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The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) is by law the highest ranking military officer in the United States armed forces, and the principal military adviser to the President of the United States, the National Security Council, and the Secretary of Defense. The Chairman outranks all respective heads of each service branch but does not have operational command authority over them or their service branches. He leads the meetings and coordinates the efforts of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), comprising the Chairman, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Chiefs of Staff of the United States Army and United States Air Force, the Chief of Naval Operations, and the Commandant of the Marine Corps. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have offices in The Pentagonmarker.

Although the office of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is considered very important and highly prestigious, neither the Chairman, the Vice Chairman, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a body have any command authority over combatant forces. The Goldwater-Nichols Act places the chain of command from the President to the Secretary of Defense directly to the commanders of the Unified Combatant Commands. However the chiefs do have authority over personnel assignments and oversight over resources and personnel allocated to the combatant commands within their respective services. The Chairman may also transmit communications to the combatant commanders from the President and Secretary of Defense as well as allocate additional funding to the combatant commanders if necessary. He also performs all other functions prescribed under or allocates those duties and responsibilities to other officers in the joint staff under his name.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is assisted by the Director of the Joint Staff, a three-star officer who assists the Chairman with the management of the Joint Staff, an organization composed of approximately equal numbers of officers contributed by the Army, the Navy and Marine Corps, and the Air Force, who have been assigned to assist the Chairman with the unified strategic direction, operation, and integration of the combatant land, naval, and air forces.

Since 2005, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has been advised on enlisted personnel matters by the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman who serves as a communication conduit between the Chairman and the senior enlisted advisors (sergeants major, command master chief petty officers, and command chief master sergeants) of the combatant commands.

Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, USN, served as Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy (July 20, 1942March 21 1949). Leahy's office was the precursor to the post of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Chairman is nominated by the President for appointment and must be confirmed via majority vote by the Senate. By statute, the Chairman is appointed as a four-star general or admiral.

Chief of Staff to the CINC

Name Photo Branch Term began Term ended
1. FADM William D. Leahy               USN July 20, 1942       March 21 1949       

Chairmen of the JCS

Name Photo Branch Term began Term ended Appointed By
1. General of the Army Omar Bradley USA August 19, 1949 August 15 1953 President Harry Truman
2. ADM Arthur W. Radford USN August 15 1953 August 15 1957 President Dwight D. Eisenhower
3. Gen Nathan F. Twining USAF August 15 1957 September 30, 1960 President Dwight D. Eisenhower
4. GEN Lyman Lemnitzer USA October 1, 1960 September 30, 1962 President Dwight D. Eisenhower
5. GEN Maxwell D. Taylor USA October 1, 1962 July 1, 1964 President John F. Kennedy
6. GEN Earle Wheeler USA July 3, 1964 July 2, 1970 President Lyndon B. Johnson
7. ADM Thomas H. Moorer USN July 2, 1970 July 1, 1974 President Richard Nixon
8. Gen George S. Brown USAF July 1, 1974 June 20, 1978 President Richard Nixon
9. Gen David C. Jones USAF June 21, 1978 June 18, 1982 President Jimmy Carter
10. GEN John W. Vessey Jr. USA June 18, 1982 September 30, 1985 President Ronald Reagan
11. ADM William J. Crowe, Jr. USN October 1, 1985 September 30, 1989 President Ronald Reagan
12. GEN Colin Powell USA October 1, 1989 September 30, 1993 President George H.W. Bush
(acting) ADM David E. Jeremiah USN October 1, 1993 October 24, 1993 President Bill Clinton
13. GEN John Shalikashvili USA October 25, 1993 September 30, 1997 President Bill Clinton
14. GEN Hugh Shelton USA October 1, 1997 September 30, 2001 President Bill Clinton
15. Gen Richard B. Myers USAF October 1, 2001 September 30, 2005 President George W. Bush
16. Gen Peter Pace USMC October 1, 2005 September 30, 2007 President George W. Bush
17. ADM Michael Mullen USN October 1, 2007 Incumbent President George W. Bush

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by Branch of Service

  • Air Force - 4
  • Army - 8
  • Marine Corps - 1
  • Navy - 4

Note: This list does not include Chief of Staff to the CINC FADM Leahy and acting Chairman ADM Jeremiah.

See also


  1. [1] 10 USC 152. Chairman: appointment; grade and rank
  2. [2] 10 USC 151. Joint Chiefs of Staff: composition; functions
  3. [3] Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986
  4. [4] 10 USC 162. Combatant commands: assigned forces; chain of command
  5. [5] 10 USC 163. Role of Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff
  6. [6] 10 USC 166a. Combatant commands: funding through the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff

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