon of the Adeptus Astartes
This is a list of official Space Marine Chapters created by Games Workshop . It does not include any fan-created Chapters, nor any Traitor Legions , other Renegade Chapters of Chaos Space Marines or those Space Marine Chapters considered Excommunicate Traitoris by the High Lords of Terra whether they serve the Dark Gods or not.
This is not a complete list, as not every Chapter in existence in the Imperium of Man is known. A separate list exists for Renegade Space Marine Chapters and Chaos Space Marine warbands .
Please note: Fan-created Chapters must be posted at the Warhammer 40,000 Homebrew Wiki and not on this page.
02 December 2022
No known Chapters' names begin with the letter "Q".
No known Chapters' names begin with the letter "X".
No known Chapters' names begin with the letter "Z".
- Codex Adeptus Astartes - Blood Angels (8th Edition), pg. 18-19, 23
- Codex Adeptus Astartes - Dark Angels (8th Edition), pp. 18-19, 23
- Codex Adeptus Astartes - Space Marines (8th Edition), pp. 20-21, 30, 53, 59
- Chapter Approved: The Second Book of the Astronomican
- Chapter Approved: The Cursed Founding
- Citadel Journal 45, pg. 22
- Codex Adeptus Astartes - Blood Angels (8th Edition), pg. 42
- Codex: Orks (8th Editon), pg. 69
- Codex Adeptus Astartes - Blood Angels (7th Edition) (Digital Edition)
- Codex: Blood Angels (6th Edition)
- Codex: Blood Angels (5th Edition)
- Codex: Chaos Daemons (6th Edition), pg. 23
- Codex Heretic Astartes - Chaos Space Marines (8th Edition), pg. 48, "The Primogenitor Primaris"
- Codex Heretic Astartes - Death Guard (8th Edition), pg. 23
- Codex: Chaos Space Marines (6th Edition), pp. 22-25
- Codex: Chaos Space Marines (4th Edition), pp. 2, 21, 69
- Codex: Chaos Space Marines (3rd Edition, 2nd Codex)
- Codex: Dark Angels (6th Edition)
- Codex: Dark Angels (4th Edition)
- Codex: Dark Angels (3rd Edition), pg. 14
- Codex: Eye of Terror (3rd Edition), pg. 16
- Codex: Imperialis
- Codex: Khorne Daemonkin (7th Edition), pg. 30
- Codex: Legion of the Damned (6th Edition), pg. 14
- Codex: Imperial Knights (8th Edition), pg. 55
- Codex: Grey Knights (9th Edition), pp. 26-27
- Codex: Space Marines (3rd Edition), pg. 47
- Codex: Space Marines (4th Edition), pp. 18, 20
- Codex: Space Marines (5th Edition), pg. 30
- Codex: Space Marines (6th Edition), pg. 78
- Codex: Space Marines (8th Edition) (Revised Codex), pp. 22-61
- Codex: Space Marines (9th Edition), pp. 10-11, 46-47, 59, 63, 68-73
- Codex: Tyranids (8th Edition), pg. 39
- Codex Supplement Blood Angels (9th Edition), pg. 31
- Codex Supplement Dark Angels (9th Edition), "Successor Chapters", pg. 27
- Warhammer 40,000: Conquest 1, "A Thousand Chapters," "An Empire Torn in Two"
- Citadel Journal 20, "Creating a Space Marine Chapter - The Sons of Sanguinius", by Isaac Tobin, pp. 19-20
- Dark Imperium (Novel) by Guy Haley, Chs. 15, 20
- Dataslate: Officio Assassinorum , pg. 14
- Deathwatch Core Rulebook (RPG)
- Deathwatch: First Founding (RPG)
- Deathwatch: Honour the Chapter (RPG)
- Deathwatch: Rites of Battle (RPG)
- Wrath & Glory: Core Rules (RPG), pg. 202
- Wrath & Glory: Rulebook (RPG) (Cubicle 7 Revised Edition 2020), pp. 14, 27, 58, 71, 106, 117, 299
- Devastation of Baal (Novel) by Guy Haley
- Horus Heresy: Collected Visions
- How to Paint Space Marines (2004)
- Imperial Armour Volume Four - The Anphelion Project, Second Edition , pg. 117
- Imperial Armour Volume Nine - The Badab War - Book One
