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100 years of military history

  • 100 years of military history
    1/ Public Domain

    100 years of military history

    In the last century, the U.S. Armed Forces have played major roles in two world wars, a wide variety of civil conflicts, and dozens of ongoing military campaigns. These efforts have made significant impacts on how our government makes decisions that may affect domestic and foreign affairs. The military itself has undergone a few structural changes in that time as well, including adding new divisions, and permitting women and LGBTQ people to serve in all military branches.

    Stacker looked at information from the Defense Manpower Data Center, the U.S. Census historical population tables, and the St. Louis Federal Reserve to see how the military has changed over the years. By comparing data sets, we were able to determine the percentage of Americans enlisted in the military and number of Americans in each military branch every year from 1917 to 2019.

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  • 1917
    2/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 421,467 people
    - Navy strength: 194,617 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 27,749 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 643,833 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.62%

    Congress granted President Woodrow Wilson's request for a declaration of war against Germany on April 6, 1917, effectively entering the United States into World War I. The army expanded dramatically in the next 18 months to 3,685,000 troops, 2 million of which were stationed in France to serve in Gen. John Pershing's American Expeditionary Force.

  • 1918
    3/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 2,395,742 people
    - Navy strength: 448,606 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 52,819 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 2,897,167 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 2.81%

    Thousands of American troops joined forces in September of 1918 with the allied intervention force at Archangel in response to the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. American soldiers engaged in several major battles that year as part of World War I, including the Meuse-Argonne Campaign, employed by 37 American and French divisions with the goal of cutting off all of Germany's 2nd Army. General John J. Pershing was at the helm of the offensive, which would be America's biggest of the war. World War II ended Nov. 11, 1918.

  • 1919
    4/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 851,624 people
    - Navy strength: 272,144 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 48,834 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 1,172,602 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 1.12%

    Following the conclusion of WWI, the Treaty of Versailles was signed June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles, France. The peace document included signatures from allied powers and Germany, and went into effect the following year with redrawn German boundaries and an outline of required reparations from the country. After signing the treaty on behalf of the United States and presenting his Fourteen Points that included the formation of the League of Nations, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson returned home only to find an obstinate Senate had voted against the treaty—twice.

  • 1920
    5/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 204,292 people
    - Navy strength: 121,845 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 17,165 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 343,302 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.32%

    In 1920, Congress passed an amendment to the National Defense Act, which rejected the concept of an expandable “Regular Army” and called for the U.S. Army to have three main divisions: the standing Regular Army, National Guard, and Organized Reserves.

  • 1921
    6/ United States Marine Corps // Wikimedia Commons


    - Army strength: 230,725 people
    - Navy strength: 132,827 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 22,990 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 386,542 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.36%

    On May 4, 1921, Congress approved the burial of an unidentified body from World War I at Arlington National Cemetery. The "Unknown Soldier" commemorates the 116,516 American soldiers killed in World War I, many of whose bodies were never identified.

  • 1922
    7/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 148,763 people
    - Navy strength: 100,211 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 21,233 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 270,207 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.25%

    The Washington Naval Treaty was signed by the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, France, and Italy on Feb. 6, 1922. The document, also known as the Five-Power Treaty, was drafted in order to prevent an arms race following World War I. 

  • 1923
    8/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 133,243 people
    - Navy strength: 94,094 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 19,694 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 247,031 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.22%

    American soldiers spent part of 1923 in China, helping to control unrest that ensued amidst warlordism—the ongoing dilemma of Beiyang Army military factions vying for control of China.

  • 1924
    9/ Missouri State Archives // Wikimedia Commons


    - Army strength: 142,673 people
    - Navy strength: 98,184 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 20,332 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 261,189 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.23%

    American soldiers were called upon again in a protective capacity in 1924. During this time, the general of the Zhili clique and the Jiangsu governor were both vying for control of Shanghai.

  • 1925
    10/ NPS Photo


    - Army strength: 137,048 people
    - Navy strength: 95,230 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 19,478 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 251,756 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.22%

    This year in American military history saw continued unrest from Chinese factions competing for political power in Shanghai, this time in the form of riots. American troops were needed to protect the public, as well as the terms of the Shanghai International Settlement.

  • 1926
    11/ The U.S. National Archives // Flickr


    - Army strength: 134,938 people
    - Navy strength: 93,304 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 19,154 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 247,396 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.21%

    U.S. troops were stationed in Nicaragua for a brief period in 1926, after Gen. Emiliano Chamorro Vargas staged a coup d'etat against President Carlos Solorzano. Chamorro became president, but the U.S. did not recognize him as such, and after a liberal revolt, the military sent boats and troops into the country. China was still experiencing Beiyang Army-related disorder, and in November of that year, American naval troops deployed to Kiukiang, where Chinese nationalist forces had overtaken the city.

  • 1927
    12/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 134,829 people
    - Navy strength: 94,916 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 19,198 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 248,943 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.21%

    American naval forces and Marines increased their presence in Shanghai due to faction-related fighting, and a naval guard was called to the American consulate in Nanking when Chinese nationalists overtook the city. Meanwhile, the U.S. military was trying to utilize its small budget to craft new weapons and improve existing ones, taking full advantage of the 1920s technological boom.

  • 1928
    13/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 136,084 people
    - Navy strength: 95,803 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 19,020 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 250,907 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.21%

    Throughout the 1920s, the military began leaning on the National Guard and Organized Reserves to expand the Army. The U.S. Officers' Reserve Corps helped keep college men in the Army after graduation, strengthening ROTC programs at tertiary education institutions. There were ROTC units in 225 American colleges and universities by 1928. Also that year, the U.S. and France jointly drew up the Pact of Paris, which allowed many countries to renounce war as a device of national policy. The U.S. government agreed that if other nations acted as such, it would restrict its armed forces to the minimum needed to defend domestic territory.

  • 1929
    14/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 139,118 people
    - Navy strength: 97,117 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 18,796 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 255,031 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.21%

    The year 1929 was a fairly quiet year for the U.S. military, as it had not yet become involved in upheaval from the Great Depression. Troops were still stationed in Haiti as part of a nearly 20-year U.S. occupation due to ongoing political instability. The worst massacre of this occupation occurred Dec. 6, 1929, when Marines in Les Cayes killed 12 Haitians who were protesting economic conditions.

  • 1930
    15/ GoodFreePhotos


    - Army strength: 139,378 people
    - Navy strength: 96,890 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 19,380 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 255,648 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.21%

    The United Kingdom, Japan, and the U.S. signed the London Naval Treaty in 1930 in order to regulate submarine warfare and limit the building of naval ships. The terms of the treaty were put in place in order to avert a naval arms race following WWI.

