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The United States armed forces are the overall unified military forces of the United Statesmarker.

The United States has a strong tradition of civilian control of the military. While the President is the overall head of the military, the United States Department of Defensemarker (DoD), a federal executive department, is the principal organ by which military policy is carried out. The DOD is headed by the Secretary of Defense, who is a civilian and a member of the Cabinet, who also serves as the President's second-in-command of the military. To coordinate military action with diplomacy, the President has an advisory National Security Council headed by a National Security Advisor. Both the President and Secretary of Defense are advised by a six-member Joint Chiefs of Staff, which includes the head of each of the service branches, led by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard are all considered "armed services of the United States." All are under the direction of the Department of Defense, except the Coast Guard, which was made an agency of the Department of Homeland Securitymarker in 2003 following governmental reorganization after the September 11 attacks. The Coast Guard may be transferred to the Department of the Navy by the President or Congress during a time of war. All five armed services are among the seven uniformed services of the United States; the others are the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps.

From the time of its inception, the military played a decisive role in the history of the United States. A sense of national unity and identity was forged out of the victorious Barbary Wars, as well as the War of 1812. Even so, the Founders were suspicious of a permanent military force and not until the outbreak of World War II did a peacetime army become officially established.

The National Security Act of 1947, adopted following World War II and during the onset of the Cold War, created the modern U.S. military framework; the Act merged previously Cabinet-level Department of War and the Department of the Navy into the National Military Establishmentmarker (renamed the Department of Defense in 1949), headed by the Secretary of Defense; and created the Department of the Air Force and National Security Council.

The U.S. military is one of the largest militaries in terms of number of personnel. It draws its manpower from a large pool of volunteers; although conscription has been used several times in the past in times of both war and peace, the draft has not been used since 1972. The U.S. military receives $711 billion per year in funding, constituting approximately 50 percent of world military expenditures. The U.S. armed forces as a whole possess large quantities of advanced and powerful equipment, which gives them significant capabilities in both defense and power projection, far beyond those of any other nation.


The history of the United States armed forces dates to 1775, even before the Declaration of Independence marked the establishment of the United States. The Continental Army, Continental Navy, and Continental Marines were created in close succession by the Second Continental Congress in order to defend the new nation against the British Empire in the American Revolutionary War.

These forces demobilized in 1784 after the Treaty of Paris ended the War of Independence. The Congress of the Confederation created the United States Army on June 14, 1784, yet for a period the United States did not have a standing army. The 1787 adoption of the Constitution gave the Congress the power to "raise and support armies," "provide and maintain a navy," and to "make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces," as well as the power to declare war and gave the President the responsibility of being the military's commander-in-chief.

Rising tensions at various times with Britainmarker and Francemarker the ensuing Quasi-War and War of 1812 quickened the development of the United States Navy (established 1794) and the United States Marine Corps (established 10 November 1775). The United States Coast Guard dates its origin to the founding of the Revenue Cutter Service in 1790; that service merged with the United States Life-Saving Service in 1915 to establish the Coast Guard. The United States Air Force was established as an independent service in 1947; it traces its origin to the formation of the Aeronautical Division, U.S. Signal Corps in 1907 and was part of the U.S. Army before becoming an independent service.


The United States has the largest defense budget in the world. In 2007, the Department of Defensemarker had a base budget of $431.7 billion. An additional $169.2 billion was requested for operations in the War on Terrorism. In 2008, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008, which authorized $688.6 billion in funds related to national defense. The base budget request for the Department of Defense increased 11.1% to $479.5 billion for FY 2008. $189.1 billion in supplemental funding was also requested for operations in the War on Terrorism for a total national defense budget of $668.6 billion.

In 2009, national defense spending continued to rise. The Department of Defense requested about $515.4 billion for the base budget. $70 billion was allocated for the War on Terrorism, plus an additional $65 billion in expected supplemental spending, though this number is expected to rise. By service, $140.7 billion was allocated for the Army, $124.4 billion for the Navy, $24.9 billion for the Marine Corps, $143.9 billion for the Air Force and $81.6 billion for defense wide spending. By function, $125.2 billion was requested for personnel, $179.8 billion for operations and maintenance, $104.2 billion for procurement, $79.6 billion for research and development, $21.2 billion for military construction, $2.9 billion for family housing and $2.7 billion for revolving funds.

