US Army history from the year you were born

March 11, 2021
Keystone // Getty Images

US Army history from the year you were born

Much has changed since the 1920 amendment to the National Defense Act reorganized the United States Army. The U.S. Cavalry that fought in the Indian Wars has faded into history, those who protested for promised pay in post-World War I have died out, and the soldiers of the Greatest Generation who landed at Normandy Beach are almost gone.

To explore the fascinating history of the U.S. Army, Stacker scoured resources from newspaper articles and primary documents to studies and various governmental websites. Army strength numbers for each year are sourced from the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC).

Over the course of the last century, Army history has changed demographically, physically, and ideologically. Countries have fallen and risen, women are now permitted on the front lines of open combat, and training facilities have begun to employ video games to prepare recruits for 21st-century warfare. Women are also training in co-ed facilities, something unheard of 100 years ago when the world was still reeling from a war that had rocked the globe with its modern tactics and immense scope.

But the history of the Army isn’t only about warfare: During the Great Depression, it operated Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps out of which previously unemployed, unmarried men worked on infrastructure programs designed to help stabilize a failing economy and provide jobs to those unable to find work.

The 1940s saw another war that affected the entire world. The U.S. was reluctant to get involved until the Pearl Harbor attack, which changed the national consensus and led the country to massively mobilize into stopping the Nazi regime and its allies. The 1950s was a decade that included the Korean War, nuclear testing, and Sen. Joseph McCarthy attacking the Army for being too easy on communists.

The 1960s brought another set of challenges. The Cold War began that decade, and Cuba became the face of America’s closest communist threat. Vietnam, a war that many protested, began with troops arriving in the country as early as 1965. From the 1970s to the 1980s, the U.S. struggled with recruitment and painting a new face on the Army. The 1990s and 2000s began a tech revolution, as well as fighting in the Middle East—which continues to this day. The U.S. Army has changed, but it endures and is still the main infantry force defending America.

Keep reading to learn more about Army history from the year you were born.

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Public Domain // Courtesy submission

1920: Amended National Defense Act is passed

- Army strength: 204,292 people (0.19% of U.S. population)

The National Defense Act of 1920 provided updates to the 1916 National Defense Act, including the reorganization of the U.S. Army as a three-part organization composed of the standing Regular Army, the National Guard, and the Organized Reserve. The act strengthened the National Guard and Organized Reserve in particular, stipulating that the Militia Bureau's chief be a National Guard officer and allowing National Guard officers to perform as Army general staff. Also in 1920, there was a big push for universal weight standards to ensure those who enlisted could meet the responsibilities of war.

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Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

1921: The Army intervenes at the Battle of Blair Mountain

- Army strength: 230,725 people (0.21% of U.S. population)

Four labor uprisings between 1919 and 1921 required Army intervention, but the largest of these—and the largest in U.S. history—took place over five days in late August and early September of 1921 as part of the Coal Mine Wars, multiple labor disputes throughout Appalachia.

Around 10,000 fully armed coal miners who sought to unionize marched to Logan County in West Virginia to confront 3,000 “Logan Defenders” (strike bearers backed by coal operators) and law-enforcement officers, and force the coal mines into a contract. Roughly 1 million rounds were fired, up to a 100 people killed (though this report varies), and many more arrested. The Army was deployed by a presidential order to stop the fighting and famously managed to send thousands of miners home without firing a single shot.

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Public Domain // U.S. Army

1922: Col. Charles Young dies

- Army strength: 148,763 people (0.14% of U.S. population)

Col. Charles Young was the first Black colonel in the United States Army, the first Black U.S. national park superintendent, first Black military attache, and third Black graduate of the United States Military Academy. The son of former slaves, Young led the U.S. Cavalry into Mexico in Pershing's Punitive Expedition. At the time of his death in 1922, he was the highest-ranking Black officer in the Regular Army.

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Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

1923: Harding orders troops home from Germany

- Army strength: 133,243 people (0.12% of U.S. population)

Four years after the end of World War I, President Warren G. Harding ended the U.S. occupation of the Rhine through an executive order, effectively calling the last of the U.S. troops back home from Germany. Six months later, Harding and his wife embarked on a “voyage of understanding” speaking tour throughout Alaska and other western U.S. states in order to connect with voters there, amidst multiple scandals dogging the Harding presidency.

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Public Domain // US Army Military History Institute

1924: Philippines scouts rebel

- Army strength: 142,673 people (0.13% of U.S. population)

Philippine scouts trained by members of the U.S. Army mutinied because they were not given the same pay and treatment as their stateside counterparts. The men, who were essential to American rule in the Philippines in spite of not receiving equal benefits or pay to American soldiers, were sent to jail for rebelling and defying orders. The U.S. Army ignored their requests for equal pay and changed nothing about recruitment methods or leadership.

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Public Domain // National Archives

1925: Black soldiers evaluated for wartime fitness

- Army strength: 137,048 people (0.12% of U.S. population)

The Army War College in 1925 began a study of the service and fitness of Black soldiers. After review, the college found that Black soldiers who were led by white officers could enter into wartime conflicts. For many years this policy was in place; the segregation of troops continued until 1948, just two years before the start of the Korean War.

 

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Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

1926: Sgt. Stubby dies

- Army strength: 134,938 people (0.11% of U.S. population)

Sgt. Stubby, the mascot of the 102nd Infantry Regiment, died in his sleep March 16, 1926. Stubby was famous for grabbing a German by the seat of his pants, and shook paws with three presidents (Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, and Calvin Coolidge). The dog was an honorary member of the American Red Cross, YMCA, and American Legion. He sniffed out poison gas and tracked down wounded and dead soldiers, and survived shrapnel wounds and a gas attack over the course of 17 battles. He was the most highly decorated dog of World War I and so beloved that when he died, his body was preserved. He still wears his blanket decorated with his medals and can be seen at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.

