Joint Chiefs of Staff

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Seal of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

The Joint Chiefs of Staff is a group comprised of the military heads of each of the four branches of the United States Armed Forces, and charged with providing leadership and coordinated military action in time of war.


Chairman of the Joint Chiefs

The Goldwater-Nichols DOD Reorganization Act of 1986 identifies the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as the senior ranking member of the Armed Forces. As such, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the principal military adviser to the President. He may seek the advice of and consult with the other JCS members and combatant commanders. When he presents his advice, he presents the range of advice and opinions he has received, along with any individual comments of the other JCS members.

Under the DOD Reorganization Act, the Secretaries of the Military Departments assign all forces to combatant commands except those assigned to carry out the mission of the Services, i.e., recruit, organize, supply, equip, train, service, mobilize, demobilize, administer and maintain their respective forces. The chain of command to these combatant commands runs from the President to the Secretary of Defense directly to the commander of the combatant command. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff may transmit communications to the commanders of the combatant commands from the President and Secretary of Defense but does not exercise military command over any combatant forces.

The Act also gives to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff some of the functions and responsibilities previously assigned to the corporate body of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The broad functions of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are set forth in Title 10, United States Code, and detailed in DOD Directive 5100.1. In carrying out his duties, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff consults with and seeks the advice of the other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the combatant commanders, as he considers appropriate.

Vice Chairman

The DOD Reorganization Act of 1986 created the position of Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who performs such duties as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff may prescribe. By law, he is the second ranking member of the Armed Forces and replaces the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in his absence or disability. Though the Vice Chairman was not originally included as a member of the JCS, Section 911 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 1992 made him a full voting member of the JCS.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff (as of 2007)
ChairmanVice-ChairmanChief of Staff, United States ArmyChief of Staff, United States Air ForceChief of Naval OperationsCommandant, United States Marine Corps
CNO Michael Mullen.jpg James E Cartwright.jpg George Casey.jpg Michael Moseley.jpg CNO Michael Mullen.jpg James Conway.jpg
Admiral Michael G. Mullen, USN General James E. Cartwright, USMC General George W. Casey, USA General T. Michael Moseley, USAF Admiral Michael G. Mullen, USN General James T. Conway, USMC

Joint Staff

The Joint Staff consists of the senior military officers of each of the four branches: the Chief of Staff, United States Army; the Chief of Staff, United States Air Force; the Chief of Naval Operations, United States Navy; and the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps.

The Joint Staff assists the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in accomplishing his responsibilities for: the unified strategic direction of the combatant forces; their operation under unified command; and for their integration into an efficient team of land, naval, and air forces. The "Joint Staff" is composed of approximately equal numbers of officers from the Army, Navy and Marine Corps, and Air Force. In practice, the Marines make up about 20 percent of the number allocated to the Navy.

Since its establishment in 1947, statute has prohibited the Joint Staff from operating or organizing as an overall armed forces general staff; therefore, the Joint Staff has no executive authority over combatant forces.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, after consultation with other JCS members and with the approval of the Secretary of Defense, selects the Director, Joint Staff to assist in managing the Joint Staff. By law, the direction of the Joint Staff rests exclusively with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As the Chairman directs, the Joint Staff also may assist the other JCS members in carrying out their responsibilities.

In the joint arena, a body of senior flag or general officers assists in resolving matters that do not require JCS attention. Each Service Chief appoints an operations deputy who works with the Director, Joint Staff, to form the subsidiary body known as the Operations Deputies or the OPSDEPS. They meet in sessions chaired by the Director, Joint Staff, to consider issues of lesser importance or to review major issues before they reach the Joint Chiefs of Staff. With the exception of the Director, this body is not part of the Joint Staff. There is also a subsidiary body known as the Deputy Operations Deputies (DEPOPSDEPs), composed of the Vice Director, Joint Staff, and a two-star flag or general officer appointed by each Service Chief. Currently, the DEPOPSDEPs are the Service directors for plans. Issues come before the DEPOPSDEPs to be settled at their level or forwarded to the OPSDEPS. Except for the Vice Director, Joint Staff, the DEPOPSDEPs are not part of the Joint Staff.

