In broad usage, the terms "armed forces" and "military" are often treated as synonymous, although in technical usage a distinction is sometimes made in which a country's armed forces may include both its military and other paramilitary forces. Armed force is the use of armed forces to achieve political objectives. There are various forms of irregular military forces, not belonging to a recognized state; though they share many attributes with regular military forces, they are less often referred to as simply "military".
Although some groups engaged in combat, such as militants or resistance movements, refer to themselves using military terminology, notably 'Army' or 'Front', none have had the structure of a national military to justify the reference, and usually have had to rely on support of outside national militaries. They also use these terms to conceal from the MI their true capabilities, and to impress potential ideological recruits.

The military organization is characterized by a strict hierarchy divided by military rank, with ranks normally grouped (in descending order of authority) as officers (e.g. Colonel), non-commissioned officers (e.g. Sergeant), and personnel at the lowest rank (e.g. Private Soldier). While senior officers make strategic decisions, subordinated military personnel (soldiers, sailors, marines, or airmen) fulfil them. Although rank titles vary by military branch and country, the rank hierarchy is common to all state armed forces worldwide.
Under current Department of Defense regulation, the various components of the U.S. Armed Forces have a set order of seniority. Examples of the use of this system include the display of service flags, placement of Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen and Coast Guardsmen in formation, etc. When the Coast Guard shall operate as part of the Department of the Navy, United States Coast Guard Academy cadets, the United States Coast Guard and the Coast Guard Reserve shall take precedence after United States Naval Academy midshipmen; the United States Navy; and Navy Reserve, respectively.[49]
Examinees also receive a score on what is called the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT). AFQT scores are computed using the Standard Scores from four ASVAB subtests: Arithmetic Reasoning (AR), Mathematics Knowledge (MK), Paragraph Comprehension (PC), and Word Knowledge (WK). AFQT scores are reported as percentiles between 1-99. An AFQT percentile score indicates the percentage of examinees in a reference group that scored at or below that particular score. For current AFQT scores, the reference group is a sample of 18 to 23 year old youth who took the ASVAB as part of a national norming study conducted in 1997. Thus, an AFQT score of 90 indicates that the examinee scored as well as or better than 90% of the nationally-representative sample of 18 to 23 year old youth. An AFQT score of 50 indicates that the examinee scored as well as or better than 50% of the nationally-representative sample.