With over 2.91 million service members and civilians working in the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), it can be hard to imagine a time without it. However, it was only established in 1949. August 10, 2021 marks 72 years of the modern version of this federal department officially overseeing the U.S. armed forces (previously known as the U.S. War Department). Over the past seven decades, the department has gone through many changes, but it has always stayed true to its motto of “duty, integrity, ethics, honor, courage and loyalty.”

A brief history of the DoD

Even before the 1940s, the federal government managed the U.S. armed forces. The earliest iteration of the DoD was established by the first congress in 1789 and was called the U.S. War Department. It managed the Army and the Navy, which were the only branches of the U.S. military at the time. However, as the country evolved, so did military operations.

The first reform

In the interim between the War of 1812 and the Civil War, legislators decided it was time to make some serious renovations to the management of the nation’s defense. The change entailed incorporating bureaus, advisors and a Secretary of War who directed the department.

It seemed this change came at an ideal time, because the Civil War required strict management of wartime activities. During the Civil War, the U.S. War Department began recruiting volunteers and members of the Army, bringing upwards of 2 million troops under the DoD’s purview.

The results of the Civil War shaped the U.S. War Department forever. In the mid to late 1860s, the department was given the responsibility of managing formerly enslaved people and wartime refugees. During reconstruction, the new southern American governments needed as much support as they could obtain and the U.S. War Department was tasked with aiding them.

The National Security Act of 1947

Following World War ll, The National Security Act was passed into law with the goal of modernizing the military and intelligence agencies. As a result of the act, the National Military Establishment (NME) was created as the country’s first unified military command under the control of one person: the Secretary of Defense. This is the same act that created the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Council and the United States Air Force.

A noteworthy change was made as a result of the National Security Act: The NME was renamed the “Department of Defense.” This was due to an amendment to the 1949 act and three cabinet-level military departments were absorbed into a singular department.

The DoD celebrates 72 years of defending our nation.The DoD celebrates 72 years of defending our nation.

The modern DoD

Many adjustments to the department have been made since then, all in an effort to keep up with the shifting national and international security requirements. The Defense Reform Act of 1958 and the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 both made key modifications to the DoD, mostly regarding the restructuring of the power dynamic.

Celebrating the DoD’s Birthday

Despite the fact that August 10 is not a national holiday, members of the department often take the time to recognize the holiday internally. Service members enjoy cake cutting ceremonies and take the time to look back on the rich history of the department.

This year, consider donating time or money to a service project that supports the military, or even just go out of your way to thank a member of the armed services.