armed forces overview


The US Armed Forces are arguably the best trained and equipped worldwide, capable of responding to humanitarian crises and threats alike - all on a global scale. Even so, they are not without their own internal conflicts, including recruitment problems, questions about reinstatement of the draft, numbers of casualties and homosexuals in the service. Below is an overview of facts and figures related to those - and other - issues in the Armed Forces.

General Stats

Total Armed Forces

(not including National Guard (2005) (DOD - pdf)**

  • Active Duty – 1,433,000,

  • Reserve – 850,000,

  • Active Reserve – 80,700,

  • Civilian Personnel – 636,000.

National Guard

The National Guard is a separate part of the reserve forces originally organized in 1903 out of state militias. The Guard can be mobilized along with the reserve forces of the Armed Forces or by their respective states in the event of an emergency. (2005) (DOD)

  • Reserve Air National Guard – 106,000,

  • Reserve Army National Guard – 331,000,

  • Active Air National Guard – 8,700,

  • Active Army National Guard – 76,500.


Department of Defense (DOD) spending nearly doubled in the past decade, but when compared to the growth of the economy (that is, as a percentage of GDP), it has risen only slightly, from 3.7% - 3.9%. Over the past 40 years, military spending has gone up in dollars, but as a percentage of GDP it has almost halved. (See cJ's budget page)

  • Projected DOD budget 2005 – $423 billion (DOD),

  • Percent of GDP – 3.6% (CBO),

  • Per taxpayer - $1,380,

  • Per member of the Armed Forces - $290,000.

Minorities in the Armed Forces

Desegregation in the the Armed Forces began in 1945, the final year of the Second World War, when the Navy began to desegregate training centers. By 1965 each branch had fully desegregated. The debate over minority representation in the military and their share of combat roles and percentage of casualty rate is still quite alive between the Armed
Forces and various civil rights groups. (DOD) (2001)

  • Percent of Armed Forces that are minority: 37% (compared to 30% of the U.S. population),

  • Percent of enlisted troops that are:

    • Black: 20% (compared to 13% of the U.S. population),

    • Hispanic: 11%,

    • Other minorities: 6%,

  • Percent of combat troops that are:

    • Black: 15%.

Women in the Armed Forces

  • How much women make up the total of: (2004) (DOD)

    • enlisted troops: 15% (207,000)

    • officers: 15% (32,100)

    • civilian workforce in the DOD: 34% (as compared to 47% of the nationwide labor force).

Homosexuals in the Armed Forces

In 1993, Congress hatched a compromise between those who wanted no restrictions on homosexuals in the military and those who wanted a complete ban. The result became known as the “don't ask, don't tell” policy; homosexuals can serve in the Armed Forces with the understanding that as long as they keep their sexual orientation private, others can't attempt to seek them out. That makes for obvious difficulties in gathering statistics on the numbers of homosexuals in the military; no such numbers exist.

The enlisted over time

The number of enlisted today is the lowest it's been since before the start of World War II when the Armed Forces numbered roughly 800,000. During the war, numbers rose to nearly 15 million. Though there have been short term increases, most notably during the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the numbers have been decreasing steadily ever since.

Source: DOD - pdf

Recruitment and the Draft

Recruitment Facts

  • Amount of spending on recruitment: $4 billion a year (GAO)

  • Number of troops that enlist each year: 200,000 a year over the past decade

  • Number of troops that re-enlist: 50% of those with expiring terms

  • Years that recruitment goals are met: every year from 1990-2004 with the exception of 1998

  • Recruitment for 2005: the five legs of the military fell 8% - 20% short of their recruiting goals - GAO (pdf)

  • Goals for 2006: 80,000 for the army (WP)

The Draft . . . Then

The first draft began during the Civil War and has been used since in World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam. In 1973 the draft was officially ended and has not been initiated since.

The Draft . . . Today

With the current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, there's been much discussion on whether the draft is coming back. Both the White House and the Department of Defense (DOD) have repeatedly gone on record that it is not.

The future

To get a glimpse at the military's plans for restructuring to prepare for future wars, see their Quadrennial Defense Review, also summarized by the Washington Post here.

Where the facts are from

**NOTE – The figures in the ‘Total Armed Forces' section were compiled from various Department of Defense resources . . . in other words, we did all the math and added up certain figures, etc. To ensure accuracy of the figures we calculated, we used only Department of Defense resources citing data from 2005.

See also:

  • casualties, an independent site, for a full list of American and other coalition force fatalities.

Facts pulled together by Steven Cytryn. Last updated 6.22.05.

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Really interesting numbers.

Really interesting numbers. I didn't realize how much smaller our armed forces have become over time.

cdrates (not verified) | November 4, 2009 - 8:12pm