Joint Chiefs of Staff

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Symbol of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States of America





The Joint Chiefs of Staff and several Commanders in Chief gathered at the Pentagon on 1 July 1983.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) is a body of senior uniformed leaders in the United States Department of Defense who advise the Secretary of Defense, the Homeland Security Council, the National Security Council and the President of the United States on military matters. The composition of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is defined by statute and consists of

the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS),

Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (VCJCS), and

the Military Service Chiefs from the



Air Force,

the Marine Corps, and the

Chief of the National Guard Bureau,

all appointed by the President following Senate confirmation. Each of the individual Military Service Chiefs, outside of their Joint Chiefs of Staff obligations, works directly for the Secretary of the Military Department concerned, i.e., Secretary of the Army, Secretary of the Navy, and the Secretary of the Air Force.

Following the Goldwater-Nichols Act in 1986, the Joint Chiefs of Staff do not have operational command authority, neither individually nor collectively, as the chain of command goes from the President to the Secretary of Defense, and from the Secretary of Defense to the Commanders of the Combatant Commands. Goldwater-Nichols also created the office of Vice Chairman, and the Chairman is now designated as the principal military adviser to the Secretary of Defense, the Homeland Security Council, the National Security Council and to the President.

The Joint Staff (JS) is a headquarters staff in the Pentagon, composed of personnel from each of the four Department of Defense armed services, that assists the Chairman and the Vice Chairman in discharging their responsibilities and is managed by the Director of the Joint Staff (DJS) who is a lieutenant general or Navy vice admiral.

Current members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Position Photograph Name Service
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

GEN Martin Dempsey

Def United States Army
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

ADM James A. Winnefeld, Jr.

Def United States Navy
Chief of Staff of the Army

GEN Raymond T. Odierno

Def United States Army
Commandant of the Marine Corps

Gen Joseph F. Dunford, Jr.

Def United States Marine Corps
Chief of Naval Operations

ADM Jonathan W. Greenert

Def United States Navy
Chief of Staff of the Air Force

Gen Mark A. Welsh III

Def United States Air Force
Chief of the National Guard Bureau

GEN Frank J. Grass

Def United States Army

Armed Service Chief not a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

Position Photograph Name Service
Commandant of the Coast Guard

ADM Paul F. Zukunft

Def United States Coast Guard



Joint Board

As the military of the United States grew in size following the American Civil War, joint military action between the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy became increasingly difficult. The Army and Navy were unsupportive of each other at either the planning or operational level and were constrained by disagreements during the Spanish-American War in the Caribbean campaigns. The Joint Army and Navy Board was established in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt, comprising representatives from the military heads and chief planners of both the Navy's General Board and the Army's General Staff. The Joint Board acting as an "advisory committee" was created to plan joint operations and resolve problems of common rivalry between the two services.

Yet, the Joint Board accomplished little as its charter gave it no authority to enforce its decisions. The Joint Board also lacked the ability to originate its own opinions and was thus limited to commenting only on the problems submitted to it by the Secretaries of War and Navy. As a result, the Joint Board had little to no impact on the manner the United States conducted World War I.

After World War I, in 1919 the two Secretaries agreed to reestablish and revitalize the Joint Board. The mission of the General staff was to develop plans for mobilization for the next war; the US was always designated "Blue" and potential enemies were assigned various other colors.

This time, the Joint Board’s membership would include the Chiefs of Staff, their deputies, and the Chief of War Plans Division for the Army and Director of Plans Division for the Navy. Under the Joint Board would be a staff called the Joint Planning Committee to serve the Board. Along with new membership, the Joint Board could initiate recommendations on its own initiative. However, the Joint Board still did not possess the legal authority to enforce its decisions.

World War II

President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Winston Churchill established the Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS) during the 1942 Arcadia Conference. The CCS would serve as the supreme military body for strategic direction of the combined US-British Empire war effort.

The UK portion of the CCS would be composed of the British Chiefs of Staff Committee, but the United States had no equivalent body. The Joint Board's lack of authority made it of little use to the CCS, although its 1935 publication, Joint Action of the Army and Navy, did give some guidance for the joint operations during World War II. The Joint Board had little influence during the war and was ultimately disbanded in 1947.

As a counterpart to the UK's Chiefs of Staff Committee in the CCS, and to provide better coordinated effort and coordinated staff work for America's military effort, Admiral William D. Leahy proposed a "unified high command" in what would come to be called the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Modeled on the British Chiefs of Staff Committee, the JCS' first formal meeting was held on 9 February 1942, to coordinate U.S. military operations between War and Navy Departments.