- Imperial Armour Volume Ten - The Badab War - Book Two
- Imperial Armour Volume Twelve - The Fall of Orpheus
- Imperial Armour Volume Thirteen - War Machines of the Lost and the Damned , pg. 23
- Index Astartes I
- Index Astartes II
- Index Astartes III
- Index Astartes IV
- Index Astartes , "The Emperor's Shield - Space Marine Chapters of the Armageddon War"
- Insignium Astartes: The Uniforms and Regalia of the Space Marines
- Realms of Chaos: The Lost & The Damned
- Realms of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness
- The Horus Heresy - Book One: Betrayal (Forge World Series) by Alan Bligh
- The Horus Heresy - Book Two: Massacre (Forge World Series) by Alan Bligh
- The Horus Heresy - Book Three: Extermination (Forge World Series) by Alan Bligh
- The Horus Heresy - Book Four: Conquest (Forge World Series) by Alan Bligh
- The Horus Heresy - Book Five: Tempest (Forge World Series) by Alan Bligh
- The Horus Heresy - Book Six: Retribution (Forge World Series) by Alan Bligh
- Psychic Awakening: The Saga of the Beast (8th Edition), pp. 8-9
- Psychic Awakening: Ritual of the Damned (8th Edition), pp. 8-9
- Warhammer 40,000 Compendium (1st Edition), pg. 105
- Warhammer 40,000: Conquest 18, "Space Marines: Silver Templars"
- Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook (6th Edition), pg. 177
- Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook (8th Edition), pp. 51, 161
- Warlords of the Dark Millennium: Huron Blackheart (6th Edition), pg. 6
- White Dwarf 98 (1988), "Chapter Approved: The Origin of the Legiones Astartes"
- White Dwarf (March 2021), "Index Astartes - Exorcists", pg. 42
- White Dwarf (October 2017), "Eavy Metal - Create your own Chapter," pp. 117-119
- White Dwarf Weekly 41 (08 Nov 2014), "White Dwarf's Regiments of Renown - Raven's Watch", pg. 74
- The Emperor Expects (Novel) by Gav Thorpe
- Predator, Prey (Novel) by Rob Sanders
- Blood of Asaheim (Novel) by Chris Wraight, pp. 57, 96, 227, 236, 487
- Dante (Novel) by Guy Haley
- Dark Imperium (Anthology), "Apothecary's Honour," by Simon Jowett
- Deathwatch (Novel) by Steve Parker
- Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker (Novel) by Steve Parker, Ch. 36
- Farsight: Crisis of Faith (Novel) by Phil Kelley
- Voice of Mars (Novel) by David Guymer
- Sons of the Hydra (Novel) by Rob Sanders
- Spear of the Emperor (Novel) by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Ch. 20
- Onyx (Story) by Chris Wraight
- Eminence Sanguis (Short Story) by Guy Haley
- Truth Is My Weapon (Short Story) by Justin D Hill
- The Devastation of Baal (Novel) by Guy Haley, Ch. 10
- Tau & Necron (Collector's Guide), pg. 45
- Soulbound (Audio Drama) by George Mann
- Sons of the Hydra (Novel) by Rob Sanders, "The Serpent's Egg," "Spitting Venom," "Turning Tail"
- Legion of the Damned (Novel) by Rob Sanders
- Mephiston: Revenant Crusade (Novel) by Darius Hinks, Ch. 7
- Mission: Purge (Audio Book) by Gav Thorpe
- Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor-Martyr (Video Game), Chapter 1: Campaign Mission 5 - "Madness Incarnated"
- White Dwarf 305 (UK), pg. 104
- White Dwarf 456 (September 2020), "Battles of the Pariah Nexus," pp. 58-60
- White Dwarf 466 (July 2021), "A Light in the Darkness" and "Torchbearers Crusade Force," pp. 52, 65
- Fantasy Flight Games - The Origins of a Brotherhood (11 Feb 2011)
- Warhammer Community - Successor Showcase: Hawks, Knights and Pointy Sticks!
