Why Do Marines Have Crossed Rifles As a Symbol?

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The United States Marine Corps utilizes crossed rifles in two of its uniform markings. The first is in the rank chevrons attached to the uniform sleeves. From Lance Corporal to Master Sergeant, each insignia bears a pair of crossed rifles. The second emblem that uses crossed rifles is the expert rifleman badge.

In the simplest terms, the crossed rifles help signify the absolute martial nature of the Marine Corps. As an organization, it prides itself on the primary focus of combat. The phrase, “Every Marine a rifleman,” coined by Marine commandant Gen. Alfred M. Gray, embodies this spirit. It means that regardless of what other duties a marine may have, the primary expectation is to be a competent combatant. Using the crossed rifles across each individual discipline helps reinforce this belief. In the past, the emblem has also included a bursting bomb and naval cannon. These helped denote the largely amphibious and thus maritime nature of the Marine Corps.

It has been suggested that the crossed rifles should be reserved for Marines assigned to the infantry, or for those who have seen actual combat. This argument failed to gain significant traction and was rejected by the broader Marine community. The Corps remains committed to its emphasis on individual combat readiness.