  • 1931
    16/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 140,516 people
    - Navy strength: 93,307 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 16,782 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 252,605 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.2%

    The Great Depression's effects continued to spread throughout the world in 1931, increasing tensions at home and abroad. It would be years before the onset of WWII; however, a hint of ensuing international conflict set in when Japanese forces overtook Manchuria in violation of the League of Nations in September of 1931. The invasion put U.S. Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson in the position of determining a way to thwart the conflict. Just after the new year, he issued the Stimson Doctrine, which said the U.S. would not honor agreements or treaties between Japan and China that were in violation of existing U.S. rights or agreements.

  • 1932
    17/ U.S. National Archives // Flickr


    - Army strength: 134,957 people
    - Navy strength: 93,384 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 16,561 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 244,902 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.2%

    In the summer of 1932, Congress denied military veterans an immediate bonus payment for participation in WWI. "Bonus Marchers" remained in Washington after this decision, demonstrating discontent to such an extent that President Hoover called for the Army's assistance. In response, hundreds of troops intervened with such force that its reputation was marred in the eyes of the public.

  • 1933
    18/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 136,547 people
    - Navy strength: 91,230 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 16,068 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 243,845 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.19%

    A little more than three years after the initial stock market crash, 13.6 million U.S. citizens were unemployed. In response, President Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) as part of his New Deal program. The CCC consisted of existing government departments, including the Army, administering camps to provide more than three million men with manual labor jobs, mainly in the area of natural resource conservation. Many Army officers benefitted from overseeing the camps, not otherwise having the opportunity to supervise large groups of personnel in the period between the world wars. It's also important to note that Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany during this year.

  • 1934
    19/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 138,464 people
    - Navy strength: 92,312 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 16,361 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 247,137 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.2%

    After President Roosevelt established an agreement to disengage from Haiti the previous year, American Marines left the country. This came on the heels of FDR's “Good Neighbor" policy, which meant not interfering in Latin American domestic affairs. Also this year, FDR signed another version of the Securities Exchange Act into law, which controlled the secondary trading of stocks and bonds in the U.S. The policy also made way for the Securities and Exchange Commission, in charge of enforcing U.S. federal securities law.

  • 1935
    20/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 139,486 people
    - Navy strength: 95,053 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 17,260 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 251,799 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.2%

    By 1935, the U.S. War Department had established four Army headquarters and the General Headquarters Air Force for the purpose of strategic mobility, replacing horse transportation with Army resources and assembling a strong emergency force. That summer, both standard and National Guard soldiers, as well as other military units, began training together in these headquarters. Congress granted the Regular Army permission to boost its enlisted number to 165,000—a longtime goal. The 1935 Neutrality Act was also passed during this year, enforcing a ban on trading arms and war materials with any nation involved in a war.

  • 1936
    21/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 167,816 people
    - Navy strength: 106,292 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 17,248 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 291,356 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.23%

    Even though the U.S. military was not officially involved in the Spanish Civil War, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, comprised of a mix of international brigades created by U.S. volunteers, dispatched troops to Spain and fought for the Spanish Republic. By the end of the war, most of the members of the Spanish aid committees and leadership councils of the American Medical Bureau serving in this war were women.

  • 1937
    22/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 179,968 people
    - Navy strength: 113,617 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 18,223 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 311,808 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.24%

    As the U.S. began to concentrate its economic power toward mobile war operations, the government enacted the Protective Mobilization Plan, in which the National Guard would be inducted into federal service. This gave the Army a protective force of 400,000 troops, which could protect the nation while the Army focused on expansion and training. These plans were the foundation for the mobilization of troops in the summer of 1940, not long before the U.S. entered WWII.

  • 1938
    23/ U.S. Army Photo


    - Army strength: 185,488 people
    - Navy strength: 119,088 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 18,356 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 322,932 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.25%

    In 1938, the Non-Intervention Committee, comprised of representatives from several countries with volunteer troops in Spain, moved to withdraw foreign volunteers from the Spanish Civil War. The U.S. and England abided by this decision, but German and Italian troops stayed in Spain.

  • 1939
    24/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 189,839 people
    - Navy strength: 125,202 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 19,432 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 334,473 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.26%

    WWII began in Europe when Germany and the Soviet Union attacked Poland and the U.K., and France, India, Australia, and New Zealand declared war on Germany. Although the U.S. remained neutral at this point, the military was still taking measures to train and plan for mobilization. FDR proposed the Cash and Carry policy, which replaced the 1936 Neutrality Acts, allowing the sale of military technology and materials to nations at war.

  • 1940
    25/ U.S. Air Force Photo


    - Army strength: 269,023 people
    - Navy strength: 160,997 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 28,345 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 458,365 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.35%

    American involvement in WWII was limited: The military contributed materials and financial support to Great Britain, the Republic of China, and the Soviet Union. Anticipating eventual involvement, however, the U.S. was also beginning to strengthen its own military forces. The Army received more than $8 billion in preparation for the next year, and the munitions program was preparing weaponry to sustain a military force of more than one million men. Congress gave the green light to draft the National Guard into the federal service, and for the Organized Reserves to act as soldiers in its army.

  • 1941
    26/ U.S. Air Force Photo


    - Army strength: 1,462,315 people
    - Navy strength: 284,427 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 54,359 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 1,801,101 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 1.35%

    The U.S. entered WWII by first declaring war with Japan on Dec. 8, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor; with Germany and Italy on Dec. 11 after they had first declared war against the U.S.; and finally with Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania the following year after those nations had done the same. Japan's attack inflicted heavy damage upon the U.S. Pacific fleet, disabling 18 battleships and 164 aircraft. The U.S. faced significant challenges in December of this year as well, having to quickly train large military outfits to fight in Europe and the Pacific. The Lend-Lease Act was also passed into law, which allowed the U.S. government to transmit weapons and other military provisions to foreign countries during the war.

  • 1942
    27/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 3,075,608 people
    - Navy strength: 640,570 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 142,613 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 3,858,791 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 2.86%

    The U.S. officially engaged in war with Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania during this year. The American government spent colossal amounts of money on the effort, and assumed a wartime economy. American businesses, farmers, and factory workers all contributed. Toward the end of the year, it was mandatory for all men between the ages of 18 and 64 to register for the draft, though many volunteered before being called. U.S. troops inflicted critical damage on a Japanese naval fleet in the Battle of Midway in June of 1942.

  • 1943
    28/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 6,994,472 people
    - Navy strength: 1,741,750 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 308,523 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 9,044,745 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 6.61%

    As U.S. involvement in WWII escalated, the government began rationing foods like sugar, meat, and coffee. On the war front, a group of four U.S. Army chaplains known as the Immortal Chaplains were struck by a German torpedo while traveling on the SS Dorchester, and U.S. and Australian troops sank Japanese ships in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. Future President Dwight Eisenhower was chosen to lead the Allied Forces in Europe, which invaded Italy that year.

