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Department of Defense Publications: DoD Background

A guide to understanding and locating historical and current DoD publications


The Department of Defense (DoD) is America's oldest and largest government agency. The mission of the DoD is to provide the military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of our country. The department's headquarters is at the Pentagon. With our military tracing its roots back to pre-Revolutionary times, the Department of Defense has grown and evolved with our nation. With over 1.3 million men and women on active duty, and 742,000 civilian personnel, the DoD is the nation's largest employer. Another 980 thousand serve in the National Guard and Reserve forces. More than 2 million military retirees and their family members receive benefits.


The Army, Navy, and Marine Corps were established in 1775, in concurrence with the American Revolution. The War Department was established in 1789, and was the precursor to what is now the Department of Defense.
One year later, in 1790, the Coast Guard (part of Homeland Security in peace time) was established. This was followed by the founding of the Department of the Navy in 1798.
The decision to unify the different services under one Department led to the creation of the National Military Establishment in 1947. This establishment would replace the War Department, which converted to the Department of the Army. That same year, the U.S. Air Force was established followed by the founding of the Department of the Air Force.
Finally, the three military branches, Army, Navy, and Air Force, were placed under the direct control of the new Secretary of Defense, confirmed by Senate.
In 1949, an amendment to the National Security Act further consolidated the national defense structure by withdrawing cabinet-level status from the three Service secretaries. The National Military Establishment was then renamed the Department of Defense.

Introduction to DoD Publications

Every branch of the DoD - Air Force, Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marines, and National Guard all publish their own publications, for example, regulations, directives, manuals, orders, etc.

This research guide is designed to serve as an introductory aid to users trying to navigate the complex field of on-line and off-line military resources.  While giving direction and key websites for current and online resources, the research guide will also serve as a reference to special libraries and research institutions in order to locate more obscure items.

Subject Guide

Julia Ezzo's picture
Julia Ezzo
Michigan State University