 

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Community Archives // Wikimedia Commons

1927: Joint Army and Navy Basic War Plan Red

- Army strength: 134,829 people (0.11% of U.S. population)

Surrounding the Geneva Naval Conference in 1927, the U.S. Army developed a series of color-coded war plans for hypothetical conflict scenarios with Japan, Germany, Mexico, and England. War Plan Red outlined a hypothetical plan for defending and invading British-held Canada. The plan described first sending the Joint Army in to capture Halifax in order to cut off Canadians from British allies before overtaking power plants around Niagara falls, causing Canadians to freeze. Mounting attacks—from marches into Montreal and Quebec to seizing nickel mines in Ontario—were intended to gain complete control.

War Plan Red was approved in 1930 by Secretary of War Patrick J. Hurley and Secretary of the Navy Charles Francis Adams III. Updates came to the war plan in 1934 and 1935, but it was never presented to Congress for an actual war declaration.

 

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Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

1928: First US Army Day

- Army strength: 136,084 people (0.11% of U.S. population)

The first official U.S. Army Day was celebrated May 1, 1928. It was timed for the same day as Workers' Day, a communist celebration. Army Day was moved to April 6 in 1929 in honor of the anniversary date of the U.S. entering World War I. The holiday is meant to introduce the public to the activities of the U.S. Army, convey the importance of preparedness for the military, and to bring attention to national defense.

 

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Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

1929: Escobar revolutionaries send stray bullets to US

- Army strength: 139,118 people (0.11% of U.S. population)

In El Paso, Texas, the U.S. Cavalry was under threat from the Escobar Revolution. The revolutionaries fought so close to the U.S border that stray bullets landed on the U.S side and several injuries were reported.

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Public Domain // United States Army

1930: Douglas MacArthur is appointed Army chief of staff

- Army strength: 139,378 people (0.11% of U.S. population)

Gen. Douglas MacArthur was superintendent at West Point before being appointed Army chief of staff with the rank of general by President Herbert Hoover. In his new position, MacArthur caused an uproar in 1932 when he authorized excessive force to remove the Bonus Army—unemployed, protesting World War I veterans—from Washington D.C.

 

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William Warhurst/Topical Press Agency // Getty Images

1931: US Army wins International Military Team Trophy

- Army strength: 140,516 people (0.11% of U.S. population)

In a show of Cavalry skills, the U.S. Army used a myriad of horse skills to win the 1931 International Military Team Trophy at Madison Square Garden. France lost and supporters were visibly upset, as reported by the New York Times.

 

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Public Domain // U.S. Army

1932: Cavalry soldiers attack veterans

- Army strength: 134,957 people (0.11% of U.S. population)

Twenty thousand veterans from World War I were forced out of Washington D.C. when Cavalry soldiers rode into the crowd, sabering the veterans and lobbing tear gas. The veterans were unemployed, and protesting the bonus certificates they were awarded that could not be used until 1945. MacArthur spearheaded the charge, publicly leading the soldiers to the Hoovervilles to disperse the veterans by force.

 

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OSU Special Collections & Archives // Wikimedia Commons

1933: US Army aids Civilian Conservation Corps

- Army strength: 136,547 people (0.11% of U.S. population)

The U.S. Army transported 25,000 Civilian Conservation Corps recruits to conditioning camps in 1933. The CCC was formed to get young men to work, due to the Great Depression's impact on jobs. The work of the Army's involvement in the CCC aided in training mobilization units for World War II.

 

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Centpacrr // Wikimedia Commons

1934: Army takes over the mail

- Army strength: 138,464 people (0.11% of U.S. population)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934 halted all service of the Post Office amidst allegations of U.S. Air Mail contract scandals. The U.S. Army Air Corps was ordered in February 1934 to take over air mail transportation, to disastrous results. Intense winter weather contributed to multiple crashes and the deaths of 12 pilots. The public outcry was so severe that full airline service was restored by June of that year, and Congress passed the Air Mail Act.

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United States Air Force

1935: Final flight of US Army Air Corps LTA operations

- Army strength: 139,486 people (0.11% of U.S. population)

Before the dissolution of the U.S. Army Air Corps “lighter-than-air” (LTA) operations, the branch created a final and fluid airship that was also the largest ever flown. The TC-14 flew for two hours and was clocked at a top speed of 90 mph. The airship took more than three years to build, largely due to a very small budget dispensed during the Great Depression.

 

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US Army // Wikimedia Commons

1936: M1 Garand becomes go-to Army rifle

- Army strength: 167,816 people (0.13% of U.S. population)

The M1 Garand was adopted as the Army's go-to rifle. The new rifle was created with the height of modernized small arms technology. The rifle was strong and light, weighing only 9 pounds; it was the perfect weapon for the new Army's needs. This semi-automatic weapon would go on to be the primary choice of arms for World War II.

 

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Public Domain // WIkimedia Commons

1937: Army's Airship Program ends

- Army strength: 179,968 people (0.14% of U.S. population)

The army's Airship Program was terminated and the balloons sold off in 1937. Airships were used all through the 1930s, and in World War I to spy and acquire information.

