The United States Military: An Overview


On occasion, private investigators may land cases that involve brushing up against one or more of the branches of the United States Military. For example, a private investigator might be hired to investigate the background of someone in the armed forces and look up military records. In another situation, a private eye may be asked to track someone who is currently serving (see How to Find Someone Who is Serving in the Military). Whatever the reason, it is helpful to have a basic understanding of the branches.

The Armed Services

This article provides a brief overview of each branch of the armed forces and suggests some additional resources if you’d like to get more information.

The Army

The United States Army is the branch of the United States Military responsible for land-based operations.  The U.S. Army is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military and is one of seven uniformed services. The modern Army has its roots in the Continental Army which was formed on 14 June 1775, before the establishment of the United States, to meet the demands of the American Revolutionary War.

Congress created the Army on June 14, 1784, after the end of the war to replace the disbanded Continental Army. This branch of the military considers itself to be descended from the Continental Army and thus dates its inception from the origins of that force.

The primary mission of this military branch is to “provide necessary forces and capabilities in support of the National Security and Defense Strategies.” Control and operation of the U.S. Army are administered by the Department of the Army, one of the three military departments of the Department of Defense.

The civilian head is known as the Secretary of the Army. The highest-ranking military officer in the department is the Chief of Staff unless the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are Army officers. Following are a few key stats:

  • In 2008, the Army had 539,675 soldiers
  • The Army National Guard (ARNG) reported that they had 360,351 soldiers
  • The Army Reserve (USAR) reported 197,024 soldiers
  • The combined component total is approximately 1,097,050 soldiers

For more up-to-date statistics, please visit one of the official websites listed below.

The most useful website is the U.S. Army Website. It provides information and resources, news, and information on life in the military. The site also provides interesting information on Army aircraft, weapons, and vehicles. Other helpful website includes the U.S. Army Reserve Recruiting, which provides information on Reserve service options, careers, training, and employment opportunities. Another good site is the Association of The United States Army, which serves as an educational organization that supports America’s Army – Active, National Guard, Reserve, Civilians, Retirees, and family members

  • Army Outreach – Provides a user-friendly way for the public to find events, access resources, and request support for events.
  • Publications – The Army Publishing Directorate is the branch’s leader in publishing and distributing information products, employing advanced technologies to ensure responsive support worldwide. Their primary mission is to supply official authenticated information to enhance the readiness of the total force.
  • Army Recruiting Command – Responsible for manning both the Active and Reserve forces, ensuring security and readiness for our Nation. Recruiting operations are conducted throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and at U.S. facilities in Germany and Asia.
  • Army War College – Prepares selected military, civilian, and international leaders for the responsibilities of strategic leadership in a joint, inter-agency, intergovernmental, and multinational environment.  The War College – the college and its associated institutes – operate as a synergistic team in support of Army War College students and alumni: all those serving as strategic leaders for our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines.
  • US Army Center of Military History – Provides information on the History of the U.S. Army.
  • U.S. Military Academy (West Point) – Renowned as the world’s premier leadership development institution. West Point accomplishes its mission by developing cadets intellectually, physically, militarily, ethically, spiritually, and socially. The student body, or Corps of Cadets, numbers 4,400, and each year approximately 1000 cadets join the Long Gray Line as they graduate and are commissioned as second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

Army National Guard

The United States Army National Guard (USANG) is part of the U.S. National Guard. It is divided up into subordinate units that are stationed in each of the 50 states and territories and operate under their respective state governors.

The Army National Guard may be called for active duty by state governors or territorial commanding generals to help respond to domestic emergencies and disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes. In recent years, the Guard has been called upon to help restore civil stability in the wake of riots in Baltimore, Maryland, Michigan, and Dallas, Texas. The Guard helps reinforce local law enforcement and provides a sense of security for local residents.

With the consent of state governors, members or units of the Army National Guard may be appointed, temporarily or indefinitely, to be federally recognized armed force members in the active or inactive service of the United States. If federally recognized, the member or unit becomes part of the Army National Guard of the United States, a reserve component of the United States Army and part of the National Guard of the United States.

Army National Guard of the United States units or members may be called for federal active duty during Congress-sanctioned war or national emergency. The President may also call members and units of state Army National Guard, with the consent of state governors to:

  • Repel an invasion of the U.S. by a foreign country or terrorist organization
  • Suppress rebellion or danger of a rebellion by citizens against the authority of the federal government
  • Execute federal laws if the United States or any of its states or territories are invaded or is in danger of invasion by a foreign nation
  • Or if the President is unable, with the regular armed forces to execute the laws of the United States

Because both state and national units essentially go hand-in-hand, they are usually referred to as just the Army National Guard.

The Air Force

The United States Air Force (USAF) is the aerial warfare, space warfare, and cyber warfare branch of the United States military. The USAF is one of the American uniformed services. Initially part of the Army, the Air Force was formed as a separate branch under the National Security Act of 1947. The U.S. Air Force is the most recent branch to be formed.

The U.S. Air Force provides Global Vigilance, Global Reach, and Global Power with manned aircraft, unmanned combat air vehicles, air-launched cruise missiles, and intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Air Force has personnel on active duty, in the Selected and Individual Ready Reserves, and in the Air National Guard. In addition, the USAF employs civilian personnel and has auxiliary members in the Civil Air Patrol.

The Department of the Air Force is headed by the civilian Secretary of the Air Force who oversees all administrative and policy affairs. The Department of the Air Force is a division of the Department of Defense, which the Secretary of Defense heads. The highest-ranking officer in the Department of the Air Force is the Chief of Staff of the Air Force.

