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Military Pilots


The air service grew from somewhat unusual beginnings. The Civil War marked the first use of aircraft in the U.S. military, when a balloon corps was attached to the Army of the Potomac. In 1892, a formal Balloon Corps was created as part of the Army's Signal Corps. By 1907, a separate Aeronautical Division was created within the Army. Air power proved invaluable a few years later during World War I, bringing about major changes in military strategy. As a result, the United States began to assert itself as an international military power, and accordingly, the Army Air Service was created as an independent unit in 1918, although it remained under Army direction for a time.

With the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, America was plunged into World War II. At its height, 13 million Americans fought in the different branches of the military services. When the war ended, the United States emerged as the strongest military power in the Western world. A large part of America's military success was due to the superiority of its air forces. Recognition of the strategic importance of air power led to the creation of the now wholly independent branch of service, the U.S. Air Force, in 1947. Two years later, the various branches of military service were unified under the Department of Defense.

Since then, military pilots have played an integral role during the Cold War, Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in noncombat and peacekeeping situations.

Reaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, suddenly changed the role of the military from a peacekeeping force to an aggressor in the attempt to destroy the strongholds and training camps of terrorists around the world. U.S. troops, warships, and dozens of fighter planes were deployed to south-central Asia and the Middle East and air and ground strikes began.