The other Army

Reader Maggie 100 has a question:


So. The civilian Department of Defense has SefDef, with individual Secs below that, SecNavy, etc. What is their responsibility? As opposed to the military side Chief of Staff for each service? Is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs roughly analogous to the SecDef?

If the Joint Chiefs and SecDef are not in the chain of command, to whom does the Commander in Chief, in real life actually give the ‘go’ order?

As a side note, where does the Coast Guard and the uniformed National Health Service fit here? Not to mention the Merchant Marine?

As always, I have the answer.

We looked at the upper echelons of the chain of command in this post. SecDef is in the chain of command. Sorta. He gives orders to the Regional and Functional Commanders, but only to implement policy from the President. If the President says, “Invade France,” SecDef then turns around and gives the specifics of that to the Commanders. In effect, he’s the conduit by which the President passes his orders to the field.

But he has a second role as well, outside the operational chain of command. He is the primary guy for setting policy for the entire defense establishment. He’s the guy who decides whether the US military will focus on preparing to fight near-peers like China, or will they focus on fighting a series of small insurgencies like Iraq and Afghanistan. That decision will drive the procurement of weapons. He also decides policy on things like manpower (Congress sets the limits on total numbers) and how folks should be allocated.

Each of the individual service secretaries performs a similar function for their branch. The run the procurement programs and personnel programs. They run the institutional side of the services.

Realize this. Only about half the services are in units that deploy to battle. The other half is on the “institutional” side. When you have an organization as large as the Army, you have to have not only infrastructure to support them, but institutions as well. There are the basic training posts, the recruiting stations, the ROTC detachments, West Point, all the Army schools that teach MOS skills to young soldiers, advanced MOS schools for each job, the higher level schools for officers, like the Command and General Staff School and The Army War College.

Then there’s the parts of the Army like the Tank and Automotive Command, and the Missile Command that actually run the procurement programs for individual weapon systems, and the supply folks who buy all the rations, ammunition and spare parts. It is a huge enterprise. That’s the day to day function of the Chief of Staff of the Army. And each of the services has the same institutional structure that builds and supports the forward deployed forces.

As to the Coast Guard, they are part of the Department of Homeland Security (though they used to be under the Department of Transportation). Only in time of war do they transfer to the Department of Defense. Nonetheless, they are organized much like the other armed services. They have a seat at the table for the Joint Chiefs when it addresses matters directly concerning the Coasties. In peacetime, as a matter of law, they are treated more like a law enforcement agency (which they are) than as an armed serviced (which they sorta are).

The Merchant Marine isn’t in any way a member of the DoD. They were coordinated by the Department of the Navy back in WWII, but today, there isn’t an agency or entity that you can point to and say, “That’s the Merchant Marine.” There’s just privately owned shipping. Now, there is a Merchant Marine Academy, at King’s Point, NY, and it does offer a commision in the Navy Reserves to its graduates, but that is hardly unique.

The Uniformed Public Health Service (who’s head is of course the Surgeon General) is not under the DoD and is outside the scope of this discussion.

10 thoughts on “The other Army”

  1. I think you mean the Uniformed _Public_ Health Service.

    And don’t for get the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, the other (and smallest) of the Uniformed Services of the United States.

  2. D’Oh! yeah, I knew that. And no one asked about NOAA, so I didn’t answer that. But I used to see their ships tied up in Seattle. Good looking vessels.
    I’ll fix that. Don’t drink and blog. What can I say…?

  3. Yep. For some unknown reason I kept thinking of the National Institutes of Health, and I KNEW that wasn’t right, it still came out wrong. I would have asked about NOAA–because I had in mind the trick question of the “how many uniformed branches”–but I didn’t count my fingers right.

    Certain parts still seems fuzzy. Many of the things you’ve listed off here as “institutional” are still staffed by the military for the military, like the recruiting stations, training programs. Procurement I can see as the Sec side, but why would the civilian side be in charge of training programs?