  • 1944
    29/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 7,994,750 people
    - Navy strength: 2,981,365 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 475,604 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 11,451,719 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 8.27%

    As WWII continued, U.S. troops engaged in the Battle of Anzio, which resulted in Rome's capture by the Allied Forces. More famously, on June 6, the U.S. engaged in the Battle of Normandy, in which 155,000 Allied troops consisting of U.S., British, and Canadian soldiers arrived on the beaches of Normandy, France. This battle, also known as Operation Overlord, ultimately resulted in France's liberation from Nazi occupation.

  • 1945
    30/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 8,266,373 people
    - Navy strength: 3,319,586 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 469,925 people
    - Air Force strength: not yet formed
    - Total strength: 12,055,884 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 8.62%

    The Western Allies invaded Germany toward the end of WWII, with soldiers crossing the Rhine River and eventually overtaking western Germany. The Battle of Iwo Jima was one of the more significant battles of WWII, during which the U.S. Marine Corps captured the Japanese island. After the invasion of Germany, WWII officially ended when President Truman ordered the atomic bombs to be dropped on Japan in August. Overall, the U.S. suffered 418,000 military and civilian casualties during the war, and the government spent about $4.1 trillion. Later that year, the U.S. government played a large role in establishing the United Nations in San Francisco.

  • 1946
    31/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 1,435,496 people
    - Navy strength: 978,203 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 155,679 people
    - Air Force strength: 455,515 people
    - Total strength: 3,024,893 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 2.14%

    The U.S. military continued to demobilize, but slowed down the recovery of troops to fulfill outstanding obligations overseas. This decision resulted in protests from countries like China and France, which did not subside until more than half of American troops returned home. In October of 1946, the United Nations had its first meeting in Long Island, New York, with 51 countries represented. The U.S. granted independence to the Philippines, and Ho Chi Minh signed an agreement with France that deemed Vietnam an independent nation in the Indochinese Federation and the French Union. The U.S. also performed the first underwater test of the atomic bomb, sinking the USS Saratoga in the Pacific Ocean.

  • 1947
    32/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 685,458 people
    - Navy strength: 497,773 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 93,053 people
    - Air Force strength: 305,827 people
    - Total strength: 1,582,111 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 1.1%

    As post-war demobilization continued, the conversation of how the military would organize itself helped create the National Security Council, which in turn created the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense. Post-war tensions between the Soviet Union and the U.S. had officially manifested as the Cold War. In an attempt to contain the spread of communism, President Truman facilitated the Truman Doctrine, which transferred $400 million to Turkey and Greece to aid in the fight against communism.

  • 1948
    33/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 554,030 people
    - Navy strength: 417,535 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 84,988 people
    - Air Force strength: 387,730 people
    - Total strength: 1,444,283 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.98%

    As part of the National Security Act, the Army's chief responsibilities were carrying out land operations, providing anti-aircraft units, and supplying occupation and security garrisons for use overseas. The Navy continued to control the Marine Corps, and the new Air Force commanded strategic air warfare and combat air backup for the Army. President Truman signed the Marshall Plan, which allowed the U.S. to provide more than $12 million to help rebuild western European economies. Congress passed a law declaring the Civil Air Patrol as the official civilian backup of the U.S. Air Force. Finally, Truman passed an executive order that terminated racial segregation in the American armed forces.

  • 1949
    34/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 660,473 people
    - Navy strength: 447,901 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 85,965 people
    - Air Force strength: 419,347 people
    - Total strength: 1,613,686 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 1.08%

    An amendment to the National Security Act transformed the National Military Establishment into an executive entity, also known as the Department of Defense, comprised of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The North Atlantic Treaty was signed, establishing the intergovernmental military alliance known as NATO. The Cold War installment known as the Revolt of the Admirals took place this year, during which retired and active Navy admirals alike publicly disagreed with President Truman on the subject of strategic nuclear bombing as the primary mode of national defense. Additionally, a “red scare” broke out in the U.S. during which several public figures were named in an FBI report as Communist Party members, including Helen Keller and Dorothy Parker.

  • 1950
    35/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 593,167 people
    - Navy strength: 380,739 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 74,279 people
    - Air Force strength: 411,277 people
    - Total strength: 1,459,462 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.96%

    Upon North Korea's invasion of the boundary between North and South Korea, U.S. military forces marked the start of what would be a three-year war on the Korean peninsula. Back in America, Congress passed a new Uniform Code of Military Justice, which not only called for uniformity, but lessened the harshness of military discipline for the morale of the soldiers. President Truman gave the go-ahead for the development of the hydrogen bomb as a response to the Soviet Union having successfully tested its first atomic weapon the previous year.

  • 1951
    36/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 1,531,774 people
    - Navy strength: 736,596 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 192,620 people
    - Air Force strength: 788,381 people
    - Total strength: 3,249,371 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 2.1%

    As the Korean War waged on, United Nations soldiers liberated Seoul for a second time. Later that year, the U.N. and communist North Korean forces engaged in truce talks. A second Red Scare emerged when Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage, and received the death penalty. The U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Forces and the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations started hearings into President Truman's release of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. As part of the Treaty of San Francisco, 48 countries signed a peace treaty with Japan, which officially ended the Pacific War.

  • 1952
    37/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 1,596,419 people
    - Navy strength: 824,265 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 231,967 people
    - Air Force strength: 983,261 people
    - Total strength: 3,635,912 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 2.31%

    The Treaty of San Francisco went into effect this year, officially ending the U.S. occupation of Japan. As nuclear testing continued, the U.S. military successfully detonated the first hydrogen bomb as part of Operation Ivy. As the Korean War pressed on, President Eisenhower traveled to Korea to explore methods of ending the war.

  • 1953
    38/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 1,533,815 people
    - Navy strength: 794,440 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 249,219 people
    - Air Force strength: 977,593 people
    - Total strength: 3,555,067 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 2.22%

    The U.N., China, and North Korea collectively engaged in an armistice, ending the Korean War, and pulling troops out of both countries. As part of the Cold War, the CIA and the British Secret Intelligence Service collaboratively overthrew Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in a coup d'etat when they learned of his involvement with the communist pro-Soviet Tudeh Party. President Eisenhower approved the National Security Council's secret document calling for the U.S. to expand its nuclear weapons depository in a continued effort to stem the flow of communism.

  • 1954
    39/ The U.S. National Archives // Flickr


    - Army strength: 1,404,598 people
    - Navy strength: 725,720 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 223,868 people
    - Air Force strength: 947,918 people
    - Total strength: 3,302,104 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 2.03%

    Despite having authorized hundreds of millions of dollars of military budget aid to Vietnam, President Eisenhower advised against U.S. assisting the French in its continued conflict with Viet Minh. Eisenhower also approved the establishment of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. The U.S. Army was investigated by Sen. Joseph McCarthy for allegedly not cracking down hard enough on communism.

  • 1955
    40/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 1,109,296 people
    - Navy strength: 660,695 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 205,170 people
    - Air Force strength: 959,946 people
    - Total strength: 2,935,107 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 1.77%

    As the conflict in Vietnam escalated, President Eisenhower sent U.S. advisors to South Vietnam when Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem received threats from multiple domestic sources. Also that year, the U.S. Navy helped the Republic of China evacuate Chinese Nationalist soldiers and residents from the Tachen Islands when the People's Liberation Army overtook the area. The Formosa Resolution detailed U.S. protection of the Republic of China from the People's Republic of China.

  • 1956
    41/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 1,025,778 people
    - Navy strength: 669,925 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 200,780 people
    - Air Force strength: 909,958 people
    - Total strength: 2,806,441 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 1.66%

    As the Cold War continued, tensions between the Soviet Union and NATO spawned such large supplies of nuclear weapons that both parties began to panic. After a meeting in Geneva the previous year, U.S. and Soviet representatives mutually decided that a full-blown nuclear war would do far more harm than good. Tensions had calmed by 1956, at least strategically. Nikita Khrushchev, a Soviet statesman, suggested that the U.S. and Soviet Union exist as peaceful competitors—though the two countries still would not be obliged to accept one another's fundamental style of governing. In its fight against capitalist imperialism, the Soviet Union would engage in wars of independence.

  • 1957
    42/ U.S. Navy Photo


    - Army strength: 997,994 people
    - Navy strength: 676,071 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 200,861 people
    - Air Force strength: 919,835 people
    - Total strength: 2,794,761 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 1.63%

    Although the U.S. and Soviet Union vowed to proceed in the Cold War without engaging in full-on nuclear confrontation, the U.S. partnered with Canada to create the Distant Early Warning radar network. This DEW network was able to detect early signs of missile or air attacks coming from the north. In August, President Eisenhower announced that the U.S. would place nuclear testing on a two-year hiatus.

  • 1958
    43/ Thomas J. O'Halloran // Wikimedia Commons


    - Army strength: 898,925 people
    - Navy strength: 639,942 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 189,495 people
    - Air Force strength: 871,156 people
    - Total strength: 2,599,518 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 1.49%

    The Lebanon Crisis broke out this year, caused by the threat of civil war between Maronite Christians and Muslims. U.S. Marines helped diffuse the situation as part of Operation Blue Bat, to help strengthen the pro-Western government under President Camille Chamoun and protect it from Syrian and Egyptian threats. President Eisenhower signed the Federal Aviation Act, which allowed the Federal Aviation Agency to assume all power over U.S. airspace. Although a revolution was taking place in Cuba this year, led by Fidel Castro, the U.S. chose not to intervene—instead maintaining a close eye on Castro, who eventually succeeded in overthrowing the government of Fulgencio Batista.

  • 1959
    44/ U.S. Air Force Photo


    - Army strength: 861,964 people
    - Navy strength: 625,661 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 175,571 people
    - Air Force strength: 840,435 people
    - Total strength: 2,503,631 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 1.41%

    Cold War tensions continued to mount when a Communist group in Laos overtook several provinces bordering North Vietnam and China. Neither side prevailed, despite the U.S. military intervention. As the government grew concerned over a more prominent crisis between the East and West, some government officials suggested that Laos be neutralized.

  • 1960
    45/ U.S. Air Force Photo


    - Army strength: 873,078 people
    - Navy strength: 616,987 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 170,621 people
    - Air Force strength: 814,752 people
    - Total strength: 2,475,438 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 1.37%

    The U.S. acknowledged Fidel Castro as the leader of Cuba, but as Castro increasingly nationalized U.S. companies and investments there, harsh penalties were enacted. The U.S. suspended sugar imports from Cuba in 1960, and in March of that year President Dwight D. Eisenhower directed the CIA to initiate training of Cuban exiles in order to overthrow Castro.

  • 1961
    46/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 858,622 people
    - Navy strength: 626,223 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 176,909 people
    - Air Force strength: 821,151 people
    - Total strength: 2,482,905 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 1.35%

    Though the threat of nuclear war remained low, newly appointed President John F. Kennedy nevertheless vowed to equip the U.S. military with the necessary means to retaliate in the event of an attack. Kennedy warned the Soviet Union against getting involved in the U.N. establishment of peace and independence in the Congo. The Bay of Pigs invasion took place in Cuba, during which the CIA tried and failed to overthrow Fidel Castro's growing communist government.

  • 1962
    47/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 1,066,404 people
    - Navy strength: 664,212 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 190,962 people
    - Air Force strength: 884,025 people
    - Total strength: 2,805,603 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 1.5%

    When it was revealed that Cuba was in possession of Soviet ballistic missiles, the U.S. government set up a naval blockade in southern Florida. This incident became known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. President Kennedy warned the Soviet Union that if they launched missiles from Cuba against any country, the U.S would be forced to use nuclear weapons on Russia. Both countries resolved this issue a few days later, when Soviet leader Khrushchev called for the removal of the Soviet missiles from Cuba.

  • 1963
    48/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 975,916 people
    - Navy strength: 663,897 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 189,683 people
    - Air Force strength: 869,431 people
    - Total strength: 2,698,927 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 1.43%

    The U.S., U.K., and Soviet Union signed a treaty banning nuclear testing, except in underground sites, with responsible containment of radioactive material. The U.S. also continued to support anti-Communist efforts in Laos.

  • 1964
    49/ Project AGILE // Wikimedia Commons


    - Army strength: 973,238 people
    - Navy strength: 665,969 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 189,777 people
    - Air Force strength: 856,798 people
    - Total strength: 2,685,782 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 1.4%

    As Saigon's government continued to decline, President Lyndon B. Johnson sent military advisors to South Vietnam to assist. When U.S. destroyers were supposedly attacked in the Tonkin Gulf, Congress drew up the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which gave the green light for any means necessary to stave off attacks and halt further violence.

  • 1965
    50/ manhhai // Flickr


    - Army strength: 969,066 people
    - Navy strength: 669,985 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 190,213 people
    - Air Force strength: 824,662 people
    - Total strength: 2,653,926 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 1.37%

    As the Vietnam War continued, President Johnson increased the number of troops from 75,000 to 125,000. In August of that year, U.S. Marines executed Operation Starlite by taking down a Vietcong stronghold in Quang Ngai province, marking the first major ground battle of the Vietnam War. Later that year was the Battle of Ia Drang: The first example of a large-scale helicopter air assault, as well as the first instance of B-52 strategic bombers serving as tactical support.

  • 1966
    51/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 1,199,784 people
    - Navy strength: 743,322 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 261,716 people
    - Air Force strength: 887,353 people
    - Total strength: 3,092,175 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 1.57%

    The U.S. increased its presence in Vietnam once more, and the House Un-American Activities Committee began investigating American citizens who helped the Viet Cong. Anti-war protestors crashed the meeting, many of whom were arrested, and additional anti-Vietnam War demonstrations took place around the country. U.S. aircraft dropped bombs on Hanoi and Haiphong in North Vietnam.

  • 1967
    52/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 1,442,498 people
    - Navy strength: 750,224 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 285,269 people
    - Air Force strength: 897,494 people
    - Total strength: 3,375,485 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 1.7%

    U.S. Marines carried out Operation Swift, intended to free two Marine companies that had been waylaid by the Peoples Army of Vietnam, in September of 1967. The rescue mission took place in the Quang Nam and Quang Tin provinces, and resulted in the deaths of 376 North Vietnamese and 114 American soldiers.

  • 1968
    53/ manhhai // Flickr


    - Army strength: 1,570,343 people
    - Navy strength: 763,626 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 307,252 people
    - Air Force strength: 904,850 people
    - Total strength: 3,546,071 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 1.77%

    The extensive war-related stress throughout the world inspired President Lyndon B. Johnson to issue an executive order for units of the Army's Ready Reserve, Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard, and Ready Reserve of the Naval Reserve to report to active duty. That same year, Johnston announced that the U.S. would partially halt bombing missions over Vietnam.

  • 1969
    54/ U.S. Navy Photo


    - Army strength: 1,512,169 people
    - Navy strength: 773,779 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 309,771 people
    - Air Force strength: 862,353 people
    - Total strength: 3,458,072 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 1.71%

    Newly appointed President Richard Nixon established the Nixon Doctrine in 1969. This document established that the U.S. would rely on its Asian allies to take control of their own military defenses, while still receiving some support from their American neighbors.

  • 1970
    55/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 1,322,548 people
    - Navy strength: 691,126 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 259,737 people
    - Air Force strength: 791,349 people
    - Total strength: 3,064,760 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 1.49%

    As the Vietnam War began to wind down, U.S. troops invaded Cambodia to capture lingering Viet Cong forces. These activities were known as the "Menu" bombings.

  • 1971
    56/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 1,123,810 people
    - Navy strength: 621,565 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 212,369 people
    - Air Force strength: 755,300 people
    - Total strength: 2,713,044 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 1.31%

    Army Lieut. William Calley was convicted of the 1968 deaths of 22 civilians during the My Lai Massacre, in which 500 people were killed. He was sentenced to life in prison, but President Richard Nixon reduced his sentence, and Calley ended up serving just three years under house arrest.

  • 1972
    57/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 810,960 people
    - Navy strength: 586,923 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 198,238 people
    - Air Force strength: 725,838 people
    - Total strength: 2,321,959 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 1.11%

    The North Vietnamese launched the Nguyen Hue Offensive in April of 1972, which was a large-scale, three-part assault on South Vietnam. Hundreds of South Vietnamese civilians and soldiers were injured as a result, but the attack was ultimately stopped by South Vietnamese soldiers and U.S. advisers.

  • 1973
    58/ U.S. Air Force Photo


    - Army strength: 800,973 people
    - Navy strength: 563,683 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 196,098 people
    - Air Force strength: 691,182 people
    - Total strength: 2,251,936 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 1.06%

    President Nixon announced progress in peace negotiations with Vietnam, and called for the cessation of offensive action in North Vietnam. A ceasefire was signed, but soon violated by the communists in March of 1973. All-out war had resumed by 1974.

  • 1974
    59/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 783,330 people
    - Navy strength: 545,903 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 188,802 people
    - Air Force strength: 643,970 people
    - Total strength: 2,162,005 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 1.01%

    As President Nixon faced the final throes of the Watergate Scandal back home, Turkey invaded Cyprus in July of 1974. Following the invasion, the U.S. Navy swooped into evacuate American citizens from the island country to Beirut. The following month, Nixon resigned from his presidency.

  • 1975
    60/ manhhai // Flickr


    - Army strength: 784,333 people
    - Navy strength: 535,085 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 195,951 people
    - Air Force strength: 612,751 people
    - Total strength: 2,128,120 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.99%

    The Vietnam War ended this year when communist North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops overtook Saigon, causing American and South Vietnamese forces to evacuate, and South Vietnam to surrender. 

  • 1976
    61/ Tommy Truong79 // Flickr


    - Army strength: 779,417 people
    - Navy strength: 524,678 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 192,399 people
    - Air Force strength: 585,416 people
    - Total strength: 2,081,910 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.95%

    This year in military history was significant for women in the military, marking the first time they were admitted to service academies. More than 300 women entered, including 119 women at West Point alone.

  • 1977
    62/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 782,246 people
    - Navy strength: 529,895 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 191,707 people
    - Air Force strength: 570,695 people
    - Total strength: 2,074,543 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.94%

    In response to President Jimmy Carter's human rights policy, Nicaraguan military leader Anastasio Somoza rescinded a state of siege that had been enforced for the previous three years. This move paved the way for a $2.5 million military aid agreement between the United States and Nicaragua.

  • 1978
    63/ manhhai // Flickr


    - Army strength: 771,624 people
    - Navy strength: 529,557 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 190,815 people
    - Air Force strength: 569,712 people
    - Total strength: 2,061,708 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.93%

    This year marked another big step for the integration of women into the army. The Women's Army Corps was dissolved, and all female soldiers were assigned to military branches. The incorporation of women did give way to some issues—but women were still banned from the combat arms: infantry, artillery, and cavalry.

  • 1979
    64/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 758,852 people
    - Navy strength: 523,335 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 185,250 people
    - Air Force strength: 559,455 people
    - Total strength: 2,026,892 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.9%

    On Nov. 4, 1979, Iranian students overtook the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held more than 50 Americans hostage. The Iran Hostage Crisis would go on to last an excruciating 444 days.

  • 1980
    65/ Trikosko/Marion S. // Wikimedia Commons


    - Army strength: 777,036 people
    - Navy strength: 527,153 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 188,469 people
    - Air Force strength: 557,969 people
    - Total strength: 2,050,627 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.9%

    In April of this year, several U.S. transport planes and helicopters tried unsuccessfully to rescue the American hostages, prompting President Carter to discontinue diplomatic relations with Iran. In June, Carter signed Proclamation 4771, which required men between 18 and 26 to "present themselves to register" for the military. Carter insisted this registration was not a draft.

  • 1981
    66/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 781,419 people
    - Navy strength: 540,219 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 190,620 people
    - Air Force strength: 570,302 people
    - Total strength: 2,082,560 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.91%

    During the Gulf of Sidra incident, Libya claimed the region as part of its territorial waters. In response, the U.S. engaged in the Freedom of Navigation operations around the gulf, on the grounds that it was legally considered an international body of water. Forces shot down two Libyan fighter jets.

  • 1982
    67/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 780,391 people
    - Navy strength: 552,996 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 192,380 people
    - Air Force strength: 582,845 people
    - Total strength: 2,108,612 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.91%

    Eight hundred U.S. Marines were sent to Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War, along with multinational forces, to take out members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in Washington D.C., with thousands of former and current soldiers attending the event.

  • 1983
    68/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 779,643 people
    - Navy strength: 557,573 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 194,089 people
    - Air Force strength: 592,044 people
    - Total strength: 2,123,349 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.91%

    In May of 1983, the U.S. signed an agreement requiring Israel to withdraw troops from Lebanon. As part of the ongoing Cold War, a Soviet jet fighter shot down Korean Air passenger flight 007 when it passed into Soviet airspace. All 269 passengers were killed, including a U.S. congressman, triggering large-scale animosity toward the Soviet Union.

  • 1984
    69/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 780,180 people
    - Navy strength: 564,638 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 196,214 people
    - Air Force strength: 597,125 people
    - Total strength: 2,138,157 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.91%

    Having aided Lebanon during its civil war, U.S. Marines withdrew from Beirut. As the Iran-Iraq War entered in its fourth year, U.S. aerial tanker planes assisted Iranian jets as they were attacked by Saudi Arabian fighter pilots. President Ronald Reagan expressed concern that the incident would worsen the war in the Persian Gulf.

  • 1985
    70/ The Official CTBTO Photostream // Flickr


    - Army strength: 780,787 people
    - Navy strength: 570,705 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 198,025 people
    - Air Force strength: 601,515 people
    - Total strength: 2,151,032 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.9%

    In October of 1985, four Palestinian terrorists hijacked the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro, killing an American citizen. U.S. Navy pilots later intercepted the Egyptian airliner carrying the terrorists. As part of Cold War negotiations, President Reagan met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Geneva.

  • 1986
    71/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 780,980 people
    - Navy strength: 581,119 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 198,814 people
    - Air Force strength: 608,199 people
    - Total strength: 2,169,112 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.9%

    The West Berlin Discotheque was bombed in 1986. Two people were killed and more than 100 were injured at the nightclub, which was a popular destination for U.S. soldiers. The attack was traced back to Libyan terrorists. Nine days later, President Reagan approved a series of Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy air strikes on Libya.

  • 1987
    72/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 780,815 people
    - Navy strength: 586,842 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 199,525 people
    - Air Force strength: 607,035 people
    - Total strength: 2,174,217 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.9%

    As violence in the Persian Gulf continued, the U.S. upped its joint military presence in the area and established a policy of confronting passing Kuwaiti oil tankers and accompanying them through the Gulf. A cease-fire between Iran and Iraq later inspired the U.S. to dial down its presence. In December of this year, President Reagan and Soviet leader Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in Washington D.C., terminating the use of intermediate and short-range missiles.

  • 1988
    73/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 771,847 people
    - Navy strength: 592,570 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 197,350 people
    - Air Force strength: 576,446 people
    - Total strength: 2,138,213 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.87%

    As part of another installment in the Persian Gulf, the USS Samuel B. Roberts hit a naval mine while on a military operation. The U.S. Navy retaliated by carrying out Operation Praying Mantis, which entailed a series of hits on Iranian oil platforms and naval ships. In December of that year, Yasser Arafat publicly relinquished violence, inspiring the U.S. to initiate conversation with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

  • 1989
    74/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 769,741 people
    - Navy strength: 592,652 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 196,956 people
    - Air Force strength: 570,880 people
    - Total strength: 2,130,229 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.86%

    In September of 1989, President George H.W. Bush called for military advisers and special forces teams to help shut down drug production and trafficking in Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru. Later that year, Bush met with Mikhail Gorbachev off the coast of Malta, and announced that the Cold War might be coming to a close.

  • 1990
    75/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 732,403 people
    - Navy strength: 579,417 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 196,652 people
    - Air Force strength: 535,233 people
    - Total strength: 2,043,705 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.82%

    As part of continued talks, Bush met with Gorbachev to sign the Chemical Weapons Accord, which terminated the production of chemical weapons and called for each party's arsenal to be dismantled. In August of 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, sparking the Persian Gulf War. Bush called for a large percentage of the U.S. armed forces to the Persian Gulf to help Saudi Arabia fend off Iraqi forces. In November, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 678, which gave the green light for military intervention in Iraq if its government didn't pull forces out of Kuwait by Jan. 15 of the following year.

  • 1991
    76/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 710,821 people
    - Navy strength: 570,262 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 194,040 people
    - Air Force strength: 510,432 people
    - Total strength: 1,985,555 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.78%

    On Jan. 17 of 1991, President Bush instructed U.S. armed forces to execute airstrikes against Iraqi forces in both Iraq and Kuwait. Later that month, thousands of people convened in Washington D.C. to rally against the Persian Gulf War. The deadliest attack on the U.S. in this war came in late February when an Iraqi scud missile blew up a U.S. barracks in Dhahran, killing 29 soldiers and injuring 99 more. Before the month was over, Saddam Hussein announced that Iraqi soldiers had pulled out of Kuwait. The following day, Bush proclaimed that Kuwait had been liberated. Toward the end of the year, the Cold War officially ended when Mikhail Gorbachev stepped down, and the Soviet Union was no more.

  • 1992
    77/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 610,450 people
    - Navy strength: 541,883 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 184,529 people
    - Air Force strength: 470,315 people
    - Total strength: 1,807,177 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.7%

    When Iraq failed to recognize the new border established by the U.N., the U.S. executed a series of military exercises in Kuwait in preparation for another Iraqi threat. Later that year, the U.N. passed Security Council Resolution 794, ultimately forming the United Task Force, whose main responsibility was aiding Somalia in the wake of a humanitarian crisis.

  • 1993
    78/ IAEA Image Bank // Flickr


    - Army strength: 572,423 people
    - Navy strength: 509,950 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 178,379 people
    - Air Force strength: 444,351 people
    - Total strength: 1,705,103 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.66%

    In June, the U.S. Quick Reaction Forces responded to Somali faction attacks on U.N. forces, and more military operations ensued when U.N. attempts to deliver humanitarian aid were thwarted. That same month, President Bill Clinton called for a cruise missile attack on Iraqi headquarters in Baghdad, after attempts were made to assassinate the former President Bush during his trip to Kuwait a few months earlier.

  • 1994
    79/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 541,343 people
    - Navy strength: 468,662 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 174,158 people
    - Air Force strength: 426,327 people
    - Total strength: 1,610,490 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.61%

    In September of 1994, the Iraq disarmament crisis manifested as Iraq no longer cooperating with the United Nations Special Commission, sending troops near the Iraq-Kuwait border. In return, the U.S. sent soldiers to Kuwait. In October, Iraq pulled its troops out of Kuwait after the U.N. Security Council made further threats.

  • 1995
    80/ Public domain


    - Army strength: 508,559 people
    - Navy strength: 434,617 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 174,639 people
    - Air Force strength: 400,409 people
    - Total strength: 1,518,224 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.57%

    As U.S. aircraft assisted in NATO's enforcement of a no-fly zone above Bosnia-Herzegovina, Capt. Scott O'Grady was shot down in his aircraft and rescued about a week later. U.S. fighter planes engaged in NATO strikes against the Bosnian Serb Army, which were threatening areas the U.N. had established as safe zones.

  • 1996
    81/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 491,103 people
    - Navy strength: 416,735 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 174,883 people
    - Air Force strength: 389,001 people
    - Total strength: 1,471,722 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.55%

    In the continuation of the Iraq disarmament crisis, Iraq upheld its decision to deny inspectors access to several sites, and the U.S. was unable to gain military support to solve the issue. President Clinton gave the go-ahead for U.S. forces to remain in Bosnia as part of NATO's Implementation Force, which sought to maintain peace in Bosnia. Clinton also signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which aimed to put a stop to all nuclear detonations for civil or military means.

  • 1997
    82/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 491,707 people
    - Navy strength: 395,564 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 173,906 people
    - Air Force strength: 377,385 people
    - Total strength: 1,438,562 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.53%

    U.S. troops remained in Bosnia to maintain peace, spearheaded by the NATO Stabilization Force. A few thousand U.S. soldiers were also deployed to nearby Hungary, Croatia, and Italy to provide backup for SFOR. Army Sergeant Maj. Gene McKinney was suspended due to accusations of sexual misconduct.

  • 1998
    83/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 484,928 people
    - Navy strength: 381,336 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 173,055 people
    - Air Force strength: 367,468 people
    - Total strength: 1,406,787 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.51%

    The U.S. Senate passed Resolution 71, which advised President Clinton to respond to Iraq's noncompliance by any means necessary in curtailing its development of weapons of mass destruction. Shortly after, Saddam Hussein formed a deal with U.N. Secretary Kofi Annan, permitting weapons inspectors to enter Baghdad and avoiding military action from the U.S. and the U.K. In August, U.S. embassies in Tanzania, Dar es Salaam, and Nairobi were bombed, killing 224 and injuring more than 4,000. The bombings were linked to Osama bin Laden. In retaliation, the U.S. military dropped cruise missiles on Afghanistan, targeting al-Qaida camps.

  • 1999
    84/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 477,788 people
    - Navy strength: 372,507 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 172,635 people
    - Air Force strength: 360,510 people
    - Total strength: 1,383,440 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.5%

    President Clinton called for 7,000 U.S. military troops to assist the NATO security team in Kosovo, where the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia—comprised of the republics of Montenegro and Serbia—was in conflict with the Kosovo Liberation Army. Later that year, the U.S Senate dismissed the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. As part of the no-fly zone over Iraq, the U.S. took retaliative and preventive measures against the threats of Iraqi military forces.

  • 2000
    85/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 483,115 people
    - Navy strength: 371,543 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 172,955 people
    - Air Force strength: 355,601 people
    - Total strength: 1,383,214 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.49%

    U.S. military forces in Kosovo dropped to 6,000. Two al-Qaida suicide bombers attacked the USS Cole. In response, President Clinton approved 45 U.S. naval personnel to contribute medical and security assistance. Navy combat ships were situated near Yemeni waters to provide additional support.

  • 2001
    86/ Michael Foran // Wikimedia Commons


    - Army strength: 482,655 people
    - Navy strength: 377,312 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 176,720 people
    - Air Force strength: 363,692 people
    - Total strength: 1,400,379 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.49%

    In February of 2001, U.S. and British forces executed bombing raids on Iraq in an attempt to take down its air defense system. On September 11, the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked by al-Qaida, killing nearly 3,000 people. This event launched the worldwide “War on Terror.” As part of this effort, President George W. Bush approved an executive order permitting military tribunals against any foreign residents thought to have ties to terrorist groups. U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan later that year, with the intent of defeating al-Qaida.

  • 2002
    87/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 488,631 people
    - Navy strength: 385,009 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 177,868 people
    - Air Force strength: 369,112 people
    - Total strength: 1,420,620 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.49%

    In January of 2002, the U.N. Security Council called for an arms embargo and the freezing of Osama bin Laden's assets. In March, U.S. forces carried out Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan, during which they killed 500 members of the Taliban and al-Qaida. In October, Congress passed the Iraq Resolution, which allowed the U.S. to take military action against Iraq. In November, President Bush passed the Homeland Security Act, which officially established the Department of Homeland Security.

  • 2003
    88/ YouTube


    - Army strength: 497,770 people
    - Navy strength: 382,655 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 181,166 people
    - Air Force strength: 375,859 people
    - Total strength: 1,437,450 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.5%

    The U.S. and U.K. invaded Iraq in late March of 2003, starting with a “shock and awe” campaign, using dramatic force to cripple the enemy. In April, U.S. soldiers defeated the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Republican Guard in the Battle of Baghdad. Later that year, President Bush confirmed that there was no evidence to substantiate Saddam Hussein's involvement in the September 11th attacks.

  • 2004
    89/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 498,428 people
    - Navy strength: 372,525 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 177,021 people
    - Air Force strength: 376,813 people
    - Total strength: 1,424,787 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.49%

    In February of 2004, the CIA announced that there was no real threat of weapons of mass destruction prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq the previous year. In October, video footage of Osama bin Laden aired on Arab state-sanctioned television, in which he threatened to terrorize the U.S. and mocked President Bush over the World Trade Center attacks. In December, as U.S. forces continued to occupy Iraq, revolutionaries attacked a U.S. outpost in Mosul, resulting in 22 fatalities. Two days later, U.S. soldiers killed the revolutionaries in Fallujah.

  • 2005
    90/ Adam Jones // Wikimedia Commons


    - Army strength: 490,632 people
    - Navy strength: 362,239 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 179,840 people
    - Air Force strength: 353,696 people
    - Total strength: 1,386,407 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.47%

    Early in 2005, North Korea claimed possession of nuclear weapons as a precautionary measure against “hostile” U.S. forces. Worldwide, citizens protests against the Iraq War—including more than 150,000 people who took to the street of Washington D.C. In December, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced the reduction of U.S. troops in Iraq.

  • 2006
    91/ George W. Bush White House Photo


    - Army strength: 507,131 people
    - Navy strength: 349,534 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 180,252 people
    - Air Force strength: 348,953 people
    - Total strength: 1,385,870 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.46%

    A new United States Air Force Memorial was dedicated on Oct. 14, which both President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield, who announced his resignation on Nov. 8, attended. In June, U.S. forces killed Iraqi leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and seven of his aides in an air raid. Saddam Hussein was hanged in Baghdad on Dec. 30. 

  • 2007
    92/ Public Domain


    - Army strength: 522,190 people
    - Navy strength: 336,659 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 186,425 people
    - Air Force strength: 333,495 people
    - Total strength: 1,378,769 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.46%

    Early in 2007, U.S. Air Force units carried out airstrikes in Somalia in the wake of suspected terrorist activity. President Bush took measures to deploy 21,500 additional U.S. soldiers to Iraq. In a battle involving Iraqi revolutionaries and U.S.-supported Iraqi troops, 300 alleged insurgents were killed in Najaf, Iraq. In December, the National Intelligence Estimate conveyed its confidence that Iran's nuclear weapons facilities had been dormant since 2003.

  • 2008
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    - Army strength: 544,150 people
    - Navy strength: 331,132 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 198,415 people
    - Air Force strength: 327,382 people
    - Total strength: 1,401,079 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.46%

    The U.S Navy wiped out an American spy satellite in February of 2008, causing countries around the world to accuse the U.S. of testing its ability to compromise satellites belonging to other countries. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continued to proliferate.

  • 2009
    94/ Marco Schulze // Wikimedia Commons


    - Army strength: 553,579 people
    - Navy strength: 328,751 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 203,075 people
    - Air Force strength: 333,408 people
    - Total strength: 1,418,813 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.46%

    Newly appointed President Barack Obama gave the go-ahead to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, and put a stop to the use of torture in interrogations. In April, Somali pirates hijacked the American freighter Maersk Alabama and kidnapped its captain. As the U.S. Navy engaged in a standoff, a sniper killed three pirates.

  • 2010
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    - Army strength: 566,045 people
    - Navy strength: 327,697 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 202,612 people
    - Air Force strength: 334,198 people
    - Total strength: 1,430,552 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.46%

    In his first State of the Union address, President Obama discussed abolishing the military's “Don't Ask Don't Tell” policy on homosexuality. Instituted in 1994, the policy banned military personnel from victimizing or harassing closeted gay and bisexual members of the military, and banned openly gay or bisexual people from serving in the military. In December of that year, Obama passed the repeal on “Don't Ask Don't Tell” into law. The U.S. Navy revoked its ban on women serving in submarines. The last U.S. troops began leaving Iraq, and Obama announced that combat operations in Iraq would be discontinued.

  • 2011
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    - Army strength: 565,463 people
    - Navy strength: 324,666 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 201,026 people
    - Air Force strength: 333,162 people
    - Total strength: 1,424,317 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.46%

    In May of 2011, President Obama declared that U.S. military forces had killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. In June, modified U.S. military strategy was adjusted to reflect that a cyberattack would be legitimate reason to declare war. Shortly after, an FBI investigation revealed that Chinese hackers had tapped into American and Chinese Gmail accounts. In December, the last remaining U.S. soldiers left Iraq, definitively ending the Iraq War.

  • 2012
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    - Army strength: 550,063 people
    - Navy strength: 318,818 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 198,820 people
    - Air Force strength: 332,834 people
    - Total strength: 1,400,535 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.45%

    At the Chicago Summit, NATO leaders talked about nuclear weapons, the Middle East, Russia, and Afghanistan, including supporting an exit strategy. On September 11th, members of Islamic militia group Ansar al-Sharia launched an attack on a U.S. diplomatic building in Benghazi, killing U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith. This prompted the U.S. to increase security measures on an international level.

  • 2013
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    - Army strength: 532,043 people
    - Navy strength: 324,308 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 195,848 people
    - Air Force strength: 330,485 people
    - Total strength: 1,382,684 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.44%

    In January of 2013, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta revoked the ban on women serving in combat missions. Shortly after, a crisis in North Korea began to take form: threats of nuclear warfare were issued against South Korea and the U.S. In August, the Syrian government was accused of killing more than 1,000 people with chemical weapons.

  • 2014
    99/ DVIDSHUB // Wikimedia Commons


    - Army strength: 508,210 people
    - Navy strength: 326,054 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 187,891 people
    - Air Force strength: 316,332 people
    - Total strength: 1,338,487 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.42%

    The Obama administration suggested decreasing the military budget to $522 billion, and reducing the army to a size it had not been since before WWII. In June, Obama said that he would deploy up to 300 military advisers to Iraq to assist the Shiites when they were threatened by the Sunni militant group who would come to be known as ISIS. In November, 1,500 troops were sent to Iraq to further combat the Islamic terrorist organization. And in December, the U.S. and U.K. officially removed their military forces from major combat operations in Afghanistan.

  • 2015
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    - Army strength: 491,365 people
    - Navy strength: 327,801 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 183,417 people
    - Air Force strength: 311,357 people
    - Total strength: 1,313,940 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.41%

    In July of 2015, the U.S. and Iran agreed to remove most of the United Nations Security Council's sanctions on Iran in exchange for imposing limits on Iran's nuclear programs for at least 10 years. Later that year, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter declared that women would be able to serve in all combat roles in the U.S. military by April 1 of the following year.

  • 2016
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    - Army strength: 475,400 people
    - Navy strength: 324,524 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 183,501 people
    - Air Force strength: 317,883 people
    - Total strength: 1,301,308 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.4%

    In January of 2016, the U.S. government executed its promise to remove economic sanctions from Iran, in line with the agreement established the previous year. Sanctions related to violations of human rights, the use of missiles, and support of terrorism stayed in effect. The 2016 Nuclear Summit took place in Washington D.C., during which a revised nuclear security agreement was drawn up. Since 2014, 10 countries have disposed of roughly 450 kilograms of highly enriched uranium. In July, the U.S. military removed its restriction on transgender people serving in the military.

  • 2017
    102/ Ted Eytan // Wikimedia Commons


    - Army strength: 476,245 people
    - Navy strength: 323,933 people
    - Marine Corps strength: 184,401 people
    - Air Force strength: 322,787 people
    - Total strength: 1,307,366 people
    - Percent of population enlisted: 0.4%

    In January of 2017, President Donald Trump made the executive decision to deny refugees of the Syrian Civil War entry into the U.S., as well as citizens of Iran, Iraq, and several other Middle Eastern countries. North Korea launched four ballistic missiles toward the Sea of Japan. President Trump vowed to ban transgender people from the military, enacting this regulation in March. In October, Trump outwardly criticized Iran, and suggested an end to the previous Iran Nuclear Deal unless serious revisions were made.

  • 2018
    103/ Ford Williams // U.S. Navy


    The U.S., along with the U.K. and France, launched over 100 missiles against chemical weapons threats in Syria early on the morning of April 14. The three targets, reported by the Pentagon, were a chemical weapons storage facility, a scientific research center, and a third command post and storage site. The Western powers said these strikes were in retaliation of the Douma, Syria, chemical attack on April 7, which killed dozens of civilians. On June 18 during a National Space Council meeting, President Trump announced he would direct the Department of Defense and Pentagon to create a sixth branch of the U.S. military: the Space Force to assert “American dominance in space.”

  • 2019
    104/ Staff Sgt. Timothy Koster // Wikimedia Commons


    At the end of 2018 and beginning of 2019, President Trump announced plans to quickly withdraw 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, saying that the Islamic State had been defeated; however, critics warn the group is still a concern. In February, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told the press a “small peacekeeping group of about 200 will remain in Syria for a period of time.”

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