Running from the president to the secretary of defense to the commander of the combatant command, the chain of command for the United States military is spelled out by the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986
. The secretaries of the military departments assign all forces under their jurisdiction to the unified and specific combatant commands to perform missions assigned by those commands.
Under the Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1958, the Departments of Army, Navy and Air Force were eliminated from the chain of "operational" command
. Commanders of unified and specified commands now respond to the president and the secretary of defense through the joint chief of staff. The act redefined the functions of the military departments to those of essentially organizing, training, equipping and supporting combat forces for the unified and specified commands.
President of the United States
• Commander in chief of the United States Armed Forces.
Secretary of Defense
• Principal defense policy adviser to the president
• Appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate
• Military action taken by the president is passed through the secretary of defense
National Security Council
• Consists of the president, vice-president, secretary of state and secretary of defense
• Serves as the principal forum for considering national security issues requiring presidential decisions
• The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff serves as military adviser to the Council; the CIA is the intelligence adviser
• The secretary of the treasury, the U.S. representative to the United Nations, the assistant to the president for national security affairs, the assistant to the president for economic policy and the president's chief of staff are invited to all meetings.
• The attorney general and the director of the office of national drug control policy attend meetings pertaining to their jurisdiction. If appropriate, other officials are invited.