Author: Mark Loundy
Updated August 3, 2010

Basic U.S. Military Primer
The President of the United States is the Commander-in-Chief of all U.S. military forces. Although a civilian, he outranks all generals and admirals.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff The Chairman of the JCS is the highest-ranking uniformed military officer. He is appointed by the President and confirmed by Congress. He serves a two-year term.

JCS Chairman: Admiral Mike Mullen
Vice-chairman Marine General James E. Cartwright

Joint Chiefs of Staff

The Pentagon
The Building
Headquarters of the Department of Defense and all four U.S. armed services. Although it has a Washington ZIP code, it is physically located in Arlington, Virginia.
Colonel (later General) Leslie Groves oversaw construction of the building during WWII. Groves later commanded the Manhattan Project, which developed the first atomic bomb.

Secretary of Defense: Robert M. Gates, second in command of the armed forces after the President.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell is Pentagon spokesman.

Secretary of the Air Force Michael P. Donley.

Secretary of the Army Preston Green

Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter

Pentagon Facts
Groves bio

Unified Commands
  • Central Command (Covers Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan) CENTCOM Commander-in-Chief Marine General James Mattis (designee,) Marine Lieutenant General John R. Allen, Acting Commander, Headquartered at MacDill AFB, FL
  • European Command Commander-in-Chief Army General Bantz J. Craddock. Headquartered in Stuttgart-Vaihingen, Germany
  • Northern Command Commander-in-Chief Air Force General Gene Renuart. Headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base, CO (See Space Command, below)
  • Pacific Command Commander-in-Chief Admiral Timothy J. Keating Headquartered in Honolulu, HI
  • Southern Command Commander-in-Chief Admiral James G. Stavridis. Headquartered in Miami, FL.

    Other Commands:

  • Cyber Command Responsible for offensive and defensive military cyberspace planning and operations. Headquartered at Ft. Meade, MD, and subordinate to Strategic Command (see below). Commanded by Army General Keith B. Alexander, who also heads the National Security Agency at the same location.
  • Joint Forces Command Commander-in Chief Marine Corps General James N. Mattis. Headquartered at Norfolk, VA
  • Joint Special Operations Command Commander-in Chief Admiral Eric T. Olson. Headquartered at MacDill AFB, FL
  • Space Command Commander-in-Chief Air Force General Kevin P. Chilton. Headquartered at Peterson AFB, CO (See Northern Command, above)
  • Strategic Command (NOT the "Strategic Air Command," which has been disbanded) Commander-in-Chief Air Force General Kevin P. Chilton. Headquartered at Offutt AFB, NB.
  • Transportation Command Commander-in-Chief Air Force General Norton A. Schwartz. Headquartered at Scott AFB, IL.

    Center for Defense Information

  • Branches
    Air Force
    Both male and female members of the U.S. Air Force are referred to as "airmen." The highest-ranking officer in the Air Force is the Chief of Staff.

    The Army is the oldest U.S. military force, established on June 14, 1775. Members of the U.S. Army are referred to as "soldiers." The highest-ranking officer in the Army is the Chief of Staff.
    The primary combat mission of the Army is to engage enemy land forces.

    Elite units:
    Airborne (Parachute and helicopter-borne troops.)
    Rangers (Special operations)
    Green Berets (Special operations)
    Delta Force (Special ops., hostage rescue)
    Special Aviation Regiment "Nightstalkers" (special ops air-insertion helicopters) Ft. Campbell, KY
    Army Special Operations Command, Ft. Bragg, NC

    Marine Corps
    The Marine Corps is the smallest U.S. armed force. It is a part of the U.S. Navy and is overseen by the Secretary of the Navy.
    Often using amphibious tactics to open the way for heavier Army units, Marines are often "first in" during a larger ground assault.
    Members of the U.S. Marine Corps are referred to as "marines." Do not refer to them as "soldiers." The highest-ranking officer in the Marine Corps is the Commandant, who serves as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

    Elite Units:
    Marine Force Recon

    Members of the U.S. Navy are referred to as "sailors." The highest-ranking officer in the Navy is the Chief of Naval Operations.
    The primary mission of the Navy is to prosecute combat on and from the sea.

    Elite units:
    SEALs -- Acronym for Sea Air Land (Special operations)
    Seals site 1
    Seals site 2
    Seals site 3

    Coast Guard
    Best known for its air-sea rescues of sailors in distress and the interception of drug and alien smugglers, the U.S. Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security. Members of the U.S. Coast Guard are referred to as "Coast Guardsmen." The highest-ranking officer in the Coast Guard is the Commandant. During times of emergency, units of the Coast Guard may be transferred to operational command of the Navy. Coast Guard units have deployed overseas in every war in which the U.S. has fought.

    National Guard
    The Army and Air National Guards are the contemporary equivalents of the Revolutionary-era militia. During peacetime National Guard units are under the command of the various state governors. They may be activated for state emergencies, such as wildfires, riots, etc. at the sole discretion of the governor. During national emergencies, the NG may be activated by the President and placed under command of the Army and Air Force.

    Ready Reserves
    Former active-duty members of the military who may be recalled to active duty by the President.

    Federation of American Scientists Analysis Network





    Smart Weapons

    Dumb Bombs

    Scud Missiles
    Liquid-fueled ballistic rockets just slightly more sophisticated than WWII-era German V-2s. Scuds are built by Russia and North Korea. Iraq is also reputed to have a domestic construction capability. The three versions have a range of between 180 to 330 miles with payloads ranging from 1,100 to 2,167 pounds.
    In the Middle East, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, the UAE and Yemen possess Scuds. The missiles are not very accurate and can only be reasonably targeted at a region within a city. Because Scuds can be launched from truck-hauled trailers, they can be difficult to locate and destroy.

    Scud photo
    Scud launcher photo

    Central Intelligence Agency

    Defense Intelligence Agency

    Federation of American Scientists Intelligence Page

    National Imagery and Mapping Agency

    National Reconnaissance Office

    National Security Agency

    Office of Naval Intelligence

    Other Helpful links
    Afghanistan maps

    Defense Dept. Web site

    Iraq Maps and Facts (Links to official military news sites.)

    Military Contractor Profiles

    Military Ranks and Insignia


    Special Forces Search Engine

    Special Operations (Unofficial site)

    Sudan Facts

    Sudan Maps

    Eisenhower quote

    Copyright © 2001-2010 Mark Loundy All rights reserved.