Matters come before these bodies under policies prescribed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Director, Joint Staff, is authorized to review and approve issues when there is no dispute between the Services, when the issue does not warrant JCS attention, when the proposed action is in conformance with CJCS policy, or when the issue has not been raised by a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Actions completed by either the OPSDEPs or DEPOPSDEPs will have the same effect as actions by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman

Sergeant Major William J. Gainey, United States Army; first Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

A newly created position, the SEAC was established to advise the Chairman on matters of professional development of enlisted personnel for a joint environment. Sergeant Major William J. Gainey, United States Army, is the first person selected to serve in this position, beginning October 1, 2005.


Origin of Joint Concept

American history reflects the importance of joint operations. Captain Thomas MacDonough's naval operations on Lake Champlain were a vital factor in the ground campaigns of the War of 1812. The teamwork displayed by General Ulysses S. Grant and Admiral David D. Porter in the Vicksburg Campaign of 1863 is a fine example of joint military planning and execution. However, confusion and lack of coordinated, joint military action raised public criticism in the Cuban campaign of the Spanish-American War (1898). By the turn of the century, war had become too complex for ad-hoc joint planning to be successful.

After the Spanish-American War, a joint board composed of the military heads of the Army and the Navy and the chief planner of each Service was established in 1903. The Joint Army and Navy Board was intended to plan for joint operations and resolve problems of common concern to the two Services. But the Joint Board accomplished little; its charter gave it no actual authority to enforce its decisions. Denied the capacity to originate opinions, the Joint Board was limited to commenting on problems submitted to it by the secretaries of the two Military Departments; it was described as "a planning and deliberative body rather than a center of executive authority." As a result, the Joint Board had little or no impact on the conduct of the First World War.

After World War I, the two Service secretaries agreed to reestablish and revitalize the Joint Board. Membership was expanded to six: the Chiefs of the two Services, their deputies, and the Chief of War Plans Division for the Army and Director of Plans Division for the Navy. More important, a working staff (named the Joint Planning Committee) made up of members of the plans divisions of both Service staffs was authorized. The new Joint Board could initiate recommendations on its own. However, the 1919 board was given no more legal authority or responsibility than its 1903 predecessor. Although its 1935 publication, Joint Action of the Army and Navy, gave some guidance for the joint operations of World War II, the Board was not influential in the war. The board was officially disbanded in 1947.

Origin of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Soon after Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, at the Arcadia Conference in Washington, established the Combined Chiefs of Staff as the supreme military body for strategic direction of the Anglo-American war effort. But the United States had no established agency to furnish U.S. input to such a committee. The British Chiefs of Staff Committee, on the other hand, had long given effective administrative coordination, tactical coordination, and strategic direction to British forces. The British committee had planning and intelligence staffs to coordinate the war effort, as well as serving as a "corporate" body for giving military advice to the War Cabinet and the Prime Minister. The collective responsibility of the British committee was set by the Prime Minister in 1924 and given to each new member as a directive.

In response to the need for coordinated staff work, the concept described by Admiral Leahy as a "unified high command" was adopted by the United States in 1942. That group came to be known as the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. This first Joint Chiefs of Staff worked throughout the war without legislative sanction or even formal Presidential definition, a status that President Roosevelt believed preserved the flexibility required to meet the needs of the war. The first members of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff were the "opposite numbers" to the British Chiefs of the Army, the Navy, and the Royal Air Force (an autonomous and coequal military organization): Admiral William D. Leahy, President Roosevelt's special military adviser, with the title of Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy; General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff of the Army; Admiral Ernest J. King, Chief of Naval Operations and Commander in Chief of the U.S. Fleet; and General Henry H. Arnold, Deputy Army Chief of Staff for Air and Chief of the Army Air Corps. Each member was promoted to Five-Star rank in December 1944, when the grades of General of the Army and Fleet Admiral of the United States Navy were established.

The Arcadia Conference also gave formal definition to the terms "JOINT," as involving two or more Services of the same nation, and "COMBINED," as applying to organizations, plans, and operations of two or more nations.

Under President Roosevelt's leadership, the JCS steadily grew in influence and became the primary agent in coordinating and giving strategic direction to the Army and Navy. In combination with the British Chiefs of Staff, it mapped and issued broad st rategic direction for both nations.

At the end of World War II, the need for a formal structure of joint command was apparent and the wartime Joint Chiefs of Staff offered a workable model. The first legislative step was the passage of the National Security Act of 1947 which formally established the Joint Chiefs of Staff and laid the foundation for the series of legislative and executive changes that produced today's defense organization. The most recent major congressional action is the 1986 Department of Defense Reorganization Act, commonly known as the Goldwater-Nichols Act.


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