The Department of Defense is the agency charged with managing the military might of the United States. It was created in 1947 as the National Military Establishment and was renamed in 1949. Today, the DoD is the recipient of third largest share of federal spending, employs more people than any other single organization in America, and manages the most technologically advanced fighting forces in the world.

On September 19, 1947 the National Security Act of 1947, passed in July of that year, entered into law. Among its many provisions it established a National Military Establishment comprising the Department of the Army, the Department of the Navy, and a newly established Department of the Air Force and created the position of Secretary of Defense to oversee the new organization. For the first time in history America's military was managed under a unified command structure. To further consolidate command functions and better integrate strategic planning the Act was amended in 1949 to rename the NME as the Department of Defense, give it executive authority, and strip the three service secretaries of their cabinet positions. This overall structure of the American military has not been changed since.

Today's DoD is organized into three military departments, four armed services, nine command areas, and 14 executive agencies. The individual military departments are responsible for recruiting, training, and equipping the American armed forces while operational command is provided by the nine unified commands. The various executive departments provide support, research, and intelligence services to the rest of the DoD.

Military Departments

The Department of the Army manages the United States Army, a 500,000 member force capable of deployments anywhere in the world under almost any imaginable conditions. The modern Department of the Army descends from the original United States War Department, founded in 1789 and renamed as part of the National Security Act of 1947, something that caused no small amount of consternation among members of the Army.

The Department of the Navy manages the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps. The Navy has 370,000 active duty personnel stationed ashore and afloat on hundreds of ships while the Marines comprise 170,000 military personnel. The Marines are the only of the American armed services to have no civilian employees.

The Department of the Air Force manages the 350,000 members of the United States Air Force. It was established in 1947 as part of the overall restructuring of the American military. In addition to its role in training pilots and flight crews it also runs the United States Space Command.

All of the military departments are responsible primarily for producing soldiers. They recruit, train, educate, and equip the military. They also handle the administrative affairs involved with maintaining a large number of people that like to do silly things such as eat--mundane things like payroll, insurance, classes, housing, promotions, etc.

Unified Commands

While the individual departments manage the armed forces they do not manage the operational forces of the US military. That is handled by one of nine unified commands. Each of the unified commands has responsibility for all forces in either a specific geographic region of the earth or for a specific logistical area. The unified commands, and their areas of responsibility, are:

Executive Agencies

The DoD also operates 14 executive agencies that handle a broad range of tasks ranging from fundamental research to advanced intelligence gathering. The executive agencies are:

Random DoD trivia

  • The armed forces, administrative departments, executive agencies, and other groups run by the DoD employ a total of 5.1 million people.
  • 250,000 ground vehicles ranging from trucks to tanks
  • 15,000 aircraft
  • 1,000 oceangoing vessels (including submarines)
  • Operates in 130 countries
  • 2001 budget appropriation was more than $300 billion

Secretaries of Defense

  1. James V. Forrestal, Sep 17, 1947 - Mar 28, 1949
  2. Louis A. Johnson , Mar 28, 1949 - Sep 19, 1950
  3. George C. Marshall, Sep 21, 1950 - Sep 12, 1951
  4. Robert A. Lovett, Sep 17, 1951 - Jan 20, 1953
  5. Charles E. Wilson, Jan 28, 1953 - Oct 8, 1957
  6. Neil H. McElroy, Oct 9, 1957 - Dec 1, 1959
  7. Thomas S. Gates, Dec 2, 1959 - Jan 20, 1961
  8. Robert S. McNamara, Jan 21, 1961 - Feb 29, 1968
  9. Clark M. Clifford, Mar 1, 1968 - Jan 20, 1969
  10. Melvin R. Laird, Jan 22, 1969 - Jan 29, 1973
  11. Elliot L. Richardson, Jan 30, 1973 - May 24, 1973
  12. James R. Schlesinger, Jul 2, 1973 - Nov 19, 1975
  13. Donald H. Rumsfeld, Nov 20, 1975 - Jan 20, 1977
  14. Harold Brown, Jan 21, 1977 - Jan 20, 1981
  15. Caspar W. Weinberger, Jan 21, 1981 - Nov 23, 1987
  16. Frank C. Carlucci, Nov 23, 1987 - Jan 20, 1989
  17. Richard B. Cheney, Mar 21, 1989 - Jan 20, 1993
  18. Les Aspin, Jan 21, 1993 - Feb 3, 1994
  19. William J. Perry, Feb 3, 1994 - Jan 23, 1997
  20. William S. Cohen, Jan 24, 1997 - Jan 20, 2001
  21. Donald H. Rumsfeld, Jan 20, 2001 - Present


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