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Defense Distinguished Service Medal
Defense Superior Service Medal
Defense Meritorious Service Medal
Joint Service Commendation Medal
Joint Service Achievement Medal

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The defense structure of the United States began as a simple concept: in 1789 Congress established the War Department to conduct all military operations by the new nation. However, nine years later (in 1798) Congress separated the naval from the land forces by establishing a separate Department of the Navy. The Secretaries of War and the Navy were both Cabinet members who reported directly to the President, who personally coordinated issues between them. The Navy's mission was to fight on the seas, the Army's to fight on land, and the Marines were an amphibious force that served with the Navy. This arrangement remained largely in effect until 1903, when the Joint Board of the Army and Navy was established to coordinate the actions of the Army and the Navy. During the First World War the need to orchestrate large scale operations involving coordination between the services became imperative.

After the First World War Congress considered merging the separate Services into a single "Department of National Defense," primarily for fiscal reasons. In spite of periodic Congressional interest in consolidating the services, no action was taken. However, during the Second World War it became necessary to rethink the whole issue of command and control of the Armed Forces. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (in concert with England's Prime Minister Winston Churchill), acting as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, established the Combined Chiefs of Staff as the supreme military body for strategic direction of the Anglo-American war effort. In 1942 a "unified high command" known as the U.S. Chiefs of Staff was established but functioned throughout the war without a formal charter. After the war the need for the same or a similar structure was evident, and this is why the Joint Chiefs of Staff was created under the National Security Act of 1947.

The National Security Act of 1947 created a single Secretary of Defense as head of the "National Military Establishment" and gave him Cabinet rank. The law provided that the Secretary of Defense would report directly to the President but left the separate Services intact. Congress also formally chartered the Joint Chiefs of Staff and authorized a Joint Staff to enable the Joint Chiefs to carry out their duties. In addition, a separate Air Force was created out of the Army Air Forces; the National Security Council was established to advise the President on all aspects of foreign and military policy; and, the Central Intelligence Agency (under the National Security Council) was created to coordinate all intelligence functions. 

President Harry S. Truman signed the National Security Act on July 26, 1947, establishing a Secretary of Defense whose primary task was to coordinate defense matters among the separate Services and to develop general policies for the Army, Navy, and Air Force (each of which was to remain an Executive department). On September 17, 1947, James Forrestal took the oath of office as the first Secretary of Defense, and on the following day the National Military Establishment came into being. In 1949 the National Security Act was amended to change the name of the National Military Establishment to the Department of Defense (this legislation also withdrew the Executive status from the military departments, which were thereafter to be administered under the authority and direction of the Secretary of Defense).

The Defense Department is grouped into Six broad entities:

  • Office of the Secretary of Defense
The Office of the Secretary of Defense is the principal staff element of the Secretary in the exercise of policy development, planning, resource management, fiscal and program evaluation responsibilities. The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) includes the immediate offices of the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense, the Undersecretaries of Defense and the Assistant Secretaries of Defense.
  • The Joint Chiefs of Staff
The Chiefs of Staff of the Army and Air Force and the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Marine Corps not only head up their own military services, they also serve as members of the Joints Chiefs of Staff. The Joint Chiefs of Staff is presided over by a Chairman who is appointed by the President. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is senior to all other officers of the Armed Forces and is the principal military advisor to the President, the National Security Council, and the Secretary of Defense. The Chiefs of Services are the senior military officers of their respective Services and are responsible for keeping the Secretaries of the Military Departments fully informed on matters considered or acted upon by the JCS and are military advisors to the President, the National Security Council and the Secretary of defense.
  • The Military Departments
As the power of the Secretary of Defense increased, that of the Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force has decreased. The Reorganization Act of 1958 removed the military departments from the operational chain of command, which now runs from the President to the Secretary of Defense, and through the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the commanders of forces in the field. Each military department is still responsible for organizing, training, and equipping its personnel. Even though the service secretaries are no longer Cabinet officers, they still retain their right of direct access to Congress and the President.
  • The Unified and Specified Combatant Commands
The Unified and Specified Combatant Commands are responsible to the President and the Secretary of Defense for accomplishing the military missions assigned to them. Their commanders exercise command over forces assigned to them as directed by the Secretary of Defense. Unified Combatant Commands consist of large forces from more than one branch of the Armed Forces. Specified Combatant Commands, on the other hand, are made up of forces from only one branch of the Armed Forces (at the present time the Forces Command is the only Specified Combatant Command). The Unified Combatant Commands currently include the following:
  • U.S. Atlantic Command (LANTCOM)

  • U.S. Pacific Command (CINCPAC)
  • U.S. European Command (USEUCOM)

  • U.S. Readiness Command (USCINCRED)

  • U.S. Southern Command (USCINCSO)

  • U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM)

  • U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM)

  • U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM)

  • U.S. Special Operations Command
  • The Defense Agencies
The defense agencies perform selected support and service functions on a Department-wide bases. Defense Agencies that are assigned wartime support missions are designated as Combat Support Agencies.
  • Department of Defense Field Activities
DoD Field Activities are established by the Secretary of Defense, under the provisions of Title 10, United States Code, to perform selected support and service functions of a more limited scope than Defense Agencies.

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