Navy Department

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Navy Department

The navy is one of three primary components of the U.S. military. Incorporating the Marine Corps, it serves along with the army and the air force as part of the nation's defense. The navy's mission is to protect the United States as directed by the president or the secretary of defense by the effective prosecution of war at sea. With its Marine Corps component, the navy's objectives are to seize or defend advanced naval bases; support, as required, the forces of all military departments of the United States; and maintain freedom of the seas. The Department of the Navy includes the U.S. Coast Guard when it is operating as a service in the navy.

The U.S. Navy was founded on October 13, 1775, when Congress enacted the first legislation creating the Continental Navy of the American Revolution. The Department of the Navy and the Office of Secretary of the Navy were established by the act of April 30, 1798 (10 U.S.C.A. §§ 5011, 5031). For nine years before that date, by act of August 7, 1789 (1 Stat. 49), the conduct of naval affairs was under the secretary of war. The National Security Act Amendments of 1949 provided that the Department of the Navy be a military department within the department of defense (63 Stat. 578).

Office of the Secretary of the Navy

The secretary of the Navy is the head of the Department of the Navy. Appointed by the president of the United States, the secretary serves under the direction, authority, and control of the cabinet-level secretary of defense (10 U.S.C.A. § 5031). The secretary is responsible for the policies and control of the navy, including its organization, administration, functioning, and efficiency. Next in succession for the position is the under secretary of the navy, who functions as deputy and principal assistant to the secretary and has full authority in the general management of the department.

Civilian Executive Assistants The civilian executive assistants are the principal advisers and assistants to the secretary of the navy. They include the under secretary of the navy, the assistant secretaries of the navy, and the general counsel of the navy. With department-wide responsibilities for administration, the civilian executive assistants carry out their duties in harmony with the statutory positions of the chief of naval operations, who is the principal military adviser and executive to the secretary regarding naval matters, and the commandant of the Marine Corps, who is the principal military adviser and executive regarding Marine Corps matters. Each is authorized and directed to act for the secretary within his or her assigned area of responsibility.

Staff Assistants The staff assistants to the secretary of the navy are the naval inspector general, the comptroller of the navy, the auditor general of the navy, and the chief of information. The secretary or the law has established the following positions and boards for administrative purposes.Judge Advocate General The Judge Advocate general is the senior officer and head of the Judge Advocate General's Corps and the Office of the Judge Advocate General. The officer's primary responsibilities are to administer military justice throughout the Department of the Navy, perform functions required or authorized by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and provide technical supervision for the Naval Justice School at Newport, Rhode Island. In cooperation with the general counsel to the navy, the judge advocate general also has broad responsibility for providing legal advice and related services to the secretary of the navy on military justice, ethics, administrative law, Environmental Law, operational and International Law and treaty interpretation, and litigation involving these issues. Officers of the Judge Advocate General's Corps and judge advocates of the Marine Corps provide a variety of legal services to both individual service members and naval commands, ranging from personal representation for individual service members for courts-martial to legal services for naval commands on matters such as investigations and claims.

Naval Criminal Investigative Service The director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service commands a worldwide organization with representation in more than 160 geographic locations to provide criminal investigation, counterintelligence, law enforcement, information, and personnel security support to the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, both ashore and afloat.

Office of Naval Research Established by act of Congress on August 1, 1946 (10 U.S.C.A. §§ 5150–5153), the Office of Naval Research is the integrated headquarters of the navy for science and technology investment. It manages funding for basic research, exploratory development, advanced technology development, manufacturing technologies, and small business support.

Personnel Boards The Naval Council of Personnel Boards has four components:

  1. The Naval Discharge Review Board reviews, pursuant to 10 U.S.C.A. § 1553, the discharge or dismissal of former members of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, except in cases of Court-Martial. It determines whether, under reasonable standards of naval law and discipline, a discharge or dismissal should be changed and, if so, what change should be made.
  2. The Naval Complaints Review Board reviews, upon request, decisional documents and index entries created by the Naval Discharge Review Board after April 1, 1977, to determine whether they conform to applicable regulations of the Department of Defense and the Department of the Navy.
  3. The Naval Clemency and Parole Board reviews, pursuant to 10 U.S.C.A. §§ 953–954, U.S. Navy and Marine Corps court-martial cases referred to it and grants or denies clemency and, pursuant to 10 U.S.C.A. § 952, reviews and directs that parole be granted or denied.
  4. The Physical Evaluation Board organizes and administers disability evaluations within the Department of the Navy, pursuant to 10 U.S.C.A., ch. 61, and other applicable provisions of law and regulation.

