Armed Services

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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The Constitution authorizes Congress to raise, support, and regulate armed services for the national defense. The President of the United States is commander in chief of all the branches of the services and has ultimate control over most military matters.

The United States has always been wary of maintaining a strong military force. This concern was shown by the Framers of the Constitution when they finally allowed the creation of a standing army but at the same time limited the process by which money could be raised to support the military, by requiring that Congress review the appropriations every two years. In this way, the Framers ensured that members of each new Congress had the opportunity to address their lingering concerns about domestic tyranny with a fresh perspective. Furthermore, the Framers ensured that the states could maintain their own militias and protect themselves from federal military domination, by recognizing "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms" (U.S. Const. amend. 2).

The various branches of the armed services were created at different times to serve different purposes. The earliest branch was the Army, instituted on July 14, 1775, followed closely by the Navy and the Marine Corps in the same year. All three were established to respond to the needs of the revolutionary forces fighting the British. The Navy and the Marine Corps were disbanded after the Revolutionary War but were reestablished in 1798. The Coast Guard traces its origins to 1790 but was officially created in 1915. Finally, the Air Force had its genesis in the Signal Corps of the Army and was formally established as the Army Air Service in 1920.

Military personnel are governed by a set of laws that is separate from and independent of CIVIL LAW. The UNIFORM CODE OF MILITARY JUSTICE (10 U.S.C.A. § 801 et seq.) outlines the basic laws and procedures governing members of the armed services. MILITARY LAW is mainly concerned with maintaining order and discipline within the ranks. It is unrelated to MARTIAL LAW, which is the temporary imposition of military rule during a national or regional crisis. Offenses committed by members of the armed services are tried by a COURT-MARTIAL, a special tribunal created specifically to hear a military case and then disbanded once judgment and punishment are pronounced.

The constitutionality of the military legal system has been challenged several times, without success. In 1994, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the constitutionality of the system with a unanimous decision in Weiss v. United States,

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510 U.S. 163, 114 S. Ct. 752, 127 L. Ed. 2d 1. At issue were the selection process and tenure of military judges, who are chosen by their branch's JUDGE ADVOCATE general. The plaintiffs claimed that because the judges could be removed at any time by the judge advocate general, they were biased toward the prosecution and could not be impartial. The Court held that sufficient safeguards were in place to protect against improper influence by the judge advocate general and that the defendants' FIFTH AMENDMENT DUE PROCESS rights had not been violated.

Military Ban on Homosexuality

One controversial and divisive issue facing the military is the inclusion of homosexuals. For more than fifty years, the U.S. armed services prohibited gay men and lesbians from serving in the military. In the past, members who disclosed that they were homosexual were subject to immediate discharge. That policy was challenged in several prominent cases during the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the Clinton administration addressed the issue with a new approach that ultimately led to more confusion and controversy.

The federal courts tackled the question of whether the military's automatic ouster of homosexual personnel is constitutional, in Meinhold v. United States Department of Defense, 34 F.3d 1469 (9th Cir. 1994). The plaintiff, Petty Officer Keith Meinhold, of the Navy, announced on a national television broadcast in May 1992 that he is gay. As a result, discharge proceedings were begun against him. Meinhold was dismissed solely on the basis of his televised statement. He sued the Navy and the DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE, claiming that their policy was unconstitutional. The district court agreed, holding that the Navy's actions denied gay men and lesbians EQUAL PROTECTION under the law. In August 1994, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed that Meinhold could not be discharged merely for stating that he was gay. However, the appeals court disagreed with the district court's finding that the military's policy was unconstitutional and instead found that by discharging Meinhold because of his status as a homosexual and not because of any actions on his part, the Navy was equating status with prohibited conduct. The court conceded that the Navy could legally discharge someone who manifested a "fixed or expressed desire to commit a prohibited act," such as engaging in homosexual

sex but found that Meinhold had not manifested any such desire and therefore must be reinstated. In November 1994, the Clinton administration announced it was dropping its efforts to bar Meinhold from serving and would not appeal the Ninth Circuit's ruling.

Another challenge to the military ban on homosexuals occurred in Steffan v. Aspin, 8 F.3d 57 (D.C. Cir. 1993). The plaintiff, Joseph Steffan, admitted to being a homosexual just six weeks before his expected graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy, at Annapolis, Maryland, in 1987. Steffan was one of the top ten students in his class. He had consistently received outstanding marks for leadership and military performance. In his junior year, he was named a battalion commander in charge of one-sixth of the academy's 4,500 students. After Steffan acknowledged his homosexuality to a classmate and a chaplain, he was brought before a disciplinary board, which recommended that he be discharged. Rather than face dismissal, he resigned. Sometime later, he asked to be reinstated. His request was denied, and he then sued for reinstatement to his commission, claiming that he was forced to resign because of his status as a homosexual, not because of any conduct?in violation of the Constitution's equal protection guarantee.

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The Branches of the Armed Services

The five branches of the U.S. armed services are staffed by volunteer enlisted men and women who hold various ranks. Military personnel are no longer conscripted, or drafted, into service.


The Army was the first branch of the armed services established by Congress. The U.S. Army evolved from the Continental Army, created on July 14, 1775, by the CONTINENTAL CONGRESS to fight the Revolutionary War against the British.

The three segments of the Army are the Army Reserve, the Army National Guard, and the Active Army. The Army Reserve provides training and combat support to the Active Army in times of emergency. The Army National Guard, the oldest military force in the United States, began in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636. During peacetime, the National Guard unit in each state is commanded by the state governor. The National Guard often assists in natural disasters, such as earthquakes or floods, or in civil unrest, such as riots. The president has the authority to call the Guard to federal duty when necessary. For example, President DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER federalized the Arkansas National Guard in 1957 and assigned them to control angry mobs protesting the enrollment of African American students in a previously segregated Little Rock high school. Similarly, President GEORGE H.W. BUSH assigned Guard units to duty with the Active Army during the Persian Gulf War of 1991.

The Army's many responsibilities include combat, combat support, and combat service support arms. The combat arms, including the infantry, armored divisions, air defense artillery, field artillery, and aviation, are directly involved in fighting. The combat support arms include the Corps of Engineers, the Signal Corps, the Military Police Corps, the Chemical Corps, and military intelligence. The combat service support arms provide logistical and administrative assistance to the other arms.

Women were originally restricted to the Women's Army Corps (WAC) but now serve alongside men in almost all capacities. Their roles have been gradually expanded, and they now serve in combat units, which gives them equal opportunities with men for higher pay and advancement in rank.

The U.S. Military Academy, the oldest of the service academies, was established at West Point, New York, in 1802. It was originally charged with training army engineers, but evolved into the training ground for those wishing to become officers in the Army. West Point has been coeducational since 1976.


The Navy traces its origins to 1775 and the American Revolution. A fleet established to fight the British was disbanded after the war, but the need for a naval force was again recognized in 1798, when Congress established the NAVY DEPARTMENT. The Navy was a separate branch of the government until the National Security Act of 1947 (5 U.S.C.A. § 101 et seq., 10 U.S.C.A. § 101 et seq., 50 U.S.C.A. § 401 et seq.) created the Department of Defense with a cabinet-level secretary to oversee all branches of the military.

The Navy's forces are grouped into various fleets that serve in different areas of the world. Traditionally, odd-numbered fleets, such as the Third and Seventh Fleets, have served in the Pacific Ocean. Even-numbered fleets, like the Second and Sixth Fleets, have served in the Atlantic Ocean. Over...

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