Following are websites that provide more information about the USAF:

  • The Official Website of the U.S. Air Force – The official website provides a wealth of information on the USAF. Learn about how to start a career. Also, learn how to find someone in the service and access plenty of resources for those interested in joining.
  • United States Air Force – Learn about the history of the Air Force, explore opportunities to join, and get information on the latest news and events.
  • USAF Honor Guard – Since its earliest years, the USAF Honor Guard has led the way as the representative of all Airmen in ceremonies and events. These men and women of The USAF Honor Guard “…represent every member, past, and present of the Air Force…” Now, in our 60th Anniversary year and still serving as one of the Air Force’s oldest organizations, the Honor Guard continues to serve the Chief of Staff.
  • Airmen from every enlisted rank and company and field grade officers volunteer and are competitively selected from their peers in over 45 different career fields to make the Honor Guard the standard of discipline and professionalism.

The United States Marine Corps (USMC)

The next branch of the United States Military is the Marine Corps (USMC). The USMC is a armed forces branch responsible for providing force projection from the sea. This branch uses the mobility of the Navy to rapidly deliver combined-arms task forces to combat zones around the world. The branch is one of seven uniformed military services of the United States.

The Marine Corps is a Department of the Navy component and often works closely with U.S. naval forces for training, transportation, and logistic purposes; however, in the leadership structure, the Marine Corps is a separate branch.

If you want more information, the following are some of the most popular websites and resources. The best place to start is the Marine Corps Website, which is the official website of the U.S. Marines Core. Here, you’ll find information on all aspects of this branch. You’ll find information on the history, the organizational structure, and the responsibilities of the corp. Of course, you can also find details on starting a corporate career. If you’re searching for that, you may want to begin your search at, the official recruiting site. Other helpful resources include:

  • Corps Reserve – This is the official website of the reserve. The mission of the Marine Forces Reserve (MARFORRES) is to augment and reinforce active forces in times of war, national emergency, or contingency operations, provide personnel and operational tempo relief for the active forces in peacetime, and provide service to the community.
  • Marine Corps Association – For all who have earned and worn the eagle, globe, and anchor, the Marine Corps Association is the professional organization for all Marines—active duty, Reserve, retired, and veterans. The MCA understands and identifies with the sacrifices and services rendered to this great country.
  • Marine Corps JR ROTC – The Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC), like its senior counterpart ROTC, came into being with the signing of the National Defense Act. The act authorized high schools the loan federal equipment and the assignment of active or retired armed forces personnel as instructors on the condition that they followed a prescribed course of training. At its inception, the JROTC course consisted of a minimum of three hours of training per week for a period of three years. Any JROTC graduate who completed this course of instruction was authorized a certificate of eligibility for a reserve Commission to be honored at age 21.
  • Corps Band – Founded in 1798 by an Act of Congress, “The President’s Own” Band is America’s oldest professional musical organization. Today, “The President’s Own” is celebrated for its role at the White House and its dynamic public performances. “The President’s Own” encompasses the Band, Chamber Orchestra, and Chamber Ensemble and performs regularly at the White House and for more than 500 public performances nationwide each year.

The Navy

The next branch in the United States Military is the Navy. The Navy is the branch that is responsible for conducting naval operations. The mission of the Navy is “to maintain, train, and equip combat-ready Naval forces that are capable of winning wars, deterring aggression, and maintaining freedom of the seas.” As of this writing, the U.S. Navy has nearly 500,000 personnel on active duty or in the Navy Reserve and operates 278 ships in active service and more than 4,000 aircraft.

The Constitution provided the legal basis for a seaborne force by giving Congress the power “to provide and maintain a navy.”  In 1974, Congress passed the Naval Act of 179 which ordered the construction and manning of six frigate ships.

The U.S. Navy came into international prominence in the 20th century, especially during the Second World War. Operating in both the European and Pacific waters, this branch of the armed forces was a part of the conflict from the onset of American involvement from the attack on Pearl Harbor to Japan’s official surrender aboard the USS Missouri.

The Navy played a key role in the Cold War, where it evolved into a nuclear deterrent and crisis response force while preparing for a possible global war with the Soviet Union.

The Navy maintains a sizable and consistent presence in the world, deploying ships to such areas as East Asia, Southern Europe, and the Middle East.  The Navy’s ability to project a show of force to the regions of the world engage in forwarding areas during peacetime, and rapidly respond to regional crises makes it an active player in American foreign and defense policy.

The Department of the Navy has three principal components:

  • The Navy Department, which consists of executive offices, is located primarily in Washington, D.C.
  • The operating forces, including the Marine Corps, the reserve components
  • In times of war, the U.S. Coast Guard (in peace, a component of the Department of Homeland Security) and the shore establishment
  • Official Website of the U.S. Navy – The official website provides information on the history, contact information, how to enlist, and much more.
  • – Provides information about how to find jobs, start careers, and pursue other opportunities.
  • The Naval Historical Center – The Naval History & Heritage Command is the official history program of the Department of the Navy. Its lineage dates back to 1800 with the founding of the Navy Department Library by President John Adams. The Command now includes a museum, art gallery, research library, archives, underwater archaeology, and curator as well as research and writing programs.

Other Key Departments and Operations Related to the United States Military

Michael Kissiah is the owner of Brandy Lane Publishing, LLC, which owns and operates a small portfolio of websites, including Michael created more than 20 years ago after working as a private investigator in the state of Florida. Since that time, he has become an expert at how to find information online and has written over 1000 articles on topics related to the investigation industry. In addition, he is the author of the "Private Investigator Licensing Handbook", available at


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