 

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Public Domain // WIkimedia Commons

1938: 15th Regiment returns home from China

- Army strength: 185,488 people (0.14% of U.S. population)

After decades of service in China, the 15th Regiment arrived back on U.S. soil March 24, 1938. The soldiers spent their time escorting Chinese supply boats upriver and tracking down headhunters. The homecoming was similar in style to those in World War I as the USAT Grant came ashore with 808 enlisted men and officers, and 417 wives and children.

 

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Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

1939 US Army (and its Cavalry) ranks 39th in the world

- Army strength: 189,839 people (0.15% of U.S. population

The Army still used Cavalry and had horses to pull artillery, and ranked 39th in the world for military strength. That low ranking didn't bode well for the ongoing war in Europe. The Cavalry was 50,000 strong in 1939 and the nation was not ready for a war.

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Topical Press Agency // Getty Images

1940: Selective Training and Service Act

- Army strength: 269,023 people (0.20% of U.S. population)

The Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 called for every man between 21 and 45 years old to register for the draft. Even though it was peacetime, the government believed there would be a call for war soon. That same year, height standards for the Army dropped down to 5 feet (from 5 feet and 3 inches in 1923).

 

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Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

1941: ‘It's only a maneuver’

- Army strength: 1.46 million people (1.10% of U.S. population)

To prepare American forces for World War II, the U.S. Army in 1941 began staging the first-ever army-against-army U.S. war maneuvers in Louisiana and the Carolinas. Faux battles included the Second Battle of Camden, the Battle of the Pee Dee, and the Battle of Shreveport.

 

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Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

1942: Dogs Defense group founded

- Army strength: 3.08 million people (2.28% of U.S. population)

The Dogs Defense group was formed in 1942 in order to train dogs for sentry duty. The Army saw that the working dogs were skilled, and signed into existence the first K9 corp.

 

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Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division // WIkimedia Commons

1943: US Army Fights the Japanese in Alaska

- Army strength: 6.99 million people (5.12% of U.S. population)

In Attu, Alaska, two amphibious landings by the U.S. Army were put in place to attack the Japanese who had occupied the island without any resistance. The battle lasted for two weeks and the majority of fighting was hand-to-hand combat. It is the only battle on a U.S. territory that was fought under arctic conditions.

 

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Public Domain // Wikipedia

1944: Operation Neptune

- Army strength: 7.99 million people (5.78% of U.S. population)

On June 6, 1944, D-Day—or Operation Neptune—was carried out. This battle allowed the allies to begin the liberation of France and push the Germans back.

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Canva

1945: Dachau (mostly) liberated

- Army strength: 8.27 million people (5.91% of U.S. population)

The 42nd and 45th division liberated more than 32,000 prisoners in Dachau concentration camp. However, many Nazis escaped and began a death march with 7,000 prisoners, murdering those unable to continue to march.

 

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Fox Photos // Getty Images

1946: The 'mutiny of American troops after WWII

- Army strength: 1.44 million people (1.02% of U.S. population)

With Germany's surrender in May 1945 and Japan's surrender that September, World War II was officially over. U.S. troops were anxious to get home—but getting the troops back before Christmas was no small task. Thousands of restless soldiers from the time of Japan's surrender through January 1946 protested delays by marching and holding rallies at bases around the world, many times with signs that mocked commanders.

 

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Library of Congress

1947: The World War II draft expires

- Army strength: 685,458 people (0.48% of U.S. population)

Throughout World War II, the War Manpower Commission had to recruit upwards of 200,000 men per month in order to secure 9 million men in the U.S. Armed Forces before the close of 1943. The draft ran from 1940 until 1946, at which point the draft was suspended. The authorization for that draft expired in 1947 with no push by Congress for an extension.

 

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Keystone // Getty Images

1948: Truman desegregates the US Military

- Army strength: 554,030 people (0.38% of U.S. population)

President Harry Truman desegregated the U.S. Military despite extensive opposition to the legislation and threats of a filibuster from Southern senators. The military by 1946 had become the largest employer of minorities, and in 1946 Truman's appointed panel, President's Commission on Civil Rights, recommended further civil rights protections that included anti-poll tax laws and anti-lynching laws. Truman in 1948 used his executive powers to enact all of the committee's recommendations, appoint the first African American federal judge, and desegregate the Armed Forces, among many other milestones.

 

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Keystone // Getty Images

1949: Army withdraws from Korea

- Army strength: 660,473 people (0.44% of U.S. population)

The U.S. Army withdrew troops from Korea, blaming limited military power. The government assured the public that if the Army was needed, more troops would return.

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U.S. Air Force photo

1950: Attack on Korea authorized

- Army strength: 593,167 people (0.39% of U.S. population)

Gen. Douglas MacArthur in 1950 authorized the U.S. 7th Infantry Division to launch an amphibious attack on Korea. It was the beginning of a war between Communist-supported North Korea and the United States and United Nations-backed South Korea.

 

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Keystone // Getty Images

1951: China supports North Korea

- Army strength: 1.53 million people (0.99% of U.S. population)

China entered the war on the North Korean side and planned a total annihilation of the U.S. Army in South Korea. The Ridgeway offensive was the U.S. Army's answer; they wanted to hold ground and keep Seoul.

 

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Keystone // Getty Images

1952: Armistice talks stall

- Army strength: 1.60 million people (1.01% of U.S. population)

In the U.S. Army's third year of the Korea war, armistice talks stalled as the fighting continued. The newly elected President Dwight D. Eisenhower traveled to Korea to discuss a ceasefire. The Korean Demilitarized Zone was established, and in March 1953, Joseph Stalin's death helped push a prompt conclusion to the negotiations.

