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United States Armed Forces

The United States Armed Forces are the overall unified military forces of the United States. They consist of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard.

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 Defense (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.

All five branches are under the direction of the Department of Defense, except the Coast Guard, which was made an agency of the Department of Homeland Security 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 United States military framework; the Act merged previously Cabinet-level Department of War and the Department of the Navy into the National Military Establishment (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. spends about $664 billion per year on its military, constituting approximately 40 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.

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