- Warhammer Community - Successor Chapter Showcase: Paul Norton's Iron Ravens
- Warhammer Community - Successor Chapter Showcase: Martin Morrin's Black Vultures
- Psychic Awakening: The Stand of the Sabre (Short Story) By Callum Davis
- 1 Emperor of Mankind
- 3 Salamanders
Which Warhammer 40k Space Marine Legion Are You Based On Your Zodiac Sign?
Each Space Marine Legion in Warhammer 40,000 is unique. Which is the best fit for your zodiac sign?
The Space Marines, genetically-enhanced super soldiers sworn to defend the Imperium, are synonymous with Warhammer 40,000 . Originally divided into twenty Legions, each with distinct lore, history, and tactics, they're the best-known faction in the game. Even players of other armies have a favorite Space Marine Legion, or one of the Successor Chapters descended from them.
Related: The Best Space Marine Model Kits For Warhammer 40k
We've matched twelve of the original Legions, dating back to before the Horus Heresy, with their zodiac signs. Find your birthday on the list below and ready your Power Armor - does your sign side with the Emperor, or align with the forces of Horus?
12 Aries (March 21 - April 19) - World Eaters
Rushing headlong into battle, the impulsive World Eaters' approach to warfare is perfect for Aries. Where other Space Marines rely on rigid doctrine, the World Eaters operate on instinct, and they get results. Like Aries, they are fast to act and seize the initiative at every opportunity .
Related: The Scariest Characters In Warhammer 40,000
Aries are usually considered reckless, but that might be too soft a term to describe the World Eaters. Their founder, Angron, was probably an Aries himself. Competitive and always spoiling for a fight, he resented the Emperor for saving his life on his homeworld of Nuceria, thus denying him a glorious death in battle.
11 Taurus (April 20 - May 20) - Imperial Fists
Dependability and stability are the bywords of Taurus, and the Imperial Fists match that description perfectly. The yellow-armored Space Marines never faltered in their loyalty to the Emperor, and still dream of unifying humanity under the Imperium. Their Primarch, Rogal Dorn, was so tough and resolute that he was said to be made of stone.
Related: Things Every Warhammer 40,000 Player Does
Taurus take matters at a steady pace, laying a strong foundation and making sure they get it right the first time. By the same token, the Imperial Fists are famed for their impenetrable fortresses. Given time to dig in, there isn't a force in the galaxy that can dislodge an Imperial Fist - or a Taurus - from the things that are important to them.
10 Gemini (May 21 - June 20) - Alpha Legion
The Alpha Legion are known for being mysterious and inscrutable, but they're hidden in plain sight throughout the galaxy. The Alpha Legion make heavy use of agents and infiltrators whose quick thinking and peerless social skills let them lay the groundwork for any operation. With their adaptable nature, Gemini could easily find a place in Alpha Legion's ranks.
Related: Reasons We Wouldn't Want To Live In The Warhammer 40,000 Universe
Unknown to many, the Alpha Legion actually had two Primarchs, the twins Alpharius and Omegon . Omegon's existence was kept secret, and every member of Alpha Legion was modified to look exactly like Alpharius so that nobody would know who the real leader was. With so many twins, it's no wonder Alpha Legion make perfect Gemini!
9 Cancer (June 21 - July 22) - Blood Angels
The Blood Angels are among the most renowned of all the Space Marine Legions, having served the Emperor since the Unification Wars. Like Cancer, they are bright and loyal, protecting those around them from whatever comes their way. Sanguinius, the Primarch of the Blood Angels, died protecting the Emperor at the Battle of Terra.
Related: Warhammer 40k Battlesector: Tips For Playing Blood Angels
Cancer tends to be in touch with their emotions, and the Blood Angels are always mindful of themselves, even in the heat of battle. Cursed with an affliction called the Black Rage, the Blood Angels carefully monitor themselves for signs that they may be overcome and take steps to prevent it.