Major defense programs also see continued funding. $4.1 billion was requested for the next generation fighter, F-22 Raptor, which will roll out an additional twenty planes for FY 2009. $6.7 billion was requested for the F-35 Lightning II, which is still in development. Sixteen planes will be built as part of the funding. The Future Combat System program is expected to see $3.6 billion for its development. A total of $12.3 billion was requested for missile defense, which includes Patriot CAP, PAC-3 and SBIRS-High systems. $720 million was also included for a third missile defense site in Europe. $4.2 billion was also requested to continue the aircraft carrier replacement program. With the addition of AFRICOM, $389 million was requested to develop and maintain the new command.

In addition, with the continued efforts in the War on Terrorism, $20.5 billion was requested to expand the Army and Marine Corps, while $49.1 billion was requested for the recruitment, training and sustainment of the National Guard and Reserves.


As of February 28, 2009 1,454,515 people are on active duty in the military with an additional 848,000 people in the seven reserve components. It is an all volunteer military, however, conscription can be enacted by the request of the President and the approval of Congress. The United States military is the second largest in the world, after the People's Liberation Army of China, and has troops deployed around the globe.

In early 2007, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates proposed to the President to increase the overall size of the Army and Marine Corps to meet the needs of the War on Terrorism. Current plans are to increase the Army to 547,400 and the Marine Corps to 202,000 by 2012. The expansion will cost a total of $90.7 billion between 2009 and 2013 as the Navy and Air Force undergo a limited force reduction. In addition, in 2009, Gates proposed increasing the size of the Army by 22,000 troops in order to reduce fatigue from multiple trips overseas, and to compensate for troops who are in recovery away from their units.

As in most militaries, members of the U.S. Armed Forces hold a rank, either that of officer or enlisted, and can be promoted.

Personnel in each service

As of May 2009 Female numbers as of 30 September 2008
Component Military Enlisted Officer Female Civilian
Army 548,000 456,651 88,093 73,902 243,172
Marine Corps 203,095 182,147 20,639 12,290
Navy 332,000 276,276 51,093 50,008 182,845
Air Force 323,000 261,193 64,370 64,137 154,032
Coast Guard 41,000 32,647 8,051 4,965 7,396
Total Active 1,445,000 1,174,563 224,144 200,337 580,049
Army National Guard 353,000
Army Reserve 205,000
Marine Forces Reserve 40,000
Navy Reserve 67,000
Air National Guard 107,000
Air Force Reserve 67,000
Coast Guard Reserve 11,000
Total Reserve 850,000
Other DOD Personnel 97,976

Personnel stationing


As of March 31, 2008, U.S. armed forces were stationed at more than 820 installations in at least 39 countries. Some of the largest contingents are the 142,000 military personnel in Iraqmarker, the 56,200 in Germanymarker, the 33,122 in Japanmarker, 28,500 in Republic of Koreamarker, 31,100 in Afghanistanmarker and approximately 9,700 each in Italymarker and the United Kingdommarker. These numbers change frequently due to the regular recall and deployment of units.

Altogether, 84,488 military personnel are located in Europe, 154 in the former Soviet Union, 70,719 in East Asia and the Pacific, 7,850 in North Africa, the Near East, and South Asia, 2,727 are in sub-Saharan Africa with 2,043 in the Western Hemispheremarker excepting the United States itself.

Within the United States

Including U.S. territories and ships afloat within territorial waters

A total of 1,083,027 personnel are on active duty within the United States and its territories (including those afloat): The vast majority, 883,430 of them, are stationed at various bases within the Contiguous United States. There are an additional 36,827 in Hawaii and 19,828 in Alaska. 90,218 are at sea while there are 2,970 in Guammarker and 137 in Puerto Rico.

Types of Personnel


Prospective service members are often recruited from high school and college, the target age being those ages 18 to 28. With the permission of a parent or guardian, applicants can enlist at the age of 17 and participate in the Delayed Entry Program (DEP). In this program, the applicant is given the opportunity to participate in locally sponsored military-related activities, which can range from sports to competitions (each recruiting station DEP program will vary), led by recruiters or other military liaisons.

After enlistment, new recruits undergo Basic Training (also known as boot camp in the Navy, Coast Guard and Marines), followed by schooling in their primary Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) at any of the numerous MOS training facilities around the world. Each branch conducts basic training differently. For example, Marines send all non-infantry MOS’s to an infantry skills course known as Marine Combat Training prior to their technical schools, while Air Force Basic Military Training graduates attend Technical Training and are awarded an Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC) at the apprentice (3) skill level. The terms for this vary greatly, all non-infantry Army recruits undergo Basic Combat Training (BCT), followed by Advanced Individual Training (AIT), while all combat arms recruits go to OSUT, one station unit training which combines basic and AIT, while the Navy send its recruits to Recruit Training and then to "A" schools to earn a rating. The Coast Guard's recruits attend basic training and follow with an "A" school to earn a rating.

