By Olivia Rigby
Everyone has heard of the Marine Corps, but have you heard of the Merchant Marines? The United States Merchant Marine is essentially a group of civilian vessels that import and export goods to other countries. The Merchant Marine has a long history in the United States, starting all the way back during the Revolutionary War! They play a huge role in our country’s shipping expeditions; keep reading to learn more about them and how you can take part in their mission.

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What Is a Merchant Marine?

So, what do Merchant Marines do? What’s their goal? A U.S. Merchant Marine helps transport goods into and out of the United States. The U.S. transports up to 75% of their goods by sea, so many members of this group are called “mariners.” However, mariners can also be pilots, captains, seamen, or mates. Regardless of what position a mariner is in, they play an important role in the timely and safe travel of commercial vessels. The Merchant Marine is technically not a part of the military; they’re managed by the Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration (MARAD), but they often assist with military operations.

The History of the Merchant Marines

As the shipping industry in Europe grew, the United States shipping industry wanted to join them. During the Revolutionary War, the Merchant Marines captured a British ship: the HMS Margaretta. News of this spread to Boston, and the mariners were issued Letters of Marque, meaning they were officially licensed to attack and capture enemy ships. This began the history of the Merchant Marine. These seafaring merchants also played an important role in the Civil War and both World Wars. For the Merchant Marines, WW2 was a big time but also an unkind time for them. The mariners were given Navy guns to defend their ships, even though gunnery and combat training was neglected for them. Sadly, 3.1 million tons of merchant ships were lost in WW2. Mariners died at a rate of 1 in 26, making it the highest casualty rate of any service at the time. After WW2, the Merchant Marines teamed up with many other branches of the military, such as the Marine Corps and the Navy. Though the Merchant Marine might not be as well known as something like the Navy, they still play a huge role in serving our country.

How To Become a Merchant Marine

If you’d like to join the Merchant Marines, keep in mind that the job is pretty physically demanding. However, as a mariner, you’d be able to travel all over the world, and there can be a lot of good benefits to being a mariner. Joining the Merchant Marines is a little different from joining another branch of the military. The Merchant Marines aren’t technically a government service, so there aren’t recruiting stations or a central hiring facility, but they're still going to feel like the military. Typically, you join the Merchant Marines through the Coast Guard, and the process is a little complicated.

Steps To Take to Join the Merchant Marines

  • First: Choose a job.

    To become a mariner, you have to consider the Merchant Marine jobs available. The options available boil down to three areas: the engine department (making sure the boat works), the deck department (the day-to-day stuff), and the steward’s department (food for the crew).
  • Second: Apply for a TWIC.

    A TWIC is a Transportation Workers Identification. It basically says that the applicant is not a security threat. A rigorous FBI and Homeland Security background check is conducted for this.
  • Third: Physical and drug screening.

    Like all other military branches, you have to be in good shape and drug-free.
  • Fourth: Apply for an MMC.

    An MMC is a Merchant Mariner Credential. It shows that you’ve passed the physical and drug tests and the background checks.
  • Fifth: Get an apprenticeship.

    An apprenticeship will give you the experience you need to be a successful mariner. There’s even a Maritime Apprenticeship Program and the Merchant Marine Academy.

Flying the Merchant Marine Flag

The Merchant Marine flag is commonly flown with other military branch flags, even though they are not technically a branch of the military. The Merchant Marine flag is commonly flown this way to honor the Merchant Marines’ history and their contributions to the military. Many institutions and programs can apply to fly the Merchant Marine flag along with the other military branch flags. The Merchant Marines, though not extremely well known, is an incredible organization. Since the Revolutionary War, they’ve assisted the military in thousands of ways. Being a Merchant Marine is not easy, but it is definitely rewarding if you’re up for the challenge.

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