8 Leo (July 23 - August 22) - Space Wolves
With their boisterous attitude and aggressive battle tactics, the Space Wolves are consummate Leo. Their fiery personalities are infectious, though they might have trouble finding others who can keep up with them. When the Space Wolves arrive on the scene, everyone knows it, and the same is true of Leo.
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Leo forges their own path , and it's inevitable that everyone else will feel compelled to watch. Similarly, the Space Wolves founder Leman Russ swore to make his own way in the galaxy after letting himself be manipulated by Horus instead of trusting his instincts. As a result, the Space Wolves are now among the most unique of the Imperium's Space Marines.
7 Virgo (August 23 - September 22) - Iron Hands
Hard-working and precise, Virgo is a perfect fit for the Iron Hands Legion of Space Marines. Working closely with the Tech-Priests of the Adeptus Mechanicus, the Iron Hands make heavy use of cybernetics and advanced technology to give them an edge in battle. The Iron Hands' fortresses are marvels of engineering, requiring Virgo's dedication to detail to build.
Related: The Coolest Weapons In The Warhammer 40,000 Universe
After nearly being destroyed during the Horus Heresy, the Iron Hands rebuilt their strength, their singular goal to prevent a similar tragedy from ever happening again. The Iron Hands demand perfection in everything , and are willing to reconstruct their bodies with mechanical parts to weed out biological weaknesses. Similarly, Virgo doesn't settle for "second best" or "good enough."
6 Libra (September 23 - October 22) - Emperor's Children
As their name implies, the Emperor's Children enjoyed special favor during the Unification Wars and the Great Crusade. Often assigned to protect important diplomats, the Emperor's Children became associated with the Imperium's power across the galaxy. Libra's tendency toward harmony and fair play makes them ideal for such peacekeeping missions.
Related: Warhammer 40k: What Are The Tyranids?
When Horus declared his intention to overthrow the Emperor, the Primarch of the Emperor's Children, Fulgrim, tried to reason with him. Horus convinced Fulgrim to join the rebellion instead, but even during the war Fulgrim initially had difficulty fighting his former comrades. Likewise, Libra can be somewhat indecisive , trying to satisfy every side of most issues.
5 Scorpio (October 23 - November 21) - Dark Angels
The first Legion to be formed, the Dark Angels use a mix of standard tactics and unorthodox doctrines, getting the job done by whatever means necessary. However, like Scorpio, the Dark Angels don't like to ask for help , even when they really need it.
Related: Warhammer 40k: Who Are The Inquisitors?
During the Horus Heresy, a schism erupted within the Dark Angels; Luther, a high-ranking commander who had been left to defend the Legion's homeworld, betrayed his Primarch and seized the planet for himself. Ever since, the Dark Angels have been relentlessly hunting the rebels while working hard to keep the rest of the Imperium from finding out about their betrayal.
4 Sagittarius (November 22 - December 21) - White Scars
Free-spirited adventurers like Sagittarius might not have a place in most Space Marine Legions, who normally value discipline and uniformity, but the White Scars are a notable exception. Drawing on the nomadic lifestyle of their homeworld, the White Scars practice mobile warfare while taking time to practice hunting, poetry, and other traditions.
Related: Warhammer 40k: What Are The Necrons?
During the Horus Heresy, the White Scars' Primarch Jaghatai Khan was forced to make tough decisions. Stuck between rescuing the beleaguered Space Wolves from a surprise attack or rushing home to Terra to help the defense of the Imperial capital, Khan chose the latter. Sagittarius makes friends easily and can sometimes second-guess themselves, and Khan's decision to abandon his brothers-in-arms the for the greater good ate away at him for a long time.
3 Capricorn (December 22 - January 19) - Ultramarines
Capricorn does things by the book, but that's usually because they wrote the book in the first place! A natural leader , Capricorn was practically made for the most famous of the Space Marine Legions, the Ultramarines. The Ultramarines are the model on which later Space Marine Chapters would be built, just as anyone looking to succeed would do well to emulate Capricorn!
