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Armed Services

The Branches Of The Armed Services

The five branches of the U.S. armed services are staffed by volunteer enlisted men and women who hold various ranks. Military personnel are no longer conscripted, or drafted, into service.


The Army was the first branch of the armed services established by Congress. The U.S. Army evolved from the Continental Army, created on July 14, 1775, by the CONTINENTAL CONGRESS to fight the Revolutionary War against the British.

The three segments of the Army are the Army Reserve, the Army National Guard, and the Active Army. The Army Reserve provides training and combat support to the Active Army in times of emergency. The Army National Guard, the oldest military force in the United States, began in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636. During peacetime, the National Guard unit in each state is commanded by the state governor. The National Guard often assists in natural disasters, such as earthquakes or floods, or in civil unrest, such as riots. The president has the authority to call the Guard to federal duty when necessary. For example, President DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER federalized the Arkansas National Guard in 1957 and assigned them to control angry mobs protesting the enrollment of African American students in a previously segregated Little Rock high school. Similarly, President GEORGE H.W. BUSH assigned Guard units to duty with the Active Army during the Persian Gulf War of 1991.

The Army's many responsibilities include combat, combat support, and combat service support arms. The combat arms, including the infantry, armored divisions, air defense artillery, field artillery, and aviation, are directly involved in fighting. The combat support arms include the Corps of Engineers, the Signal Corps, the Military Police Corps, the Chemical Corps, and military intelligence. The combat service support arms provide logistical and administrative assistance to the other arms.

Women were originally restricted to the Women's Army Corps (WAC) but now serve alongside men in almost all capacities. Their roles have been gradually expanded, and they now serve in combat units, which gives them equal opportunities with men for higher pay and advancement in rank.

The U.S. Military Academy, the oldest of the service academies, was established at West Point, New York, in 1802. It was originally charged with training army engineers, but evolved into the training ground for those wishing to become officers in the Army. West Point has been coeducational since 1976.


The Navy traces its origins to 1775 and the American Revolution. A fleet established to fight the British was disbanded after the war, but the need for a naval force was again recognized in 1798, when Congress established the NAVY DEPARTMENT. The Navy was a separate branch of the government until the National Security Act of 1947 (5 U.S.C.A. § 101 et seq., 10 U.S.C.A. § 101 et seq., 50 U.S.C.A. § 401 et seq.) created the Department of Defense with a cabinet-level secretary to oversee all branches of the military.

The Navy's forces are grouped into various fleets that serve in different areas of the world. Traditionally, odd-numbered fleets, such as the Third and Seventh Fleets, have served in the Pacific Ocean. Even-numbered fleets, like the Second and Sixth Fleets, have served in the Atlantic Ocean. Over the years, U.S. Navy fleets have been disestablished (removed from service) and reconstituted (restored to service) as the distribution of military power throughout the world has changed.

A naval reserve force is made up of civilians who train regularly and stand ready to be called in times of need.

Although women originally could only join the Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES), they now serve alongside men, drawing equal pay and attaining equivalent rank.

The Naval Academy, at Annapolis, Maryland, was established in 1845 to train young men to be officers in the Navy and the Marine Corps. Women have been admitted since 1976.

Air Force

The Aeronautical Division of the Army Signal Corps, the precursor to the U.S. Air Force, was established on August 1, 1907. The First Aero Squadron was organized in 1914 and served with the Mexican Border Expedition in 1916. The Air Force remained a division of the Army until 1947.

The Air Force is responsible for domestic security in such areas as the Strategic Air Command (SAC), which plays a major role in deterring air and missile attacks as well as conducting space surveillance. Other responsibilities of the Air Force include maintaining a combat-ready mobile strike force and operating air bases in key areas around the world.

The Air Force's chief of staff, along with the chiefs of staff of the Army and the Navy, is a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which advises the president and the secretary of defense.

The Air Force Academy, authorized in 1954 and located in Colorado Springs, Colorado, prepares college students to become officers in the Air Force. Women were admitted beginning in 1976.

Marine Corps

Steeped in history, tradition, and folklore, the Marine Corps, a self-contained amphibious combat force within the Department of the Navy, traces its roots to the Revolutionary War. During its two hundred-year history, the U.S. Marines has fulfilled its obligation to provide air, land, and sea support for naval forces, establish beachheads during war, and protect U.S. lives and interests at foreign embassies and legations.

The Marines maintain a large reserve unit, which, when mobilized in times of crisis, can increase the corps strength by 25 percent within weeks.

The Marine Corps Women's Reserve, established in 1942, provides support in the mainland United States and in Hawaii so that men are available for combat.

Marine Corps officers are trained mainly at the U.S. Naval Academy, at Annapolis.

Coast Guard

The U.S. Coast Guard was first established in 1790 as the U.S. Lighthouse Service under the DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY. It later moved to the DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, where it remained for 36 years. On February 25, 2003, the Coast Guard officially transferred to the DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, where it comprises about one-fourth of the new department. The move was part of the largest government reorganization since the DEFENSE DEPARTMENT was established in 1947.

The Coast Guard is charged with guarding the country's coasts against SMUGGLING, enforcing customs laws, and responding to emergencies along the coasts. The move to the Department of Homeland Security did not change the Coast Guard's mission significantly, although it is now responsible for securing the nation's ports and has been prepared to be involved with international conflicts in the WAR ON TERRORISM.

The Coast Guard provides officer training for college students at the Coast Guard Academy, at New London, Connecticut, which began admitting women in 1976.

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