Initially, recruits without higher education or college degrees will hold the pay grade of E-1, and will be elevated to E-2 usually soon after the completion of Basic Training (with a minimum of nine months Time-In-Service). Different services have different incentive programs for enlistees, such as higher initial ranks for college credit and referring friends who go on to enlist as well. Participation in DEP is one way recruits can achieve rank before their departure to Basic Training.

There are several different authorized pay grade advancement requirements in each junior enlisted rank category (E-1 to E-3), which differ by service. Enlistees in the Army can attain the initial pay grade of E-4 (Specialist) with a full four-year degree, but the highest initial entry pay grade is usually E-3 (Members of the Army Band program can expect to enter service at the grade of E-4). Promotion through the junior enlisted ranks occurs upon attaining a specified number of years of service (which can be waived by the Soldiers chain of command), a specified level of technical proficiency, and/or maintenance of good conduct. Promotion can be denied with reason.

Non-commissioned officers

With very few exceptions, becoming a non-commissioned officer (NCO) in the United States military is accomplished by progression through the lower enlisted ranks. However, unlike promotion through the lower enlisted tier, promotion to NCO is generally competitive. NCO ranks begin at E-4 or E-5, depending upon service, and are generally attained between three and six years of service. Junior NCOs function as first-line supervisors and squad leaders, training the junior enlisted in their duties and guiding their career advancement.

While considered part of the non-commissioned officer corps by law, senior non-commissioned officers (SNCOs) referred to as Chief Petty Officers in the Navy and Coast Guard, or staff non-commissioned officers in the Marine Corps, perform duties more focused on leadership rather than technical expertise. Promotion to the SNCO ranks, E-7 through E-9 (E-6 through E-9 in the Marine Corps) is highly competitive. Manning at the pay grades of E-8 and E-9 are limited by federal law to 2.5 percent and 1 percent of a service's enlisted force, respectively. SRNCOs act as leaders of small units and as staff. Some SRNCOs manage programs at headquarters level and a select few wield responsibility at the highest levels of the military structure. Most unit commanders have a SRNCO as an enlisted advisor. All SRNCOs are expected to mentor junior commissioned officers as well as the enlisted in their duty sections. The typical enlistee can expect to attain SRNCO rank after 10 to 16 years of service.

Each of the five services employs a single senior enlisted advisor at departmental level. This individual is the highest ranking enlisted member within his/her respective service and functions as the chief advisor to the service secretary, service chief of staff, and Congress on matters concerning the enlisted force. These individuals carry responsibilities and protocol requirements equivalent to general and flag officers. They are as follows:

Warrant Officer

Additionally, all services except for the Air Force have an active Warrant Officer corps. Above the rank of Warrant Officer One, these officers may also be commissioned, but usually serve in a more technical and specialized role within units. More recently though they can also serve in more traditional leadership roles associated with the more recognizable officer corps. With one notable exception (helicopter and fixed wing pilots in the U.S. Army), these officers ordinarily have already been in the military often serving in senior NCO positions in the field in which they later serve as a Warrant Officer as a technical expert. Most Army pilots have served some enlisted time. It is also possible to enlist, complete basic training, go directly to the Warrant Officer Candidate school at Fort Rucker, Alabama, and then on to flight school.

Warrant officers in the U.S. military garner the same customs and courtesies as commissioned officers. They may attend the Officer's club, receive a command and are saluted by junior warrant officers and all enlisted service members.

The Air Force ceased to grant warrants in 1959 when the grades of E-8 and E-9 were created. Most non-flying duties performed by warrant officers in other services are instead performed by senior NCOs in the Air Force.

Commissioned officers

There are five common ways to receive a commission as an officer in one of the branches of the U.S. military (although other routes are possible).
  • Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC)
  • Officer Candidate School (OCS): This can be through active-duty OCS academies, or, in the case of the National Guard, through state-run academies.
  • Service academies (United States Military Academymarker at West Point, New York; United States Naval Academymarker at Annapolis, Maryland; United States Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, Colorado; the United States Coast Guard Academy at New London, Connecticut; and the United States Merchant Marine Academymarker at Kings Point, New York.)
  • Direct commission - civilians who have special skills that are critical to sustaining military operations and supporting troops may receive direct commissions. These officers occupy leadership positions in the following areas: law, medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, nurse corps, intelligence, supply-logistics-transportation, engineering, public affairs, chaplain corps, oceanography, and others.
  • Battlefield commission - Under certain conditions, enlisted personnel who have skills that separate them from their peers can become officers by direct commissioning of a commander so authorized to grant them. This type of commission is rarely granted and is reserved only for the most exceptional enlisted personnel; it is done on an ad hoc basis, typically only in wartime. No direct battlefield commissions have been awarded since the Vietnam War. The Air Force and Navy do not employ this commissioning path.

