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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Deputy Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Appointed by The President
Incumbent General, Martin Dempsey
Personal details
Website Official Website

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) is, by U.S. law, the highest-ranking military officer in the United States Armed Forces[1] and is the principal military advisor to the President of the United States, the National Security Council, the Homeland Security Council,[2] and the Secretary of Defense.[2][3] While the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff outranks all other officers, he does not have operational command authority over the Armed Forces; however, the Chairman does assist the President and the Secretary of Defense in exercising their command functions.[1]

The Chairman convenes the meetings and coordinates the efforts of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), an advisory body within the Department of Defense comprising the Chairman, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the chiefs of staff of the United States Army and United States Air Force, the Chief of Naval Operations, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and the Chief of the National Guard Bureau.[2] The Joint Staff is under the exclusive direction of the Chairman.



Although the office of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is considered very important and highly prestigious, neither the Chairman, the Vice Chairman, nor the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a body has any command authority over combatant forces. The Goldwater-Nichols Act places the chain of command from the President to the Secretary of Defense directly to the commanders of the Unified Combatant Commands.[4] However the chiefs do have authority over personnel assignments and oversight over resources and personnel allocated to the combatant commands within their respective services. The Chairman may also transmit communications to the combatant commanders from the President and Secretary of Defense[5] as well as allocate additional funding to the combatant commanders if necessary.[6] He also performs all other functions prescribed under 10 U.S.C. § 153 or allocates those duties and responsibilities to other officers in the joint staff under his name.


The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is assisted by the Joint Staff, lead by the Director of the Joint Staff, a three-star officer who is the Chairman's principal assistant in executing his duties. The Joint Staff is an organization composed of approximately equal numbers of officers contributed by the Army, the Navy and Marine Corps, and the Air Force, who have been assigned to assist the Chairman with the unified strategic direction, operation, and integration of the combatant land, naval, and air forces.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is also advised on enlisted personnel matters by the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman who served as a communication conduit between the Chairman and the senior enlisted advisors (sergeants major, command master chief petty officers, and command chief master sergeants) of the combatant commands.


Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, USN, served as Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy (July 20, 1942 – March 21, 1949). He presided over meetings of what was called the Joint Chiefs of Staff,[7] and Leahy's office was the precursor to the post of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Appointment and rank

The Chairman is nominated by the President for appointment and must be confirmed via majority vote by the Senate.[1] The Chairman and Vice Chairman may not be members of the same armed force service branch.[8] However, the President may waive that restriction for a limited period of time in order to provide for the orderly transition of officers appointed to serve in those positions.[8] The Chairman serves a two-year term of office at the pleasure of the President,[1] but can be reappointed to serve two additional terms for a total of six years, as long as the Chairman has not previously served a term as Vice Chairman.[1] In which case the Chairman would be limited to serving up to two terms.[1] However, in a time of war or national emergency, there is no limit to how many times an officer can be reappointed to serve as Chairman.[1] Historically, the Chairman has served two terms. By statute, the Chairman is appointed as a four-star general or admiral while holding office[1] and assumes office on October 1 of odd-numbered years.[1]

Although the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Omar Bradley, was eventually awarded a fifth star, the CJCS does not receive one by right, and Bradley's award was politically motivated so as to not allow his subordinate, Douglas MacArthur, to outrank him.[9][10]

In the 1990s, there were proposals in U.S. Department of Defense academic circles to bestow on the office of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff a five-star rank.[11][12][13]

According to the 2013 Military Pay Table effective 1 January 2013, While serving as Chairman, Joint Chief of Staff/Vice Chairman, Joint Chief of Staff, Chief of Navy Operations, Commandant of the Marine Corps, Army/Air Force Chief of Staff, Commander of a unified or specified combatant command, basic pay is $20,937.90 monthly plus additional allowances.

List of Chairmen

Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief (historical predecessor office)

No. Image Name Term of Office Secretaries President
Began Ended Days of
1. William Leahy cropped.jpg Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, USN July 20, 1942 March 21, 1949 2436 Henry L. Stimson, Robert P. Patterson, Kenneth C. Royall, of War; Frank Knox of Navy James V. Forrestal 1st DOD Franklin D. Roosevelt
Harry S. Truman

Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

No. Image Name Term of Office Secretaries President
Began Ended Days of
1. General of the Army Omar Bradley.jpg General of the Army Omar Bradley, USA August 19, 1949 August 15, 1953 1457 Louis A. Johnson
George C. Marshall
Robert A. Lovett
Charles Erwin Wilson
Harry S. Truman
Dwight D. Eisenhower
2. ADM Arthur Radford.JPG Admiral Arthur W. Radford, USN August 15, 1953 August 15, 1957 1461 Charles Erwin Wilson Dwight D. Eisenhower
3. Nathan Twining 02.jpg General Nathan F. Twining, USAF August 15, 1957 September 30, 1960 1142 Charles Erwin Wilson
Neil H. McElroy
Thomas S. Gates
Dwight D. Eisenhower
4. Lyman L. Lemnitzer.jpg General Lyman Lemnitzer, USA October 1, 1960 September 30, 1962 729 Thomas S. Gates
Robert S. McNamara
Dwight D. Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
5. Maxwell D Taylor official portrait.jpg General Maxwell D. Taylor, USA October 1, 1962 July 1, 1964 639 Robert S. McNamara John F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
6. Earle Wheeler official photo.JPEG General Earle Wheeler, USA July 3, 1964 July 2, 1970 2190 Robert S. McNamara
Clark M. Clifford
Melvin R. Laird
Lyndon B. Johnson
Richard Nixon
7. ADM Thomas Moorer.JPG Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, USN July 2, 1970 July 1, 1974 1460 Melvin R. Laird
Elliot Richardson
James R. Schlesinger
Richard Nixon
8. GEN George Brown.JPG General George S. Brown, USAF July 1, 1974 June 20, 1978 1450 James R. Schlesinger
Donald Rumsfeld
Harold Brown
Richard Nixon
Gerald Ford
Jimmy Carter
9. David C Jones official portrait.jpg General David C. Jones, USAF June 21, 1978 June 18, 1982 1458 Harold Brown
Caspar Weinberger
Jimmy Carter
Ronald Reagan
10. Gen John Vessey Jr.JPG General John W. Vessey Jr., USA June 18, 1982 September 30, 1985 1200 Caspar Weinberger Ronald Reagan
11. Adm William Crowe Jr.JPG Admiral William J. Crowe, Jr., USN October 1, 1985 September 30, 1989 1460 Caspar Weinberger
Frank Carlucci
Dick Cheney
Ronald Reagan
George H.W. Bush
12. GEN Colin Powell.JPG General Colin Powell, USA October 1, 1989 September 30, 1993 1460 Dick Cheney
Les Aspin
George H.W. Bush
Bill Clinton
(acting) ADM David E Jeremiah.JPG Admiral David E. Jeremiah, USN October 1, 1993 October 24, 1993 23 Les Aspin Bill Clinton
13. General John Shalikashvili military portrait, 1993.JPEG General John Shalikashvili, USA October 25, 1993 September 30, 1997 1436 Les Aspin
William J. Perry
William S. Cohen
Bill Clinton
14. General Henry Shelton, official portrait 2.jpg General Hugh Shelton, USA October 1, 1997 September 30, 2001 1460 William S. Cohen
Donald Rumsfeld
Bill Clinton
George W. Bush
15. Richard Myers official portrait.jpg General Richard B. Myers, USAF October 1, 2001 September 30, 2005 1460 Donald Rumsfeld George W. Bush
16. Peter Pace official portrait.jpg General Peter Pace, USMC October 1, 2005 September 30, 2007 729 Donald Rumsfeld
Robert M. Gates
George W. Bush
17. Michael Mullen, CJCS, official photo portrait, 2007.jpg Admiral Michael Mullen, USN October 1, 2007 September 30, 2011 1460 Robert M. Gates
Leon Panetta
George W. Bush
Barack Obama
18. General Martin E. Dempsey, CJCS, official portrait 2012.jpg General Martin Dempsey, USA October 1, 2011 Incumbent 3881 Leon Panetta
Chuck Hagel
Barack Obama

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by Branch of Service

  • Air Force - 4
  • Army - 9
  • Marine Corps - 1
  • Navy - 4

Note: This list does not include Chief of Staff to the CINC FADM Leahy and acting Chairman ADM Jeremiah.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 [1] 10 USC 152. Chairman: appointment; grade and rank
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 [2] 10 USC 151. Joint Chiefs of Staff: composition; functions
  3. [3] Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986
  4. [4] 10 USC 162. Combatant commands: assigned forces; chain of command
  5. [5] 10 USC 163. Role of Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff
  6. [6] 10 USC 166a. Combatant commands: funding through the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff
  7. "Washington Eats". Life. 1942-10-05. pp. 95. Retrieved November 20, 2011. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 [7] 10 USC 154. Vice Chairman
  9. Abrams, Jim (March 22, 1991). "Higher rank not in the stars for nation's top generals".,1927407&dq=omar-bradley+fifth-star+not+for+chairman&hl=en. "Bradley received his fifth star in 1950 when he became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff so he would not be outranked by MacArthur." 
  10. Tillman, Barrett (2004). Brassey's D-Day encyclopedia: the Normandy invasion A-Z. Brassey's. p. 48. ISBN 978-1-57488-760-0. Retrieved February 22, 2011. "MacArthur, having been army chief of staff before World War II, was senior to everyone on the Joint Chiefs, and some observers felt that Bradley was given his fifth star in order to deal with the vainglorious field commander on an equal footing." 
  11. "Organizing for National Security: The Role of the Joint Chiefs of Staff". Institute for Foreign Analysis. January 1986. p. 11. Retrieved February 21, 2011. "There was some discussion of the proposal to grant the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs five-star rank, as a symbol of his status as the most senior officer in the armed forces." 
  12. Jones, Logan (February 2000). "Toward the Valued Idea of Jointness: The Need for Unity of Command in U.S. Armed Forces" (PDF). Naval War College. p. 2. ADA378445. Retrieved February 21, 2011. "Promoting the Chairman to the five-star rank and ceding to him operational and administrative control of all U.S. Armed Forces would enable him to provide a unifying vision..." 
  13. Owsley, Robert Clark (June 1997). "Goldwater-Nichols Almost Got It Right: A Fifth Star for the Chairman" (PDF). Naval War College. p. 14. ADA328220. Retrieved February 21, 2011. "...Chairman's title be changed to Commander of the Armed Forces and commensurate with the title and authority he be assigned the grade of five stars." 

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