 

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U.S. Navy // Wikimedia Commons

1953: Korean War ends

- Army strength: 1.53 million people (0.96% of U.S. population)

The Korean war ended in July 1953 with an armistice serving as a ceasefire. The U.S. Army worked to create an official line of demarcation between North and South Korea. The ceasefire was between military forces, not governments—and with no peace treaty signed, the Korean War never officially stopped.

 

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APA/Hulton Archive // Getty Images

1954: McCarthy hearings begin

- Army strength: 1.4 million people (0.86% of U.S. population)

Joseph McCarthy accused the U.S. Army in 1954 of being soft on communists. The case resulted in McCarthy being barred from speaking in the U.S. Senate.

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Keystone // Getty Images

1955: Operation Gyroscope

- Army strength: 1.11 million people (0.67% of U.S. population)

Operation Gyroscope was a project that sought a more cost-effective option for sending much-needed troops to Europe for rebuilding efforts. Instead of flying soldiers trained out West into New York, before loading them onto ships with equipment bound for Europe, the soldiers boarded ships in California and shipped out via the Panama Canal.

 

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Donn A. Starry // Wikimedia Commons

1956: M113 ships to Vietnam

- Army strength: 1.03 million people (0.61% of U.S. population)

The M113 personnel carrier was shipped to Vietnam to test its armor and capabilities. The vehicle—created by the Food Machinery Corp—was used throughout the Vietnam War.

 

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National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office // Wikimedia Commons

1957: Operation Plumbbob

- Army strength: 997,994 people (0.58% of U.S. population)

The government launched a series of nuclear bombs tests called Operation Plumbbob in 1957. To see how the U.S. Army troops responded to nuclear bombs, they conducted an airlift assault.

 

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Associated Press // Wikimedia Commons

1958: Elvis Presley joins up

- Army strength: 898,925 people (0.51% of U.S. population)

Most young men 18 and older had to sign up for the draft. Elvis Presley had his number come in and was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1958. He reportedly had the option to fulfill his service a recruiting model and an entertainer for the troops, but Presley chose to become a common soldier instead.

 

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U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden // Wikimedia Commons

1959: First soldiers killed in Vietnam

- Army strength: 861,964 people (0.48% of U.S. population)

Maj. Dale Buis and Master Sgt. Chester Ovnand, part of a military assistance advisory group in Bien Hoa, north of what was formerly called Saigon, were the first Americans killed in the Vietnam War. Viet Cong guerrillas attacked the group, which had been coming to South Vietnam since November 1955 to provide help and advice to Vietnam's ministry of defense.

 

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Hulton Archive // Getty Images

1960: Laos is determined to be non-threatening

- Army strength: 873,078 people (0.48% of U.S. population)

Three groups of the U.S. Army in 1960 were set to be deployed to Southeast Asia. The battle groups were canceled when the government decided that there weren't any threats coming from Laos.

 

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U.S. Army Courtesy Photo

1961: Green Berets receive real green berets

- Army strength: 858,622 people (0.47% of U.S. population)

The Green Berets were given actual, green berets to wear for the first time in 1961 as a part of their uniform. President John F. Kennedy visited the group (the name for the U.S. Army Special Forces) at Fort Bragg in North Carolina to commend them for their service.

 

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mediadefense.gov

1962: Army troops head to Florida airfields

- Army strength: 1.07 million people (0.57% of U.S. population)

The U.S. Army in 1962 sent troops to Florida airfields that were closest to Cuban Missile ranges. The Army also received a convoy citation from a Virginia state trooper for an overloaded caravan.

 

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USAMHI // Wikimedia Commons

1963: Operation Biglift

- Army strength: 975,916 people (0.52% of U.S. population)

The U.S. Army participated in Operation Biglift in 1963 in order to demonstrate its might. Almost 15,000 soldiers were flown over to Europe to show how fast the U.S. was ready to fight if need be.

 

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Keystone // Getty Images

1964: South Vietnamese training begins

- Army strength: 973,238 people (0.51% of U.S. population)

The U.S. Army in 1964 sent a mobile forces team to train the South Vietnamese. The entire plan was supposed to succeed and stop the Viet Cong by the end of 1964.

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U.S. Army // Getty Images

1965: China Beach

- Army strength: 969,066 people (0.50% of U.S. population)

The U.S. Army sent the first 3,500 combat troops to Vietnam on March 8, 1965. The men, who landed at China Beach and joined 23,000 American military advisers already there, were sent in defense of the American air base at Da Nang in the wind-up to the Vietnam War. That same year, President Lyndon Johnson authorized air strikes on the North Vietnamese.

 

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Hulton Archive // Getty Images

1966: Army forces in Vietnam number 200,000

- Army strength: 1.2 million people (0.61% of U.S. population)

More than 200,000 U.S. Army soldiers were stationed at various bases throughout Vietnam in 1966. Army officers worked with their South Vietnamese counterparts.

 

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Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, Vietnam War Photograph Collection

1967: Operation Malheur I and II

- Army strength: 1.44 million people (0.73% of U.S. population)

The U.S. Army conducted Operation Malheur I and Operation Malheur II as a series of search and destroy actions intended to thwart Viet Cong force activity in the northern reaches of South Vietnam. Air assaults effectively disrupted activity but failed to end it; the operations contributed to the 6,400 civilian casualties reported for the province that year.

