What is a Military Volunteer?


A military volunteer (or war volunteer) is a person who enlists in military service by free will, and is not a conscript, mercenary, or a foreign legionnaire. Volunteers sometimes enlist to fight in the armed forces of a foreign country, for example during the Spanish Civil War. Military volunteers are essential for the operation of volunteer militaries. Many armies, including the US Army, formerly distinguished between “Important Volunteers” enlisted during a war, and “regulars” who served on long-term basis.

United States

In the United States troops raised as state militia were always described as “volunteers”, even when recruited by conscription. Both US volunteers and regulars were referred to as “US” troops. The rank of an officer in a volunteer unit was separate from his rank (if any) as a regular, and usually higher. When the volunteer forces were disbanded at the end of the war, officers with both kinds of commission reverted to their “regular” rank. For instance, George Armstrong Custer became a brigadier general of volunteers during the American Civil War, but when the war ended, he reverted to captain (He was later promoted to lieutenant colonel). Volunteer rank is not the same as brevet rank.


  • Slovak volunteers in the Slovak Uprising of 1848-1849
  • German volunteers for the Greek forces in Greco-Turkish War of 1897
  • Scandinavian Corps volunteers in Boer Commando Army in the Boer War of 1899-1902
  • Cretan volunteers in the First Balkan War of 1912-1913
  • War volunteers of the Katharineum on 17 August 1914 (World War I)
  • Dutch volunteers corps in Indonesia in 1918
  • Flying Tigers, American volunteers in war-torn WWII Japanese occupied-China from 1942-1944
  • Palestinian Arab volunteers in “Army of the Holy War” in 1947 fighting in the British Mandate of Palestine during Palestinian Civil War of 1947-1948

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