On 20 July 1942, Admiral Leahy became the Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy ("Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States" is the military title of the U.S. President, per Article II, § 2, of the Constitution), with the chiefs of staff of the services serving under his leadership.

The first members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were:

Name Service Position
Admiral William D. Leahy USN Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy and
Special Presidential Military Advisor
General George C. Marshall USA Chief of Staff of the United States Army
Admiral Ernest J. King USN Chief of Naval Operations and
Commander in Chief of the United States Fleet
General Hap H. Arnold USA Chief of the Army Air Forces

As the table indicates, each of the members of the original Joint Chiefs was a four-star flag officer in his respective service branch. By the end of the war, however, each had been promoted: Leahy and King to Fleet Admiral; Marshall and Arnold to General of the Army. Arnold was later appointed to the grade of General of the Air Force.

One of the Joint Chiefs of Staff's committees was the Joint Strategic Survey Committee (JSSC). The JSSC was an extraordinary JCS committee that existed from 1942 until 1947. It was "one of the most influential planning agencies in the wartime armed forces." Members included

National Security Act of 1947


The Joint Chiefs of Staff (seated) and the directors of the Joint Staff directorates (standing), November 1989

With the end of World War II, the Joint Chiefs of Staff was officially established under the National Security Act of 1947. Per the National Security Act, the JCS consisted of a chairman, the Chief of Staff of the Army, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force (which was established as a separate service by the same Act), and the Chief of Naval Operations. The Commandant of the Marine Corps was to be consulted on matters concerning the Corps, but was not a regular member; General Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr., Commandant in 1952–55, was the first to sit as an occasional member. The law was amended during the term of General Louis H. Wilson, Jr. (1975–79), making the Commandant a full-time JCS member in parity with the other three DoD services.

The position of vice-chairman was created by the Goldwater–Nichols Act of 1986 to complement the CJCS, as well as to delegate some of the chairman's responsibilities, particularly resource allocation through the Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC).

General Colin L. Powell (1989–93) was the first and, as of 2011, the only African American to serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. General Peter Pace (Vice chairman 2001–05; Chairman, 2005–07) was the first Marine to serve in either position. No woman has ever served on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

National Defense Authorization Act of 2012

A provision in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act added the Chief of the National Guard Bureau to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Guard historians called it the "most significant development" for the National Guard since the Militia Act of 1903.

Roles and responsibilities


The Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon in December 2001.

After the 1986 reorganization of the military undertaken by the Goldwater-Nichols Act, the Joint Chiefs of Staff does not have operational command of U.S. military forces. Responsibility for conducting military operations goes from the President to the Secretary of Defense directly to the commanders of the Unified Combatant Commands and thus bypasses the Joint Chiefs of Staff completely.

Today, their primary responsibility is to ensure the personnel readiness, policy, planning and training of their respective military services for the combatant commanders to utilize. The Joint Chiefs of Staff also act in a military advisory capacity for the President of the United States and the Secretary of Defense. In addition, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff acts as the chief military advisor to the President and the Secretary of Defense. In this strictly advisory role, the Joint Chiefs constitute the second-highest deliberatory body for military policy, after the National Security Council, which includes the President and other officials besides the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.




The Joint Staff Organization Chart as of January 2012.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is, by law, the highest-ranking military officer of the United States Armed Forces, and the principal military adviser to the President of the United States. He leads the meetings and coordinates the efforts of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, comprising the chairman, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Chiefs of Staff of the United States Army and United States Air Force, the Chief of Naval Operations, and the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have offices in The Pentagon. The chairman outranks all respective heads of each service branch, but does not have command authority over them, their service branches or the Unified Combatant Commands. All combatant commanders receive operational orders directly from the Secretary of Defense.


General Martin E. Dempsey of the U.S. Army is the 18th and current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The current chairman is General Martin E. Dempsey, USA, who began his term on 1 October 2011.

On 20 July 1942, Navy Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy became the Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy (20 July 1942 – 21 March 1949). He was not technically the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Leahy's office was the precursor to the post of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. That post was established and first held by General of the Army Omar Bradley in 1949.