 

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DAVID LAMB/AFP // Getty Images

1968: My Lai massacre

Army strength: 1.57 million people (0.78% of U.S. population)

In the My Lai massacre in March 1968, soldiers massacred hundreds of unarmed people in the Sơn Tịnh District, South Vietnam, including children and monks. Until it was challenged by a helicopter pilot, the Army called My Lai a victory. Earlier in 1968 came the Tet Offensive, a series of attacks against the South Vietnamese Army of the Republic of Vietnam, the U.S. Armed Forces, and allies by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese People’s Army of Vietnam. The offensive represents one of the widest-reaching military actions of the Vietnam War.

 

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United States Army Military History Institute // Wikimedia Commons

1969: The Battle of Hamburger Hill

- Army strength: 1.51 million people (0.75% of U.S. population)

In the bloody 1969 Battle of Hamburger Hill, U.S. soldiers fought for control of a 3,000-foot-tall hillside in a remote part of South Vietnam. The battle kicked off Operation Apache Snow, a calculated offensive against the northern People's Army of Vietnam. The Battle of Hamburger Hill—expected to take several hours—went on for 11 days and 12 assaults, and caused 72 American deaths, more than 370 American injuries, and more than 630 North Vietnamese casualties. After winning the hill, the U.S. Army abandoned it and Vietnamese troops reoccupied it.

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Larry Gray, United States Government military member // Wikimedia Commons

1970: Koza riot in Okinawa, Japan

- Army strength: 1.32 million people (0.64% of U.S. population)

A drunken soldier on the night of Dec. 20, 1970, crashed into an Okinawan pedestrian and, after checking on him, the soldier attempted to get back into his car. But an angry crowd surrounded him, and the Koza riot began and continued into the next day: Thousands of Okinawans were pitted against 700 soldiers.

 

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Senior Airman Tiffany M. Deuel // U.S. Air Force photo

1971: Women recruitment is up

- Army strength: 1.12 million people (0.54% of U.S. population)

At the beginning of the 1970s, women were recruited to the U.S. Army in larger numbers. The jump was due to the end of the draft, the conclusion of the Vietnam War, and notable strides in the feminist movement.

 

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Tullio Saba // Flickr

1972: Withdrawals begin from Vietnam

- Army strength: 810,960 people (0.39% of U.S. population)

Between 1969 and 1972, more than 500,000 American servicemen—336,000 of whom were Army personnel—were redeployed in 12 increments from the Republic of Vietnam. The final five of those withdrawals happened in 1972.

 

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U.S. Air Force photo

1973: Withdrawal from Vietnam concludes

- Army strength: 800,973 people (0.38% of U.S. population)

In Operation Homecoming Feb. 12, 1973, the release of 591 American prisoners of war was initiated. Final troops withdrew from Vietnam March 29 of the same year, marking America's first defeat—and longest war.

 

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Cpl. Andrew Neumann // USMC

1974: Tensions rise

- Army strength: 783,330 people (0.37% of U.S. population)

In the wake of an unpopular war and rising tensions, discontent between races spiked throughout 1974 and Army barracks became undisciplined. The Army reduced its size and began refining its recruiting process.

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Scott Olson // Getty Images

1975: Mandatory defensive weapons training for women

- Army strength: 784,333 people (0.36% of U.S. population)

The Army enacted mandatory defensive weapons training for women members of the Army in 1975. The Women's Army Corps, begun in 1942, also provided women with more opportunities.

 

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Wayne Johnson // Wikimedia Commons

1976: Operation Paul Bunyan

- Army strength: 779,417 people (0.36% of U.S. population)

Two soldiers in 1976 were axed to death in the Korean demilitarized zone. In retaliation, U.S. soldiers enacted Operation Paul Bunyan, in which they hacked down an old tree the murdered soldiers had been there to remove. The action showed force and intimidated North Koreans, who quickly took the blame for the murders.

 

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Sgt. Eliverto V Larios // DoD photo

1977: Army admits to 27 germ warfare tests conducted on public property

- Army strength: 782,246 people (0.36% of U.S. population)

In a scathing Washington Post report dated March 9, 1977, the U.S. Army admitted to 239 open-air, secret “germ warfare tests” between 1949 and 1969, including 27 conducted on public property. The newly-disclosed locations where the Army tested toxins included Washington D.C.'s Greyhound bus terminal and National Airport; two tunnels along the Pennsylvania Turnpike; and various spots in New York City, San Francisco, and in Florida's Key West and Panama City.

 

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Larry Downing // Getty Images

1978: Jonestown Massacre

- Army strength: 771,624 people (0.35% of U.S. population)

On Nov. 18, 1978, in Jonestown, Guyana, 918 followers of Pentecostal cult leader Jim Jones died—some by willingly drinking fruit punch dosed with cyanide, others (mostly children) by forced syringes of the lethal cocktail, and others by gunfire (dispensed by Jones' guards) when they tried to flee into the nearby jungle. More than 300 children died in the shocking group suicide, which the Army was sent in to clean up.

 

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Frank Barratt/Stringer // Getty Images

1979: Faulty pilot ejection controls found

- Army strength: 758,852 people (0.34% of U.S. population)

U.S. Army helicopter injuries were reviewed in 1979 for safety issues. It was found that there wasn't any way for the pilots to eject in time. Almost 300 crashes were recorded between 1979 and 1985.

 

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Norbert Schiller/Stringer // Getty Images

1980: Bright Star military exercise commences

- Army strength: 777,036 people (0.34% of U.S. population)

The United States and Egypt held their first Operation Bright Star together in Egypt in 1980. The training exercises are intended to improve military ties between the two countries and include tactical air, ground, and naval operations. Bright Star is held every two years and grew in 1995 to include troops from the UAE, France, U.K., and several countries in the Middle East and west. The following year, NATO nations (France, U.K., Germany, and UAE) were added, with Kuwait added as well in 1998. Bright Star became among the biggest exercises with U.S. troops worldwide. 1980 also represents the start of the U.S. Army's new tagline, “Army. Be all that you can be,” which was in use until 2001.