Officers receive a commission assigning them to the officer corps from the President (with the consent of the Senate). To accept this commission, all officers must take an oath of office.

Through their careers, officers usually will receive further training at one or a number of the many staff colleges.

Company-grade officers (pay grades O-1 through O-3) function as leaders of smaller units or sections of a unit, typically with an experienced SNCO assistant and mentor.

Field-grade officers (pay grades O-4 through O-6) lead significantly larger and more complex operations, with gradually more competitive promotion requirements. Officers in pay grades O-1 through O-4 are informally considered junior officers; those serving in pay grades O-5 and O-6 are sometimes recognized as senior officers.

General officers, or flag officers, serve at the highest levels and oversee major portions of the military mission.

Five Star Ranking

These are ranks of the highest honor and responsibility in the armed forces, but they are almost never given during peacetime service and are only held by a very few officers during wartime:

No corresponding rank exists for the Marine Corps or the Coast Guard. Like three and four-star ranks, Congress is the approving authority of a five-star rank confirmation.

The rank of General of the Armies is considered senior to General of the Army, but was never held by active duty officers at the same time as persons who held the rank of General of the Army. It has been held by two people: John J. Pershing who received the rank in 1919 after World War I, and George Washington who received it posthumously in 1976 as part of the American Bicentennial celebrations. While it is unclear whether Pershing's acknowledged seniority to the World War II era Generals of the Army was due to his rank being superior or because his appointment was earlier, in Washington's appointment by Public Law 94-479, General of the Armies of the United States was established as having "rank and precedence over all other grades of the Army, past or present," clearly making it superior to General of the Army.

Demographic controversies

Though women may serve as military police, fighter pilots, and on combat ships, as of 2008, female service members are prohibited by policy from intentional assignment to certain ground combat forces, and from serving on submarines. (See History of women in the military#United States.)

The "don't ask, don't tell" law ( ) allows homosexuals to serve in the military as long as they do not disclose their sexual orientation; the Government is also not allowed to ask service members or prospective recruits about their sexual orientation. Since the policy was enacted in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, thousands of service members have been discharged when their orientation came to the attention of the military, often through disclosure by the service members themselves.

Both policies have been the subject of high-profile public controversy in the 1990s and 2000s, with advocates citing military necessity and the special requirements of combat conditions, and opponents denying military necessity and characterizing the policies as unjustified discrimination.

Non-citizens are allowed to join the U.S. military (but not to serve as officers) if they possess a green card. Green card holders are required to register for Selective Service. Those serving are given an expedited citizenship process. 40,000 non-citizens are currently enlisted with 8,000 enlistments a year. Federal law allows application for citizenship after one year of active service and President Bush signed an executive order allowing non-citizens to apply for citizenship after only one day of active-duty military service. A program to recruit a limited number of specially skilled immigrants with only temporary immigration status drew some controversy. Illegal immigrants are not allowed to enlist although some have completed JROTC.

African-American representation in high quality Army recruits has declined by 8.3 percent since 2000 and the primary factor driving this decrease appears to be the American involvement in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Representation of numerous religious affiliations is present throughout the branches of the military.

Order of precedence

Under current Department of Defense regulation, the various components of the 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, and airmen in formation, etc. When the United States Coast Guard shall operate as part of the Navy; the cadets, United States Coast Guard Academy, the United States Coast Guard, and the Coast Guard Reserve shall take precedence, respectively, after the midshipmen, United States Naval Academy; the United States Navy; and Naval Reserve.
  • Cadets, US Military Academy
  • Midshipman, US Naval Academy
  • Cadets, US Air Force Academy
  • Midshipman, US Merchant Marine Academy
  • United States Army
  • United States Marine Corps
  • United States Navy
  • United States Air Force
  • United States Coast Guard
  • Army National Guard of the United States
  • United States Army Reserve
  • United States Marine Corps Reserve
  • United States Naval Reserve
  • Air National Guard of the United States
  • United States Air Force Reserve
  • United States Coast Guard Reserve
  • Other training and auxiliary organizations of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard, as in the preceding order.

See also


External links

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