What is Military Law? | Definition & Terms to Know in 2021


What is the definition of the term “military law”? As a branch of law, it is a set of legal norms regulating social relations in the organization of the national armed forces in the USA and other countries.

What aspects of life are regulated by army law in the United States

Military law (also known as military legislation) is a system of legal norms established by the state that enshrines the principles and forms of armed forces, regulating relations in the field of their construction, everyday life, and activities and determining the duties, rights, and responsibilities of people, liable for military service and other members of societies, relations in the field of military affairs of the state.

It is a complex branch of law since it includes the norms of traditional branches of national law of the United States (administrative, civil, labor, criminal, and others), and special military legal acts. In a broad sense, military law covers all legal issues related to military affairs.

Military laws and regulations in US

One of the main features of the Anglo-Saxon legal system, which exists in the United States, is the absence of a unified legal norms codification system. This statement determines the presence of a reasonably wide range of sources of legislation, including military law.

Military legislation includes:

  • US Constitution and its amendments;
  • US legislative acts (Code of Federal Law, including Section 32 “National Defense” and Section 10 “Armed Forces”, the Unified Code of Military Justice, which entered into force in 1951 as amended in 1983, servicemen “1948,” On officers “1947,” On the reform of the pension provision for military personnel “1986, etc.);
  • implementing regulations, directives, statutes, and instructions.

All United States Congress statutes are consolidated into the United States Code of Laws, which is amended and reissued every six years. In particular, US laws relating to national security and defense of the country are included in the following sections of the Code of Laws: “Armed Forces”, “Coast Guard”, “National Guard”, “Financial allowances and monetary allowances for military personnel”, “Benefits for Veterans of the Armed Forces” and “War and National Defense”.

The issue of conscription and manning in the US military law

Both US citizens and foreigners, who have received an official residence permit in this country, can be enrolled in the US military.

In the United States, according to the 1948 Conscription Act, the draft age was determined from 18.5 to 26 years. After the abolition of military service in 1980, male and female citizens between the ages of 17 and 35 are accepted for military service, and depending on the type of armed forces and type of troops (according to the official sources), there is a gradation: army – from 17 to 34 years old, air forces – from 17 to 27 years old, naval forces – from 17 to 35 years old, marines – from 17 to 28 years old. Persons under the age of 18 enter military service with the written permission of their parents or guardians.

What are the stages of selection for the US military?

In the US Army, all candidates undergo a medical examination, according to which they are divided into three categories.

  • Category “A” includes candidates fit for military service without restrictions;
  • Category “B” – with minor restrictions;
  • Category “C” – partially fit.

Only persons belonging to categories “A” and “B” are accepted as volunteers for military service in peacetime. Persons of category “C” for military service can only be called up during the period of mobilization.

The US Army prefers to recruit people who mainly have secondary education, and increased requirements are imposed on NCOs and officers.

When entering military service, candidates pass qualification tests to identify their general educational level, inclinations, and abilities, the possibility, and practicality of using them in their chosen specialty. Based on qualification tests (according to a 100-point system), candidates are divided into five categories.

A volunteer who has not received the required number of points in his chosen specialty, but has passed qualification tests with a positive result, may be offered another specialty. The level of education of recruits is of great importance since the losses during the first term of service for recruits with secondary education are two times lower than in other groups. In this regard, Congress passed a law that at least 65% of male recruits must have a high school diploma.

The US Armed Forces are recruited voluntarily; that is, the basis for the emergence of military-service relations is a voluntary agreement of the parties.

If you are interested in army legislation in the United States, you can find detailed information on general aspects and various pitfalls of military law on the website lawrina.com, where professional lawyers cover common and much more complicated practices and cases in this area of law.

What are the rights and responsibilities of the servicemen according to military laws and regulations?

Questions of the legal status of American army personnel are enshrined in Art. 53 “Rights and Responsibilities” (3rd volume of the US Code of Laws, Part II, Subsection “A”), which contains provisions on guarantees of the electoral rights of military personnel, their participation in political activities, freedom of conscience, filing complaints, guarantee personal inviolability.

The legal status of American military personnel covers three areas: civil rights and freedoms of military personnel; military service rights, as well as their organization, military service duties, and associated legal liability. American legislation establishes both the role and place of the armed forces in society and the social and legal status of specific military personnel categories.

Сivil rights and freedoms of military personnel

US law guarantees American servicemen the exercise of the following rights and freedoms, in some cases with some restrictions:

  • participation in political parties, public organizations, and mass movements, participation in rallies, processions, and demonstrations;
  • freedom of speech and press;
  • the right to rest (vacation no more than 60 days, at the expense of future service – up to 45 days);
  • the right to medical care and health protection (constant monitoring of the state of health);
  • the right to compensation for damage caused to the person of a soldier or personal property in the performance of official duties;
  • the right to retirement benefits (service in the regular armed forces for at least 20 years, as well as disability);
  • the right to file complaints (a soldier has the right to file a complaint on any issue with the inspector general).

Military service duties and associated legal liability

Main responsibilities of the US troops include:

  • willingness to give their lives to defend their country;
  • unquestioning obedience to the orders of the US president and their commanders and superiors;
  • fast and accurate solution of the assigned tasks;
  • achieving and maintaining the required level of professional military training;
  • strict adherence to discipline and moral and ethical standards following the existing “Code of Conduct” in the US armed forces;
  • fulfillment of official duties of military personnel.

Further information about the military rights and responsibilities you can find here.

Insurance of servicemen

The main regulatory document is the Military Insurance Guidelines.

The US government has become involved in implementing personal insurance for military personnel in conjunction with a private insurance system. The purpose of such co-insurance is to offer cheaper insurance when purchasing an insurance policy from a commercial insurance company. Under this policy, the US government pays insurance premiums to the insurance company for the army service risks. All other risks are covered by insurance premiums deducted from the salaries of army personnel. If you are planning to retire, particular government websites will help you calculate the final pay and number of other benefits and insurance.


Army legislation in the USA is quite complex and confusing, but not for professionals who deal with it every day. It is best to consult with experienced lawyers who will help you with military service issues.


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