 

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Cpl. Ilwoong Kong // DoD photo

1981: US Army gets a new look

- Army strength: 781,419 people (0.34% of U.S. population)

The U.S. Army switched its uniform design to woodland camouflage, which was in use in the U.S Army until 2004. The inspiration came from the Vietnamese jungle.

 

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Sgt. Mike MacLeod // Army National Guard

1982: New recruits, new (amended) requirements

- Army strength: 780,391 people (0.34% of U.S. population)

The U.S. Army in 1980 changed its Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) requirements for new recruits in 1980, reflecting that recruits must run 2 miles, and complete push-ups and sit-ups. A 1982 amendment to the APFT offered alternative tests to recruits with physical barriers.

 

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Sgt. Michael Bogdanowicz, U.S. Army // Wikimedia Commons

1983: US Army invades Grenada

- Army strength: 779,643 people (0.33% of U.S. population)

The United States invasion of Grenada came about following unrest within the People's Revolutionary Government there and the execution of Grenada's Prime Minister Maurice Bishop. On Oct. 25, 1983, the U.S. Army's Rapid Deployment Force, U.S. Army Delta Force, and multiple other military branches invaded and promptly overwhelmed Grenadian forces.

 

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kittirat roekburi // Shutterstock

1984: Pedro Colondres-Rosa defrauds US Army

- Army strength: 780,180 people (0.33% of U.S. population)

Pedro A. Rodríguez-Colondres joined the U.S. Army in the 1970s under the assumed name of Pedro Colondres-Rosa, but was discharged in the 1970s for not passing the fitness tests. From 1984 until 2011, Colondres-Rosa used a false name to receive veterans benefits. He was arrested in 2014 for defrauding the U.S. Army Reserve.

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The U.S. Army // Wikimedia Commons

1985: El Salvador raid

- Army strength: 780,787 people (0.33% of U.S. population)

A raid in El Salvador by U.S. Army Rangers was conducted in 1985 in retaliation for the deaths of six soldiers. The Rangers ended up killing 83 guerillas at a training camp.

 

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TSGT Bob Simons, USAF // National Archives Catalog

1986: US troops arrive in Honduras

- Army strength: 780,980 people (0.33% of U.S. population)

More than 3,000 U.S. troops arrived in Honduras in 1986 to show support for that country's government in its war with Nicaragua. Honduras claimed Nicaraguan troops had illegally crossed into Honduras while attempting to detain Nicaraguan rebels. That same year, the U.S. Army sent assistance to Bolivia for anti-narcotics operations, which included extensive cocaine raids throughout the country.

 

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SSGT Scott Stewart // National Archives Catalog

1987: US Army Airborne heads to Honduras

- Army strength: 780,815 people (0.32% of U.S. population)

The U.S. Army Airborne Division was deployed to Honduras to the Nicaraguan border for army exercises. The exercises were created to show the continued strength of the U.S. military.

 

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TSGT Bob Simons, USAF // National Archives Catalog

1988: US takes on Nicaraguan insurgents

- Army strength: 771,847 people (0.32% of U.S. population)

More than 2,000 U.S. soldiers were flown to Honduras in 1988, where Nicaraguan insurgents were threatening the border. While there, the U.S. Army demonstrated its might with repeated training exercises.

 

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AFP/Stringer // Getty Images

1989: Operation Just Cause

- Army strength: 769,741 people (0.31% of U.S. population)

The Invasion of Panama called Operation Just Cause ended with the U.S. defeating Manuel Noriega with 26,000 deployed combat troops. President H.W. Bush used four justifications for the invasion: protecting U.S. citizens living in Panama; safeguarding the Torrijos-Carter Treaties; protecting human rights and democracy in the country; and fighting drug traffickers.

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US Air Force // Wikimedia Commons

1990: Gulf War starts

- Army strength: 732,403 people (0.29% of U.S. population)

To leverage Iraq’s requests for cancellation of debt to Gulf creditors following the Iran-Iraq war, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein threatened neighboring Kuwait. The threats escalated when Kuwait turned down Hussein's requests for debt forgiveness, and as the president accused the United States of intentionally weakening Iraq by pushing for reduced oil prices in Kuwait. A report 100,000 Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, overrunning the country.

 

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DOD/Handout // Getty Images

1991: Gulf ground war begins

- Army strength: 710,821 people (0.28% of U.S. population)

The U.S. led an air and ground war invasion of Iraq just after the new year on Jan. 16, 1991. By the end of the first day, the first wave of troops took more than 10,000 of Hussein's soldiers prisoner. The Iraqi retreat from Kuwait and the end of the war came soon after on Feb. 28.

 

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Staff Sgt. Gustavo Castillo // Air Force photo

1992: US troops offer humanitarian aid in Somalia

- Army strength: 610,450 people (0.24% of U.S. population)

Somalians cheered U.S. troops coming to help with humanitarian aid. Gradually, the U.S. became part of the strife and inter-clan wars.

