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I can tell you that no one branch is the first to fight or first in last out. Yes I said it, the Marine Corps is not the first to fight and neither is the Army or Navy or Air Force. And how exactly do we go about determining who the first to fight actually is? Is it the first US troop to cross into a certain area? Or the first special ops troop to sneak into an area? Or is is the first entire unit capable of sustaining battle to enter an area? Or is it the first pilot to drop a bomb? Or is it the first US troop to engage the enemy? I don't know the answer and neither do any of you, so let’s give this one a rest. How about this: America is the first to fight. Yea, I like that!!

What I can say about the Marine Corps is this, and it is not open to debate:
  • The USMC is the only branch that is forward deployed 365/24/7 as a complete unit capable of sustaining war all by itself for about a month. These Marine units travel on ships with all the war fighting gear including jet fighters, tanks, artillery and all the other elements of combat. These units are not on stand-by, and are spread out throughout the world's hot spots ready for action. No other branch can make this claim. So when a crisis erupts anywhere in the world, the first responders will most likely be these units aboard these ships. Whether they get off and take part in the crisis is another story.

The Marine Corps adopted this catchy slogan long ago when it applied and that is all it is today, a slogan. Whether it applied to those conflicts of yesterday or not, today the "first to fight" phrase does not apply, but it sure as hell does help with the USMC's hype and image. Or maybe it is meant to be the first branch to be activated or approved to go to war since the USMC doesn't require the same political process as the other branches to enter a war/conflict.
What I can say with great certainty is that today the Marine Corps is not the first in and last out as many love to claim. No branch can claim to be the first in or last out in each and every conflict. No one branch is the first to fight, but very often the Marine Corps will be the first to respond since they are always out there in areas of great concern.

Others such as Navy SEALS or the Army's Special Forces may be the first elite units into an area, but the Marines are very often the first combat ready group to enter an area such as in Vietnam who are ready to sustain combat. And in events like the rescuing of American citizens in our embassies, Marines are often the only ones to respond in the rescue effort since they are already forward deployed in these areas.
And for the record:  I actually was not taught while in the Marine Corps that we are the first to fight. Just keep in mind that most of the time it is people who have never served in the Corps who insist on spreading this tall tale along with many others.
Can you imagine having Army combat units ready to go in an area such as South Korea but not using them first because of this "first to fight" nonsense. Sounds silly, doesn't it.