Vice chairman


Admiral James A. Winnefeld, Jr. of the U.S. Navy is the 9th and current Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

The position of Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was created by the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986. The vice-chairman is a four-star-general or admiral and, by law, is the second highest-ranking member of the U.S. Armed Forces (after the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff). In the absence of the chairman, the vice-chairman presides over the meetings of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He may also perform such duties as the chairman may prescribe. It was not until the National Defense Authorization Act in 1992 that the position was made a full voting member of the JCS.

The current vice-chairman is Admiral James A. Winnefeld, Jr., USN.

Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman


Sergeant Major Bryan B. Battaglia of the U.S. Marine Corps is the 2nd and current Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Command Sergeant Major William J. Gainey, USA, was selected to serve as the first Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (SEAC) beginning 1 Oct 2005. It was to be a newly created position established to advise the chairman on all matters involving enlisted personnel in a joint environment.

The Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is currently Sergeant Major Bryan B. Battaglia, USMC. Battaglia was sworn in by Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey on 30 September 2011 in a ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia. The position had been vacant since CSM Gainey's retirement on 25 April 2008.

As the SEA to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the SEAC is an advisor to the chairman on all matters concerning joint and combined total force integration, utilization, and development. Additionally, the SEAC helps develop noncommissioned officers (NCOs)-related joint professional education, enhance utilization of senior NCOs on joint battle staffs, and support the chairman’s responsibilities as directed.

The Joint Staff

The Joint Staff (JS), composed of personnel from all the four services, assists the chairman and the vice-chairman in discharging their responsibilities. They work closely with the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), the Military Department staffs, and the Combatant Command Staffs.

While serving as chairman or Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Chief of Staff of the Army, Chief of Naval Operations, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Commandant of the Marine Corps, or Commandant of the Coast Guard, the salary is $20,263.50 a month, regardless of cumulative years of service computed under section 205 of title 37, United States Code.3.

Director of the Joint Staff

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is assisted by the Director of the Joint Staff, a three-star officer who assists the chairman with the management of the Joint Staff, an organization composed of approximately equal numbers of officers contributed by the Army, the Navy and Marine Corps, and the Air Force, who have been assigned to assist the chairman in providing to the Secretary of Defense unified strategic direction, operation, and integration of the combatant land, naval, and air forces.

Directorates of the Joint Staff

The Joint Staff includes the following departments where all the planning, policies, intelligence, manpower, communications and logistics functions are translated into action.

Joint Chiefs of Staff: Civilian Awards

The Joint Chiefs may recognize private citizens, organizations or career civilian government employees for significant achievements provided to the joint community with one of the following decorations / awards.

Coast Guard

Although the Coast Guard is one of the five armed services of the United States, the Commandant of the Coast Guard is not a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He is, however, entitled to the same supplemental pay as the Joint Chiefs, per 37 U.S.C. § 414(a)(5) ($4,000 per annum in 2009), and is accorded privilege of the floor under Senate Rule XXIII(1) as a de facto JCS member during Presidential addresses.

In contrast to the Joint Chiefs—who are not in the military's operational chain of command—the Commandant of the Coast Guard commands his service. Coast Guard officers are legally eligible to be appointed as CJCS and VCJCS, per 10 U.S.C. 152(a)(1) & 154(a)(1) respectively—which use the collective term "armed forces" rather than listing the eligible services – but none has been appointed to either position as of 2014.





June 25, 1950

All that day, Sunday, [3-6/25 ] Washington planners and policymakers huddled in urgent conferences. These early discussions were influenced to no small degree by the Roberts-Muccio view that the ROK Army was the best army in Asia and could handle the NKPA. That belief was reinforced that day by a memo from Bradley to the JCS. During his recent trip to Tokyo he had spent nearly an hour on June 20 in conference with Lynn Roberts, who was in Tokyo on his way home to retirement. In this private soldier-to-soldier talk, Roberts had assured Bradley the ROK Army could "meet any test the North Koreans imposed on it." Bradley memoed the JCS for planning purposes:

 "After my talk with General Roberts, I am of the opinion that South Korea will not fall in the present attack unless the Russians actively participate in the action.[3-12]


[3-12] A generals life

The confidence in the ROKs was reinforced by an urgent cable from John Muccio. Owing to the departure of Roberts (not yet replaced) and KMAG Chief of Staff W. H. Sterling Wright (in Tokyo, also preparing to go home), Muccio had assumed the role of military adviser to the ROK Army.

"Ammunition is critically needed," he wrote, "to meet situation. . . ."

