US military personnel pose for a picture before the start of a ceremony marking the end of the U.S. military engagement, at the former US Sather Air Base This unit looks pretty cohesive. Photo: Reuters

Americans think the U.S. Army is the most important branch of the U.S. armed forces, and they believe the U.S. Navy is one of the least important, according to a Gallup poll released on Friday.

Twenty-six percent of Americans said the U.S. army was the most essential branch of the U.S. Military, followed by the Air Force with 23 percent, the Marines with 19 percent and the Navy with only 17 percent.

Americans' perception of each branch's importance doesn't seem to be in line with some of the U.S. military's biggest successes in recent years. A perfect example is the U.S. Navy. Despite the fact that a U.S. Navy SEALs special operations team killed former al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in 2011, only 17 percent of Americans believe the U.S. Navy is the most important branch of the U.S. military. However, support for the Navy increased by 6 percent since 2011.

Only 3 percent of Americans thought the U.S. Coast Guard was the most important of the armed forces, and only 2 percent thought it was the most prestigious, despite the fact that the branch performed 19,790 search and rescue operations in 2012, the same year it saved 3,560 lives and more than $77 million in property.

When it comes to respect, the Marines kept the top spot as the most the prestigious branch of the U.S military. According to the poll, a whopping 47 percent of Americans think the Marines are the most prestigious branch of the U.S. armed forces, a title they’ve maintained since 2001. The Air Force came in second at 17 percent, the Army was third at 15 percent and the Navy fourth at 12 percent.

“Importance does not necessarily equal prestige, however,” the pollsters said. “While the Army has held a thin lead in perceived importance to the United States' national defense over the last decade, the Marine Corps has consistently been considered the nation's most prestigious military branch, widening its lead over the Air Force and Army during the same period.”

Americans perceived the Marines to be more prestigious after 9/11 than before it, possibly because the I Marine Expeditionary Force was the main spearheading force in the invasion of Iraq. In a poll from May 2001, only 36 percent found the Marines the most prestigious branch of the U.S. military.  

"The Marines have benefited from being viewed as an expeditionary force central to U.S. wars over the last century, along with an omnipresent advertising campaign touting "the few, the proud," the pollsters said. “The trend of prestige has been rising since the beginning of the 21st century, and it may continue in the next few years.” 

Watch Gallup’s trend forecast: