The Origins & Role Of The Chairman, Joint Chiefs Of Staff (CJCS)

In the next few weeks, President Biden will be nominating a new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS). This position is very important, however it usually doesn’t get the coverage that it should. The CJCS is the top ranking military officer in the United States and is responsible for advising the President and other top officials on military matters. 

The creation of the CJCS occurred after the National Security Act of 1947 was passed. The act established the Department of Defense, the CIA, the NSA, and the current structure of the Department of Defense. The act also created the Department of the Air Force, the Department of the Navy, and merged the Departments of War and the Department of the Navy into one Department of Defense. After the act was passed, the Korean War and various international crises occurred, as well as the Vietnam War and Desert One. There have been 20 chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since the creation of the current structure after World War II. 

President Reagan’s Packard Commission and the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 were established to address issues such as the failures of the hostage rescue mission in Iran and the invasion of Grenada, the lack of effective communication between the US military, and the need to reorganize the Department of Defense. The Act gave the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff more authority, streamlined the requirements process, established the Special Operations Command, and set the criteria for flagrank promotions. It also aimed to prevent the creation of a Prussian General Staff, which could challenge US civilian authority. Therefore, the Act provided a more efficient chain of command from the President to the combatant commanders and the individual units.

At the helm of all of this is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who has had on average 30-35 years of experience. The Goldwater-Nichols Act created a system of unified command and control that allows the United States military to effectively compete and carry out its war fighting mission.

President Biden’s upcoming nomination for the next Chairman will likely be Air Force General and current Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Charles Q. Brown Jr. The challenges he will face include China-Taiwan, Ukraine-Russia, recruitment efforts, logistics efforts, the Defense Industrial Base, and Iran. These challenges will require a staff that is well-versed in all of these areas, and the trick will be to bring them all together in a way that serves both the military and the American people.

Interesting Fact: 

It turns out that of the 20 Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs, Cedric has personally met 8 of them. In addition, he has served on the Joint Staff for 4 years, under 3 different Chairman.

Episode Timestamps:
  • The next CJCS {01:20}
  • The history of the role {02:30}
  • What the role of CJCS looks like today {11:10}
  • Challenges the upcoming Chairman will face {15:00}

“The key thing to remember about the Chairman – no matter who he is, that Chairman does not have command authority over any of the commanders or really anyone, except maybe on his direct staff, but he’s the top military influencer.”

Resources Used For Episode Content:

Reports from NY Times, CNN, Washington Post, and “The Straw Giant: Triumph and Failure: America’s Armed Forces” by Arthur T. Hadley, Copyright 1986

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