He had simultaneously asked MacArthur to ship him a ten-day supply immediately and begged Acheson to "back up" his request. Not to do so would be "catastrophic," he went on, concluding on this upbeat note:

 "I am confident that if adequately supplied, ROK security forces will fight bravely and with distinction.[3-13]

June 25

In a teleconference between Washington and Tokyo that evening, General MacArthur received his instructions. The JCS ordered him to send any ammunition and equipment to Korea which he believed necessary to prevent the loss of the key Sŏul-Kimp'o-Inch'ŏn area. He was to give such supply movements air and naval cover, and take such additional action as proved necessary to safeguard the evacuation of noncombatants from Korea. To augment naval cover, the JCS ordered the U. S. Seventh Fleet to Sasebo Harbor where it was to report to Vice Adm. C. Turner Joy, Commander of Navy Forces, Far East (COMNAVFE). The JCS warned MacArthur that further high level decisions might be expected as the situation developed.

June 25, 1950

THE AIR WAR in Korea was principally a tactical air war. At first the USAF and FEAF had no choice but to stress air-ground cooperation in order to prevent the hard-pressed U. N. ground forces, committed to action piecemeal, from being driven into the sea by well trained and numerically superior North Korean armies; that the air war remained primarily tactical was dictated by political considerations designed to isolate the fighting in Korea. Although it was well recognized that the North Korean armies had been trained by other Communist nations and were being actively supplied with war materiel from Chinese and Russian sources, political decisions prevented air action north of the Yalu.

As General O'Donnell expressed it:

 "The U. N. decision to restrict our operations to areas south of the Yalu had obviously given the enemy an inordinate advantage which will be almost impossible to overcome. We are fighting distinctly `under wraps.' "

While temporary emergencies and political expedients vitiated the essential requirement that strategic air warfare must be a total and sustained effort, the Strategic Air Command (SAC) medium bomber groups detached to FEAF nevertheless managed well planned attacks against such strategic targets as were located in North Korea.

The expeditious manner in which the medium bomber groups moved across the Pacific was due largely to the fact that SAC units were directed and controlled by one major command. The consequences of diverting these highly specialized strategic units to tactical missions within the theater merely proved the wisdom of the normal concept that SAC should receive its directives - and targets - from the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

June 25, 1950 2200 - 0800 Washington


Acheson called the President again the next morning, a Sunday, apprising him of the dangerous nature of the developing crisis. The President decided to leave for Washington without delay, and he asked the Secretary of State to meet with the service secretaries and the Joint Chiefs of Staff immediately to work out a plan for his consideration. [04-20]

[04-20] Truman, Memoirs, II, 331-43, gives a general background of Presidential action and considerations in the first few days of Korean fighting. (2) See also Acheson, Present at the Creation, pp. 402-13.

June 25, 1950 2200 - 0800 Washington

Korean_War   Def   Def

Throughout the morning the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Army, and the military chiefs were in conference at the Pentagon.

June 26, 1950

Korean_War  Def   Def

What the dimensions of this problem might be, no one knew. If the invasion of South Korea had surprised the United States, and had shown how wrongly intelligence had been evaluated, what faith could be put in estimates of Communist intentions elsewhere? Suddenly capabilities became important.

The State Department had warned all hands on 26 June of the possibility that Korea was but the first of a series of coordinated moves; the military forces of the United States had gone on world-wide alert; in the Mediterranean the Sixth Fleet had put to sea. In the immediate theater of operations, no less than on the world scene, possibilities were unpleasant and visibility poor.


The Joint Chiefs, it is true, had estimated that there would be no Soviet or Chinese intervention, but there was plenty of history, including a day at Pearl Harbor, to teach the outpost commander that estimates make poor weapons.

June 25, 1950

Bio   Bio

1130 AM Central Time 0230 Korea

Acheson's next call came through around 11:30 Sunday morning. Additional reports had been received from Korea. There was no doubt that an all out invasion was under way. Some decision would have to be made at once as to the degree of aid or encouragement which our government was willing to extend to the Republic of Korea. I asked Acheson to get together with the service secretaries and the Chiefs of Staff and start working on recommendations for me.

I was returning to Washington at once.

1230 PM Central 0230 Korea

The crew of the Independence had the plane ready to fly in less than an hour from the time they were alerted, and my return trip got under way so fast that two of my aides were left behind. They could not be notified in time to reach the airport. I felt certain that if South Korea was allowed to fall, no small nation would have the courage to resist threats and aggression by stronger Communist neighbors. If this were allowed to go unchallenged it would mean a third world war, just as similar incidents had brought on the Second World War. It was also clear to me that the foundations and the principles of the United Nations were at stake.