 

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TSGT PERRY HEIMER // Wikimedia Commons

1993: Battle of Mogadishu

- Army strength: 572,423 people (0.22% of U.S. population)

Operation Gothic Serpent and the Battle of Mogadishu commenced as 160 U.S. soldiers—comprised mainly of Army Rangers and Delta Force Operators—in Black Hawk Helicopters were attacked and shot at by Somalis from the streets. What was intended as an hour and a half mission turned into a battle that stretched on for 15 hours as the Black Hawks fell from the sky and U.S. soldiers were surrounded.

 

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BOB PEARSON // Getty Images

1994: Operation Uphold Democracy

- Army strength: 541,343 people (0.21% of U.S. population)

More than 20,000 troops entered Haiti as part of Operation Uphold Democracy. They landed without any opposition in their mission to help ensure a peaceful transition to a democratic government in Haiti.

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MICHEL GANGNE // Getty Images

1995: Peace treaty ends Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict

- Army strength: 508,559 people (0.19% of U.S. population)

Following a U.S.-brokered peace treaty, American members of the military—including the Army—were welcomed into the country with open arms. The treaty concluded what had been the most brutal, violent armed European conflict since World War II.

 

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People's pictorial // Wikimedia Commons

1996: All-Black Korean War unit has honor restored

- Army strength: 491,103 people (0.18% of U.S. population)

The all-Black Korean War unit that was stripped of its honor and whose members were called cowards had its honor restored in an official Army report released publicly in April 1996. It wasn't until 1995 that researchers found that the unit performed similarly to the white units under the same stress and combat.

 

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JAMAL WILSON/Stringer // Getty Images

1997: 7 Black WWII soldiers get Medal of Honor

- Army strength: 491,707 people (0.18% of U.S. population)

Not one Medal of Honor was awarded to a Black soldier for service during World War II until a U.S. Army-commissioned 1993 study looked into racial discrimination in awarding medals. Results from the study showed a number of Distinguished Service Cross recipients ought to be rightfully upgraded to receive the Medal of Honor. President Bill Clinton did so on Jan. 13, 1997, when he awarded the highest military honor to seven Black veterans from World War II. Of those named, only one—Vernon Baker—was alive to receive his medal.

 

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MIKE NELSON/Stringer // Getty Images

1998: Bosnia mission zaps US Army strength

- Army strength: 484,928 people (0.18% of U.S. population)

The high costs, time, and troop requirements of the U.S. mission in Bosnia led many to complain about the 6,900 combat troops in Bosnia. Many claimed U.S. troops there weakened the overall military strength of the Army.

 

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USAF/Handout // Getty Images

1999: Yugoslavians hold U.S. soldiers captive

- Army strength: 477,788 people (0.17% of U.S. population)

Three U.S. Army soldiers in Yugoslavia for a peacekeeping mission were taken captive and held as prisoners of war for 32 days. Christopher Stone, Army Staff Sgt., Andrew Ramirez, and Specialist Steven Gonzales were ambushed while driving a Humvee and put in prison. National POW/MIA Recognition Day, held on the third Friday in September, was established to honor those veterans like Stone, Ramirez, and Gonzales who were prisoners of war—as well as those still missing in action.

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Spc. Christina Westover // US Army Photo

2000: 49th Armored Division deploys

- Army strength: 483,115 people (0.17% of U.S. population)

As relations in Bosnia and Herzegovina improved, a scaling-down of U.S. military presence there began in 1999. Army numbers dropped from 5,400 that year to 3,900 by February 2000. As the 10th Mountain Division returned home in March of that year, it was replaced by the 49th Armored Division, Texas Army National Guard—marking the first deployment outside the U.S. of a division-sized reserve component formation since the Korean War.

 

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Michael Foran // Wikimedia Commons

2001: 9/11

- Army strength: 482,655 people (0.17% of U.S. population)

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush's administration launched Operation Enduring Freedom, the official name for the global War on Terror, which commenced with allied air strikes on various al-Qaida and Taliban targets.

 

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Aletha Frost // U.S. Air Force

2002: Army uses video games for recruitment, training

- Army strength: 488,631 people (0.17% of U.S. population)

Video games became not only a thing of pleasure, but of recruitment and training, at the turn of the 21st century. The first video game used for Army recruitment was “America's Army,” a two-part, first-person shooter game.

 

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Marco Di Lauro/Stringer // Getty Images

2003: US Army invades Baghdad amidst looters

- Army strength: 497,770 people (0.17% of U.S. population)

During the U.S. Army invasion of Baghdad, mobs took the opportunity to loot and burn multiple locations throughout the city, including various offices, embassies, and university labs. Members of the military were criticized for not intervening.

 

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Lance Corporal Samantha L. Jones, USMC // Wikimedia Commons

2004: Second Battle of Fallujah

- Army strength: 498,428 people (0.17% of U.S. population)

The second Battle of Fallujah was fought with the U.S. Marines and Army together with British forces. It was one of the heaviest battles since the Vietnam war.

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Pool // Getty Images

2005: Iraqi election

- Army strength: 490,632 people (0.17% of U.S. population)

The U.S. began involving itself in the politics of Iraq as U.S. Army troops provided a presence to increase safety for voters in the Iraqi parliamentary election. The United Iraqi Alliance took 48% of the vote against the Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan and the Iraqi List earned 26% and 14% of the vote, respectively.

Also in 2005, Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester became the first woman in U.S. history to earn the Silver Star for direct combat action.

 

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U.S. Army/Handout // Getty Images

2006: President Bush visits Afghanistan

- Army strength: 507,131 people (0.17% of U.S. population)

Five years after launching Operation Enduring Freedom, President George W. Bush paid a visit to Afghanistan. There, he met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and said he was sure Osama bin Laden would be “brought to justice” soon. Five more years passed before bin Laden was shot and killed. That year, the Army's 3rd Brigade Combat Team and two Battalion Task Forces from the 4th Brigade Combat Team deployed to Afghanistan and were there until 2007.