  4. Maggie, sooner or later, just about everything in the Army comes under civilian control or oversight. The concept of civilian control of the armed services is deeply ingrained. And it isn’t so much the nuts and bolts of training, like how to load a rifle, but more the direction it takes, such as whether women will be integrated in basic training companies or in separate companies. That was a fight that took place during the Clinton years, and now women are integrated from day one.

    And there will always be some fuzziness. The Joint Chiefs have their own staff, called the Joint Staff, that can’t by law work operationally, but they do spend a lot of time supporting the staffs of the regional commanders. It is a bit of a grey area.

  5. minor clarification on the Merchant Marine Academy..

    they have a program for simultaneous membership in the Reserve components, so you can have the interesting case of a MMA Midshipman being an SMT Cadet (non-deployable) drilling with an Army Reserve unit in an E-5 slot while wearing the “big dot” subdued rank insignia in preparation for commissioning in Armor branch. (and to make it more curious, that program is administered by full time AGR members of the NYARNG (New York Army National Guard)… His title was “Mister..”

    serving alongside him was another cadet, this one from an ROTC program at a nearby college, who was prior service enlisted, E-5, who wore E-5 stripes to drill, and had to switch rank insignia back to cadet style (which looked like skinny SSG rank)..

  6. Civilians do stuff like Depot level maintenance. When a tank, generator, HMMWV or patriot missile launcher comes to the end of it’s useful life (or is in need of an upgrade) the unit in charge turns it over to civilians who work in a depot. They tear it down, rebuild it and then give it back to us.

    They are in charge of new weapon system (MRAP, THAAD, C-RAM, etc). Vehicles get what is call “reset”. At the end of their lieves they are torn apart and rebuilt. We get a vehicle or piece of equipment that has in effect zero miles on it (or 0 hours in the case of a generator).

    Sure soldiers could do it, but this frees up soldiers for deployment. Civillains train us on new weapons sytems because they built the things, or they work in the project offices (I have met a few and tried to score goodies like t-shits and posters, alas I have been in vain).

    DOD civilians work for the department of the army, contractors work for the companies that do the work.

    Back in the 40’s 50’s and 60’s it was not uncommon to have enlisted and officers who were in charge of the post exchange (military version of wal-mart), post maintenance (mowing lanws and paving the roads) and even soldiers assigned to the post movie theater and golf course. Robert A. Heinlein lamented these “swivel chair hussars” in his novel Starship troopers.

    Freeing us to go kill stuff is the reason we have all these civilians

  7. chockablock–

    It was the late 60’s that I had my only semi-regular contact with an actual base, used to go onto Selfridge AFB once in awhile–and that’s what I saw. I ‘knew’ but didn’t really know how intertwined civilian and military have become since then.

    Sideways question. Do you think the smaller military after the draft was abolished had an effect on changing who does what? Did the change to more civilian employees with concentration of military in military functions begin then?

  8. An all volunteer army is more professional, more ethical and has high standards than the draft army of the 60’s and 70’s. We all choose to be here. Yes, after the draft went away, no one could justify having a soldiers doing jobs that had only a tangential relationship to warfighting. Having civilians take over most of the jobs (up to and including military police), eliminates the garrison army that soaks up soldiers that should be deploying.

    A fellow AIT student who was prior service relates this tale:

    There was a physician’s assistant at White Sands missile range (who examined him) that was drafted in the 1960’s. He was a medic. He reenlisted, became a PA in the late 70’s. Retired as a warrant in the late 80’s and came back as an Army Civilian in the 1990’s. All while never leaving White Sands. In the 1990’s they replaced his position with civilians so that medics could deploy with units that need them.

    As an aside, White Sands is not only America’s test range, they host the Warrior Transition Course for soldiers coming in from other services, and soldiers who have been out for more than a year. Along with Santa Fe NM and For Sill OK. White Sands is rated as the wrost however, because of the heat and *ahem* primitive facilities out there.

Comments are closed.