What does the typical soldier do? This varies greatly depending upon the soldier's rank and career field.
The Army has many ranks and positions in it, and all of the information can be overwhelming if viewed at the same time. One way to understand the Army is to realize that it is a gigantic entity full of variegated vocational professions. There are 17 Branches in the U.S. Army, and they are as follows: Adjutant-General, Quartermaster, Air Defense Artillery, Field Artillery, Infantry, Armor, Aviation, Transportation, Chemical, Engineers, Finance, Medical, Military Intelligence, Military Police, Ordnance, Signal, Special Forces. A further two, Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations, do not fall under any of the branches, and are considered separate entities.
When the Army viewed from a vocational standpoint, it's easy to see why officers have extremely different roles versus their enlisted counterparts. For example, a Transportation officer is assigned to the Transportation branch. Within this branch, there are ten different enlisted M.O.S.'s (Mission Occupational Specialties or jobs), including the well-known 88M, which is a motor transport operator. Thus, the officer has a general knowledge of the career field and usually performs administrative duties, while the enlisted soldiers perform their jobs as prescribed by their M.O.S. Each branch has a different number of enlisted career fields hat fall underneath it.
Even knowing an officer's branch or an enlisted soldier's M.O.S. does not necessarily guarantee an understanding of their typical workday. The military is organized into units or companies at the basic level, and each company can have a remarkably different mission, even if they are typically composed of soldiers of the same M.O.S. type as another unit. Officers in particular can often be called upon to perform various duties, as they have been trained as generalists. For example, an officer may serve on a battalion or a brigade staff for a period of time, which means that he or she supports the commander in his mission. Such a role is vastly different from a leadership position, in which the officer is more directly in charge of soldiers. Enlisted soldiers are typically specialists with a far more specific career field, although their assignments can change from time to time as well.
If you are curious about what sort of tasks a relative may be performing as a deployed soldier, an Active Duty soldier, or as a Reservist or Guardsman, you will first need to know their rank, their position, the type of unit they are assigned to, and its function. Even when the same unit deploys overseas, the experience can be vastly different than previous times, because leadership changes and so do units. Most units in Active Duty and National Guards deploy together, so they can be expected to assemble with other units as Brigade Combat Teams (BCT's). Even when deployed in this fashion, however, units generally remain together, which means that the soldiers who trained together in the United States generally get to serve together while deployed.
Reservists typically have a different lot. Most Army Reserve units fall into the Combat Support or Combat Service Support category, which means that soldiers of these units can be deployed piecemeal in sections, detachments, or platoons (typically ten to thirty soldiers). This also means that the tasks performed by these units are generally non-combative in nature. For example, a Psychological Operations team usually takes part in Infantry missions, but its role is as a combat multiplier (an aid to the infantrymen). Even when the entire company does deploy, the soldiers are usually disseminated to various Brigade Combat Teams. This means that the soldiers are divided into small pre-determined teams to support a combat unit in their MOS capacity. The teams can be extremely small such as Human Intelligence teams (which are typically 1-2 soldiers), be moderately sized (a Psychological Operations team is typically 3-4 soldiers), or be quite large (a Civil Affairs detachment can consist of 6-12 soldiers). From mobilization on, these soldiers will live with their supported unit until the completion of their deployment.
If you still have questions about the Army and you wonder what your friend or relative might possibly be doing, just ask! You might be surprised by what they can teach you about the military, and it would probably make their day to be able to tell you just what they do every day.