 

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Martyn Aim/ Stringer // Getty Images

2007: Troops need more sleep

- Army strength: 522,190 people (0.17% of U.S. population)

Working hard and pulling long shifts began having an effect on the troops, who news outlets reported being overwhelmed by fatigue with little sleep. Stress and exhaustion were taking their toll, the Guardian reported that year, and were contributing to desertions.

 

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Motortion Films // Shutterstock

2008: Felons join up

- Army strength: 544,150 people (0.18% of U.S. population)

Convicted felons in 2008 were able to receive military waivers in order to join the U.S. Army. Crimes like assault, drug dealing, and making terrorist threats were all waived.

 

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JIM WATSON // Getty Images

2009: Army major kills 13 in Fort Hood

- Army strength: 553,579 people (0.18% of U.S. population)

A U.S. Army major opened fire in Fort Hood, Texas, killing 13 and injuring 30. The military psychiatrist's shooting spree represents the worst mass murder at a U.S. military installation in history.

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Fred W. Baker III // DoD photo

2010: Army sent to Haiti for relief effort

- Army strength: 566,045 people (0.18% of U.S. population)

Members of the U.S. Army returned to Haiti in 2010 following a large earthquake there. More than 20,000 soldiers and other members of services attended to victims of the earthquake.

 

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Mario Tama // Getty Images

2011: US troops leave Iraq

- Army strength: 565,463 people (0.18% of U.S. population)

The last U.S. troops left Iraq in December 2011. The war took 4,500 American lives and countless lives of Iraqis.

 

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Lawrence Jackson // Official White House Photo

2012: Military gets trimmed

- Army strength: 550,063 people (0.18% of U.S. population)

President Barack Obama shrank the military with a cut of 40,000 active duty service members in 2012. The president blamed slashes to the budget and defaulted government loans for the cutbacks.

 

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Win McNamee // Getty Images

2013: Women join the front lines

- Army strength: 532,043 people (0.17% of U.S. population)

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in January 2013 lifted the direct ground combat exclusion that banned women from fighting on the front lines. That month, women began integrating into those units.

 

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Photo courtesy of US Marine Corps

2014: Army hairstyles get a closer look

- Army strength: 508,210 people (0.16% of U.S. population)

In a 2014 review of Army policy regarding unauthorized hairstyles, previously restricted hairdos were found to be disproportionately restrictive for natural, African American hairstyles. The restrictions had been put in place in March of that year, to fierce backlash. Updated guidelines allow for two-strand twists, larger accepted braid sizes, and the removal of the phrase “matted and unkempt” from guidelines.

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US Air Force // Wikimedia Commons

2015: Army shrinks to pre-WWII levels

- Army strength: 491,365 people (0.15% of U.S. population)

To meet new budgetary guidelines, the Pentagon announced in 2015 that the U.S. Army would contract to levels unseen since prior to World War II. Other cuts included the retirement of the A-10 aircraft and lowered benefits for military members.

 

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Sgt. Sean Mathis // Wikimedia Commons

2016: Army reduced further

- Army strength: 475,400 people (0.15% of U.S. population)

Budget cuts in 2016 slashed the U.S. Army further. The lowest amount of active-duty soldiers in years was achieved that year, with further cuts desired.

 

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Staff Sgt. Melanie Holochwost // U.S. Air Force

2017: Immigrant recruits can't serve

- Army strength: 476,245 people (0.15% of U.S. population)

More than 500 immigrant recruits were discharged within a single year following the tabling of the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest recruiting program, which drew in talent from around the globe with the promise of expedited tracks to citizenship. The recruits, courted for their medical skills or language abilities, were let go without due cause when fears arose that the vetting system for said recruits was not thorough enough.

 

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US Army Africa // Wikimedia Commons

2018: US Army has stations throughout Africa

- Army strength: 413,593 people (0.13% of U.S. population)

Much to the surprise of the public, the U.S. Army and other service branches were on missions in more than 20 African countries in 2018 alone. The American presence was largely to offer African militaries assistance and training as needed. The only permanent U.S. military base in Africa is in Djibouti, along the continent's east coast.

 

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Cpl. Danielle Rodrigues // Wikimedia Commons

2019: First woman poised to lead US Army Infantry division

- Army strength: 416,876 people (0.13% of U.S. population)

Brig. Gen. Laura Yeager became the first woman to lead any U.S. Army infantry when Maj. Gen. Mark Malanka retired from the California National Guard's 40th Infantry Division on June 29, 2019. The division was led by men since its inception in 1917. Yeager was promoted in 2016 to brigadier general—at the time, only the fourth woman to reach such a rank in the California National Guard.

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U.S. Army photo

2020: COVID-19 upends the military

- Army strength: 482,343 people (0.14% of U.S. population)

As the full breadth of the coronavirus pandemic took shape around the world, the Pentagon in March 2020 banned the majority of unofficial troop travel and family members. Gen. Gus Perna, who served as head of Army Materiel Command, was tasked with heading Operation Warp Speed, the national vaccine distribution task force.

 

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U.S. Army Photo

2021: Extended-range guided rocket successfully traverses 80 km

The extended-range version of the U.S. Army’s Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System in March 2021 successfully traveled 80 kilometers (nearly 50 miles) in a flight demonstration held at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Eventually, the goal is to get the rocket to travel at least 150 kilometers, or 93.2 miles.

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