Related: Warhammer 40,000: Beginner Tips & Tricks
The Ultramarines were instrumental in defeating the Horus Heresy , and in the aftermath it was their Primarch, Guilliman, who reorganized the Space Marine Legions into the smaller Chapters that exist in the main Warhammer 40k setting. Taking charge and getting things done is second nature to Capricorn.
2 Aquarius (January 20 - February 18) - Luna Wolves
Like their leader, the Luna Wolves valued honesty and idealism , and they believed fully in the Emperor's cause. However, when Horus discovered that the Emperor's intentions may not have been entirely noble, he decided that the right thing to do was overthrow his lord and take power for himself. Likewise, Aquarius always does what they think is right , regardless of how others might perceive their decision.
Related: Warhammer 40,000: Who Are The Space Marines?
When Horus began his rebellion, the Luna Wolves changed their name to reflect their loyalty to him. The Sons Of Horus were eventually defeated and Horus killed in battle, but would regroup as the Black Legion. Whatever their name, these Space Marines have never held back from expressing their beliefs, just like Aquarius.
1 Pisces (February 19 - March 20) - Thousand Sons
Out of all the signs, Pisces is the most in-tune with their spiritual side. In the world of Warhammer 40k, that's very dangerous, but a Pisces looking to put mystical power to use would fit right in with the Thousand Sons. The undisputed masters of Warp-sorcery have esoteric skills that the other Legions wouldn't dare to even attempt.
Like Pisces, the Thousand Sons were deeply loyal before the Horus Heresy, despite their curiosity into things better left unknown. When their Primarch, Magnus The Red, learned of Horus' betrayal, he used forbidden magic to try and warn the Emperor. The Emperor instead branded Magnus a traitor for using daemonic power, even for the good of the Imperium. Pisces doesn't generally take such things well, and the Thousand Sons were no exception - they joined Horus' rebellion soon after.
Next: Warhammer 40,000: What Is Chaos?
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U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force Struggle for Recruits. The Marines Have Plenty.
As the other large military branches fall short of their goals despite offering signing bonuses and other incentives, the Marine Corps easily fills its ranks on swagger alone.
By Dave Philipps
These are dark days for military recruiting.
The Army, Navy and Air Force have tried almost everything in their power to bring in new people. They’ve relaxed enlistment standards, set up remedial schools for recruits who can’t pass entry tests, and offered signing bonuses worth up to $75,000. Still, this year the three services together fell short by more than 25,000 recruits.
Military leaders say there are so few Americans who are willing and able to serve, and so many civilian employers competing for them, that getting enough people into uniform is nearly impossible.
Tell that to the Marines.
The Marine Corps ended the recruiting year on Sept. 30 having met 100 percent of its goal, with hundreds of contracts already signed for the next year.
The corps did it while keeping enlistment standards tight and offering next to no perks. When asked earlier this year about whether the Marines would offer extra money to attract recruits, the commandant of the Marine Corps replied: “Your bonus is that you get to call yourself a Marine. That’s your bonus.”
In a nutshell, that is the Marine Corps’ marketing strategy: Dismiss financial incentives as chump change compared with the honor of joining the Corps. Brush off the idea of military service as a steppingstone to civilian career opportunities. Instead, dangle the promise of the chance to be part of something intangible, timeless and elite.
It’s more than a little mystifying to the other service branches, because the Marine Corps — a quick-reaction force made up of light, highly mobile infantry, armor and supporting attack aircraft — is not so different from the rest of the military. Except in its rabid insistence that it is. But mystifying or not, the message is working.
At the main Marine recruiting office for the state of Arizona on a recent morning, Gunnery Sgt. Daniel Burrell mused about what might have been the hardest part of finding enough recruits this year. Nothing came to mind.
“We’re in a healthy position to ship more than we’re scheduled to,” he said, adding that recruiters in Arizona already had a sizable pool of recruits contracted for next year.
Sergeant Burrell said he simply tells young people — mostly men — what the Marine Corps offers: “The opportunity to call yourself a Marine, to earn that title.”
“But I have to tell people, it’s not for everyone,” he quickly added.
Katherine Kuzminski, who studies military personnel issues at the Center for New American Security, said that the Marine Corps’ tough and coyly negging message — broadcast through commercials , posters , and the terse words of hard-bodied Marines — has changed little in 50 years.