June 26,1950 900


MacArthur heartily approved of the administration's decision to intervene though it was an even greater surprise to him, he said, than the invasion but he had many reservations, and some of his assumptions would have alarmed the Blair House planners. He believed that they understood "little about the Pacific and practically nothing about Korea," that they were certain to blunder because errors were "inescapable when the diplomat attempts to exercise military judgment." The President's war cabinet was determined to confine the war, but the new CINCFE believed in the Thomist doctrine of just wars   believed that if the battlefield was the last resort of governments, then the struggle must be waged until one side had been vanquished. And while he scorned the military opinions of civilians, he didn't think that soldiers should shirk civil decisions; he had pointedly suggested to Dulles that he was  quite "prepared to deal with policy questions." This was more than presumption. He had made such decisions in Australia, the Philippines, and Japan. Few world leaders, let alone generals, were more experienced in governing nations. It is understandable that Washington should want only his military talents in this fresh crisis, but it was unreasonable to expect him, of all men, to leash himself.

The issue was further complicated by his stature among Americans. The GOP might not want him as a presidential nominee, • but he remained one of the most popular military leaders in the country's history. Delighted by his new appointment, Republicans regarded it as a sign that the administration might be veering away from its Europe first policies. The General, they thought, didn't share the liberal conviction that Asian unrest arose from poverty and the rejection of Western colonialism. They were wrong there, but right in assuming that he didn't believe that Peking might be detached from Moscow if the United States courted Mao by abandoning Formosa that he would not, in their words, "sell out" Chiang to "appease" the mainland Chinese. Above all, both U.S. political parties recognized SCAP as a powerful Pacific force whose views about the Far East carried great weight with his countrymen. This was to have grave consequences in the conduct of the Korean War.

Reluctant to offend him, and thereby risk accusations of playing politics while men were dying, virtually all of Truman's advisers, including the Joint Chiefs, including even the President himself, would prove timid and ambiguous in many key directives to him. That was inexcusable. By now they should have learned that if he were free to construe unclear orders, he would choose constructions which suited him, not them. Sebald, the foreign service officer closest to him, observes:

"With his sense of history, experience, seniority, reputation, and temperament, he did not easily compromise when his judgment or his decisions were questioned. . . . He was never reluctant to interpret his authority or to make decisions and act quickly arguing the matter later." [12] 


June 26, 1950 0900


Early on Sunday evening, shortly before the President arrived in Washington, the Joint Chiefs of Staff held a teletype conference with General MacArthur. They notified MacArthur of the tentative plans made by Defense and State officials to ship supplies and equipment, which MacArthur had already started, and to extend his responsibility to include operational control of all U. S. military activities in Korea. They said he might also be directed to commit certain forces, principally naval and air, to protect the Sŏul-Kimp'o-Inch'ŏn area to assure the safe evacuation of American nationals and to gain time for action on the measures then before the United Nations. Most significantly, they alerted him to be ready to send U. S. ground and naval forces to stabilize the combat situation and, if feasible, to restore the 38th Parallel as a boundary. This action, they said, might be necessary if the United Nations asked member nations to employ military force. [04-22]

No decision on Korea could properly be made without a careful analysis of USSR intentions. The United States believed Russia to be the real aggressor in Korea, in spirit if not in fact, and effective measures to halt the aggression might therefore provoke total war. Hence, a decision to meet force with force implied a willingness to fight a full-scale war with Russia if necessary. The determinant for Korea was, then, as always: "What will Russia do?" [04-23]

The possible reactions of nations other than Russia were also important. Each alternative open to the United States was accompanied by a strong chance of alienating nations upon whose continuing friendship and support American policy was based. Inaction would be condemned by some nations as a betrayal of the ROK Government. It would gravely impair American efforts to maintain prestige in Asia as well as in other areas, and would cause such nations as Great Britain, Italy, and Japan to re-examine the wisdom of supporting the United States. On the other hand, if the United States took unilateral military measures against the North Korean attackers, Russian charges of imperialistic action and defiance of the United Nations would appear valid to many nations. The effect would be to anger these nations and to render them more susceptible to Russian points of view.

The most sensible course seemed to be a co-operative effort among members of the United Nations to halt the aggression. But South Korea needed help at once; and the United Nations could hardly act swiftly enough. Furthermore, communist members of the United Nations could be expected to oppose joint action.