Defense and security
The United States has a strong military presence both domestically and overseas, with over 1.3 million active-duty members stationed at home and abroad.
Underscoring this vast reach is the fact that the Department of Defense (DoD) manages over 4,790 military sites worldwide, covering 27 million acres. For context, that’s roughly the size of the state of Virginia.
Along with training troops and defending US citizens on American soil, the military protects its national security interests by defending strategic supply chains, deterring attacks and future aggression, and participating in bilateral, regional, and multilateral defense programs.
As of September 2023, the US had 2.63 million military personnel, including active-duty troops, reserve, and civilian workers stationed domestically. Of these, 1.14 million (3,294) were active-duty troops across the 50 states and Washington, DC. Roughly 60% of these troops were in five states: California (161,052 troops), Virginia (127,020), Texas (110,582), North Carolina (90,841), and Florida (65,159).
Domestic military bases are spread across multiple states, but some states have a higher concentration of military installations due to factors including strategic location (such as along the coast), or access to resources, like power plants and critical infrastructure. For example, Virginia hosts over a quarter of domestic Navy members due to its proximity to major East Coast ports.
Similarly, California hosts 40.3% of Marine Corps members because of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego (where new members from the western two-thirds of the US are trained), along with 25.8% of active-duty naval troops.
Space Command is in Colorado Springs at the Peterson Space Force Base; Colorado also hosts 46.3% of active-duty Space Force personnel.
As of September 2023, 29 states reported having a higher count of reserve troops than active-duty personnel, with the total reserve force numbering 741,292 members across the US.
The US Army National Guard and the Air National Guard operate under a dual state-federal mission. While they are state entities under the command of their respective governors during peacetime, they can be federalized and come under the control of the president during a national emergency or war. This structure allows them to support both state and national needs.
The Reserve components of each branch of the US military, including the Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, Air Force Reserve, and Coast Guard Reserve, are organized at the federal level. They provide trained units and qualified active duty armed forces during war, national emergency, or other operations to ensure US national security.
In terms of overseas deployments, there were over 228,390 US military personnel stationed in foreign countries as of September 2023, 168,571 of which were active-duty troops.
The 59,819 remaining personnel stationed abroad comprise DoD civilians and reserves DoD civilians and reserves, who work in offices, laboratories, shipyards, airfields, medical centers, and educational centers. Their roles are crucial for maintaining smooth and efficient operations across various facets of daily base functions.
The top five countries with the highest number of stationed US troops are Japan (53,246), Germany (35,188), South Korea (24,159), Italy (12,405), and the United Kingdom (9,949). These troops are stationed at US-owned and operated military bases.
Where US military members are stationed overseas has shifted over time. For example, at the height of the Cold War in the early 1950s, there were over 400,000 troops stationed in Europe to prevent the expansion of the Soviet Union. These numbers dropped following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
US troop levels in foreign countries change depending on national security interests. Today, the US has several strategic priorities in different regions, demonstrating the long-standing involvement of American armed forces in global security and conflict. Here are a few strategic interests by region:
US strategic European interests involve long-standing military and economic alliances across the continent. There are also evolving challenges presented by Russia’s aggression war against Ukraine. Some key themes include:
As of June 2022, the US had more than 100,000 service members across Europe.
US European Command, headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, is the nation’s central command for all American military activity in Europe. The largest base, the Ramstein Air Base in Germany, houses more than 35,000 active-duty, Reserve, National Guard, and civilian employees – hosting the largest American community outside of the US.
A DoD statement released on November 6, 2023, outlined four objectives the US has in the Middle East.
Along with these short-to-medium-term interests, the US has outlined an ongoing counterterrorism strategy against nonstate actors in the region, such as the Islamic State in Syria/Iraq, and, more recently, against Houthi rebels in Yemen.
As of June 2023, the US had over 30,000 troops throughout the Middle East. For context, the US at one time had more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan and more than 160,000 in Iraq.
US Central Command in the Middle East oversees more than 4 million square miles in Northeast Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Central and South Asia — an area populated by more than 560 million people. The Kingdom of Bahrain has the sixth-largest number of US troops stationed abroad. It’s home to US Naval Forces Central Command and the US 5th fleet, along with approximately 9,000 military and DoD civilians.
Over the last decade, the US has made it a national security priority to maintain strategic primacy in the Indo-Pacific region, including preventing Chinese influence while promoting regional cooperation with allies.
The 2022 US Indo-Pacific Strategy Framework highlights five broad regional objectives, with steps to advance a free and open Indo-Pacific, build regional connections and drive regional prosperity, bolster Indo-Pacific security, and build regional resilience to transnational threats.
Some definitive end goals are outlined in a now declassified US Strategic Framework for the Indo- Pacific, such as:
These represent only a few of the many American diplomatic and economic objectives in the region which are facilitated, in part, by the presence of US troops.
US Indo-Pacific Command, headquartered in Aiea, Hawaii, encompasses 38 nations and more than half of the world’s population within its scope, and overseas many military installations along the nations that make up the US’ Island Chain Strategy.
In 2019, the DoD-sponsored Minerva Research Initiative conducted a study to gauge how people felt about a US military presence in their countries. The study surveyed 1,000 individuals in 14 countries with US military presence.
US military personnel often serve as unintentional public diplomats. Interactions with them can significantly affect local perceptions of the US, its government, and its people.
The ensuing report found that citizens from surveyed countries had generally positive or neutral views of US troops and citizens. However, several countries had a more negative perception of the US government, including Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, among others, suggesting a nuanced view of US foreign involvement. Notably, most of those surveyed were from European nations.
The study also found a positive correlation between personal contact or economic benefits from troops and favorable perceptions of the US, highlighting the significance of personal interactions and economic impacts in shaping opinions.
Data on military and civilian personnel figures across service branches, along with their location by state and country comes from the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMCD). The DMDC collects data on military personnel, manpower, training, finances, and other statistics for the DoD. These workforce reports and publications are released quarterly, along with strength summary reports updated monthly, and supplementary data on military personnel by rank/grade.
Additional sources explaining US military strategies overseas come from DoD press releases, strategic framework documents, and information from regional central command websites.
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This only includes DoD appropriated fund civilians, which possess similar characteristics as other federal employees, while non-appropriated funded civilians are paid by revenues generated by service activities.
These figures include troops listed as “unknown” in DMDC data.
While the US reported an increase in active-duty troops across Europe, data from the DMDC does not reflect such a sudden rise. However, these troops may fall under NATO positions, or be currently classified.
According to the most recent DMDC data, this unclassified figures only show 3,978 military personnel as of September 30, 2023.
This personnel includes active-duty troops, DoD civilians, and Reserves, both permanently stationed as well as in rotation.
The study surveyed 1,000 people in each of the following countries: Australia, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. Respondents were a nationally representative sample based on gender, age (over 18), and income.
Except for Turkey, which was the only surveyed country with a majority negative opinion of US troops.
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