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Military Workers, Enlisted

History

The  U.S. military has origins in the colonial states' defense forces. These militias began to develop in the first decades of the 17th century, long before the United States existed as a country. The Continental Army was established in 1775 to fight the British in the Revolutionary War. The colonists held the army in such high esteem that its commander and most revered general, George Washington, became the first U.S. president.

The Coast Guard, which is the oldest continuous seagoing service in the United States, was established in 1790 to combat smuggling. The first American marine units, on the other hand, were attached to the Army at the time of its creation. The marine units became an independent part of the Navy when it was officially established in 1798. The Marine Corps was considered part of the Navy until 1834, when it became its own military branch by establishing itself as a defense force for both land and sea.

The air service had an unusual start. The first use of aircraft in the U.S. military was in the Civil War, when a balloon corps was attached to the Army of the Potomac. In 1892, a formal Balloon Corps was created as part of the Army's Signal Corps, and by 1907, the Army had a separate Aeronautical Division. Air power proved invaluable during World War I, bringing about major changes in military strategy. The United States began to assert itself as an international military power and the Army Air Service was created as an independent unit in 1918, remaining under Army direction for a time.

The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 plunged America into World War II. At the peak of the war, 13 million Americans fought in the different branches of the military services. The United States emerged from the war as the strongest military power in the Western world, with much of America's military success due to its superior air forces. Recognition of the strategic importance of air power led to the creation of the now wholly independent branch of service, the U.S. Air Force, in 1947. Two years later, the various branches of military service were unified under the Department of Defense.

After World War II, the United States and its allies devoted considerable military resources to fighting the Cold War with the Soviet Union. During the 1950s, anticommunist tensions triggered U.S. involvement in the Korean War, and later to participation in the Vietnam War, which ended in the mid-1970s. Antiwar sentiment persisted and there was increasing demand to reevaluate the policies that established an American presence in foreign countries. The draft was abolished in 1973, and the U.S. military became an all-volunteer force. To attract talented recruits, the armed forces started to focus on improving the image of military personnel and presenting the military as an appealing career option.

In the 1980s, the U.S. military increased efforts to bring about the collapse of Soviet communism and became active in the Middle East, particularly in the Persian Gulf, through which flowed much of the world's oil supply. Many Soviet-ruled countries began to press for independence. The Cold War ended in 1991, when the Soviet Union finally collapsed under the weight of its political and economic crisis. That same year, the United States engaged in the Persian Gulf War.

From the early 1990s up until the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S. military took on a new role as a peacekeeping force. It participated in cooperative efforts led by organizations such as the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, changed the role of the military from a peacekeeping force to an aggressor in the attempt to destroy the strongholds and training camps of terrorists around the world. Then-President Bush said the war against terrorism would likely be a sustained effort over a long period of time. U.S. troops, warships, and fighter planes were deployed to south-central Asia and the Middle East and air and ground strikes began in Afghanistan. The administration also planned to use diplomatic, law enforcement, and financial strategies against those believed responsible for the attacks. In March 2003, a coalition of nations led by the United States and Great Britain invaded the nation of Iraq, whose leader, Saddam Hussein, was suspected of creating and harboring weapons of mass destruction for potential use in terrorist attacks (none were found when U.S. forces entered the country). Despite the capture of Hussein in December 2003 (who has since been tried and executed), and the establishment of a democratic government in Iraq in June 2004, the struggle to bring peace to this nation in transition demanded a continued U.S. military presence.

By 2014, all U.S. troops (except for a small contingent to protect embassy workers) were withdrawn from Iraq. Terroristic activities and threats remain an issue and the military continues to train and prepare for such events. In addition, as new technologies emerge, more specialty departments and occupations within the military are added, such as cybersecurity and information technology.

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