Naval Records The Board for Correction of Naval Records is the highest echelon of review of administrative errors and injustices suffered by members and former members of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. Established under 10 U.S.C.A. § 1552 to give the secretary of the navy direction on taking actions that otherwise would require congressional decision, the board relieves Congress of the need for additional legislation. This statutory civilian board reviews service members' complaints about actions taken by various boards and officials in the department. The secretary of the navy, acting through this board of civilians of the executive part of the department, is authorized to change naval or military records to correct an error or to remove an injustice.

United States Navy

Chief of Naval Operations The chief of naval operations is the highest-ranking officer of the naval service. The chief is the U.S. Navy member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the group of senior military officers who advise the president. Under the secretary of the navy, the chief of naval operations exercises command over certain central executive organizations, assigned shore activities, and the Operating Forces of the Navy.

In the broadest terms, the chief of naval operations is responsible for the navy's readiness and for executing military orders. The chief plans for and provides the personnel, material, weapons, facilities, and services to support the needs of the navy, with the exception of the Fleet Marine Forces; maintains water transportation services, including sea transportation services for the Department of Defense; directs the Naval Reserve; and exercises authority for matters of naval administration, including matters related to customs and traditions of the naval service, security, intelligence, discipline, communications, and operations.

Operating Forces of the Navy The Operating Forces of the Navy are responsible for naval operations necessary to carry out the Department of the Navy's role in upholding and advancing the national policies and interests of the United States. The Operating Forces of the Navy include the several fleets, seagoing forces, Fleet Marine Forces, and other assigned Marine Corps forces, the Military Sealift Command, and other forces and activities as may be assigned by the president or the secretary of the navy.

The U.S. Navy's two fleets are composed of ships, submarines, and aircraft. The Pacific Fleet operates throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and the Atlantic Fleet operates throughout the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Additionally, the Naval Forces, Europe, is composed of forces from both fleets.

Navy Command Structure The chief of naval operations manages and supports the Operating Forces of the navy through an organizational structure that is composed of sea systems, air systems, space and naval warfare systems, supply systems, naval facilities, strategic systems, naval personnel, naval medicine, oceanography, space command, legal services, computers and Telecommunications, cryptology, intelligence, education and training, and naval doctrine command.

United States Marine Corps

The United States Marine Corps was established on November 10, 1775, by resolution of the Continental Congress. The Marine Corps's composition and functions are detailed in 10 U.S.C.A. § 5063. Within the Department of the Navy, it is organized to include not less than three combat divisions and three aircraft wings, along with additional land combat, aviation, and other services. Its purpose is to provide forces necessary to seize or defend advanced naval bases and to conduct land operations essential to a naval campaign. In coordination with the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force, the Marine Corps develops the tactics, techniques, and equipment used by landing forces in amphibious (involving both sea and land) operations.

The Marine Corps also provides detachments and organizations for service on armed vessels of the navy, provides security detachments for the protection of naval property at naval stations and bases, and performs such other duties as the president may direct.

The Marine Corps is composed of the Marine Corps headquarters, the Operating Forces, and the supporting establishment. The Operating Forces consist of Fleet Marine Force Atlantic, Fleet Marine Force Pacific, Marine Corps Reserve, Marine Security Forces, and Marine Detachments Afloat. The supporting establishment includes recruiting activities, training installations, reserve support activities, ground and aviation installations, and logistics bases.

Basic combat units of the marines are deployed as Marine Air Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs). There are four types of MAGTFs: the Marine Expeditionary Force, the Marine Expeditionary Brigade, the Marine Expeditionary Unit, and the Special Purpose MAGTF. Each group has a command element, a ground combat element, an aviation combat element, and a combat service support element. Marine Expeditionary Forces are routinely deployed on amphibious ships to the Mediterranean Sea, Persian Gulf, and Pacific Ocean. Larger MAGTFs can rapidly deploy by air, sea, or any combination of means from both coasts of the United States and bases in the western Pacific to respond to emergencies worldwide.

United States Naval Academy

The United States Naval Academy is the undergraduate college of the naval service. Located in Annapolis, Maryland, the academy offers a comprehensive four-year program that stresses excellence in academics, physical education, professional training, conduct, and honor. It prepares young men and women to be professional officers in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. All graduates receive a bachelor of science degree in one of 18 majors.

Further readings

Navy Website. Available online at <> (accessed July 30, 2003).

U.S. Government Manual Website. Available online at <> (accessed November 10, 2003).


Armed Services; Defense Department; Military Law.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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