“The message they sell is, ‘You should be so lucky to be one of us,’” she said. “The Marine commercials market this vision of a disciplined corps who sleep on the ground, eat dirt and fight dragons. For certain people, that has had a lasting appeal.”
To be sure, the Marine Corps does not have to fill nearly as many boots as the Army does. And it outsources many of its noncombat jobs to the Navy, so comparing the different branches is difficult. Still, Ms. Kuzminski said, the mystique the Marine Corps has managed to build around itself has young people reliably lining up to join.
The Marine Corps exceeded its goal of 28,900 enlistments this year, and also exceeded its goals for officers and reservists. It did offer a few bonuses, but they were small and limited to a few hard-to-fill computer jobs.
The real secret, Marines say, is consistency: The corps has stuck with the well-worn message that they are looking for “the few, the proud” to fight the nation’s battles.
The other branches have frequently rebranded themselves, trying to find something that would have the same resonance. The Army went through at least four recruiting slogans over the past 20 years, and then reverted in 2023 to a 1980s-era standby, “Be all that you can be.”
It hasn’t helped. In the year ended Sept. 30, the Army wanted to recruit 65,000 active duty soldiers, but ended up with about 50,000. It was the third straight year the Army missed its goal, forcing the active duty Army to cut unfilled positions and shrink to 452,000 troops, from 485,000 in 2021 .
“This is an existential issue for us,” Army Secretary Christine E. Wormuth said in a call with reporters earlier this month.
The Army is by far the largest branch, and must find the most recruits each year. But other branches are facing similar problems.
The Navy began offering cash bonuses and a student loan repayment program, raised the maximum enlistment age to 41 from 39, and took in the maximum allowable number of what are called Category IV recruits, who score fairly low on military aptitude tests. It barely met its goal last year and fell about 7,500 sailors short this year.
Even the Air Force, which once could rely on having its pick of recruits, faltered this year, falling about 10 percent short of its goal of 26,877 new airmen.
“It’s been getting harder to recruit, and the military expects it to continue to get harder,” said David R. Segal, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland who has studied recruiting trends for decades.
For one thing, about 77 percent of young people are ineligible to enlist because they are overweight, or have disqualifying mental or physical conditions or issues with drug use, according to a Defense Department report .
Recruiters have long known that the biggest factor in a young person’s decision to enlist is whether the prospect has a trusted mentor — a parent, relative, coach or teacher — who served. But the military has been shrinking for decades, and service has become more concentrated in a few regions and demographic groups , so those mentoring relationships have been getting rarer.
The Marines have an advantage on this front, Mr. Segal said. The other branches rely heavily on career professionals who stay in uniform for many years. But the vast majority of Marines are combat troops who serve only one four-year enlistment.
“That means you have all these young, fit people who love the Marine Corps, going back to their neighborhoods and telling their story,” he said. “It’s a huge, informal recruiting force.”
The Army plans to revamp how it finds new soldiers, in part by seeking out more recruits who have completed some college and are searching for direction. The Navy and Air Force also have strategies for better outreach, including an Air Force program that offers free flying lessons .
The Marines don’t have any plans to change.
For decades, Marine recruiters have set 11 small metal “benefit tags” in front of prospective recruits, each listing a reason to join the corps. Pick the ones that appeal to you, recruiters say. Some of the tags list material benefits like financial security and professional development, but most are for intangibles like courage, discipline, challenge, and pride of belonging.
The people who choose the material benefit tags are often encouraged to try one of the other branches instead. The ones who are drawn to the intangibles, recruiters say, will probably become Marines.
Sergeant Burrell, the recruiter in Arizona, said that when he was thinking about joining the Marines more than a decade ago, he asked the recruiter for a bonus. The recruiter replied that if it was money he wanted, he should go somewhere else. He enlisted in the Marines anyway.
“I guess I just wanted to prove my worth,” he said. “There is a lot of value in that.”
Dave Philipps writes about war, the military and veterans and covers The Pentagon. More about Dave Philipps