Saturday, February 14, 2009
5 Things You Didn't Know: The Department Of Defense
The United States Department of Defense is an agency of superlatives: the DOD is the country’s largest government agency and its oldest, and it is the primary occupant of the Pentagon, the biggest office building in the world. Yet for all that, its official statement on what it does is remarkably blunt: “We are war-fighters first and as such, have no peers.” In general, the DOD handles issues related to national security and military affairs, making it the primary target for groups who resent U.S. military involvement overseas. Love it or hate it, we present 5 things you didn’t know about the United States Department of Defense.
1- The DOD's budget equals Exxon and Wal-Mart combined
Just what kind of monstrosity is the DOD? It employs over three million people, 1.3 million of them on active duty in the military, qualifying it as America’s largest employer. It operates on a gargantuan annual budget of $419 billion, a 2006 total that falls just shy of matching the annual budgets of retail behemoth Wal-Mart ($227 billion) and ExxonMobil ($200 billion) combined. Furthermore, the DOD’s three million total employees is more than double that of those two companies put together, a figure that falls shy of 1.5 million.
2- The DOD no longer investigates UFOs
Another thing you didn’t know about the DOD is that it long ago gave up on finding Martians in the skies over the U.S. In 1948, the U.S. Air Force launched Project Sign to look into the rash of reported UFO sightings. Over the next 21 years (and through two name changes -- first Project Grudge, then Project Blue Book), they investigated over 12,618 reports of UFOs and found explanations for 11,917 of them. The remaining 701 went unexplained. In 1969, Blue Book was shut down, having concluded that none of the investigated UFOs presented any threat to national security, none displayed technology any more advanced than what was known at the time and none suggested they might be occupied by little green men.
3- The DOD only commands the Coast Guard in wartime
The U.S. Coast Guard, long the whipping-boy of the military’s five branches, is the one branch that does not ordinarily fall under the authority of the DOD. Rather, during peace time it falls under the authority of Homeland Security (as of 2003). Prior to that, it was part of the Department of Transportation from 1967. As law enforcement officers, the members of the Coast Guard also have the same legal authority as U.S. Customs officers. During war-time, the Coast Guard becomes an agency of the U.S. Navy, although this may only apply to combat units within the Guard. Historically, despite their role to “serve and protect America’s coastlines and waterways”, units of the Guard have seen action in almost every major military conflict in U.S. history over the past 100 years.
4- The DOD's Secretary of Defense does not sign autographs
You might think the mailbox of the head of a military force despised by much of the world would be overrun by death threats, but apparently the problem is autograph requests. Robert Gates, in an evident break from his predecessors, “has decided not to provide what have come to be considered customary autographs for collectors.” The DOD will, on request, send you his photo, but they’re so tight about the whole thing that they inform you of your motives beforehand: “Your request implies respect and support.” In other words, no using Sharpies to give Gates a prison tear tattoo. The Secretary of Defense is a Cabinet post and is likely to change with the new administration, signaling good news for the Cabinet-level autograph-seeking multitudes.
5- The DOD licenses insignia to retailers
The last thing you didn’t know about the DOD is that they’ve got your back. In an effort to boost its image and even land a few new recruits, the DOD -- specifically, the U.S. Army -- is a client of big-time brand licensing firm the Beanstalk Group, whose diverse client list includes Ford Motor Company, Universal Studios, Paris Hilton, and Mary-Kate and Ashley, to name just a few. Beanstalk’s recommendations to the U.S. Army were to establish a “line of Army-inspired clothing… using insignia from the First Infantry Division” since “strong brand identification through retail sales of products potentially can enhance the Army’s recruiting efforts and the public’s general goodwill towards the Army and its activities.”