As president from 1981 to 1989, Ronald Reagan persuaded an often wary Congress to fund many of the weapons systems later used in both Persian Gulf wars, either initiating the arms programs or accelerating work on those already in development.
Saddam Hussein's troops out of Kuwait in 1991, and the Army's Bradley Fighting Vehicles and M-1 Abrams tanks that swept into Baghdad 12 years later to bring down Hussein's regime.
Reagan presided over the biggest peacetime defense buildup in history, from high-tech weapons systems to larger training ranges and military pay increases. It was his steady focus on the military, said supporters and analysts, that helped bring down the Soviet Union and expunge the malaise and hollowness that infected the American military during the 1970s.
Still, some critics said Reagan's focus on building up the military's nuclear force and a missile defense system needlessly imperiled world peace and produced huge Pentagon budgets and federal deficits.
Reagan took over a military afflicted with racial, drug and alcohol problems and an inability to recruit even the marginally qualified. The number of high school graduates inducted into the Army in 1979 was the lowest since the all-volunteer force began six years earlier.
"The military had been knocked around by Vietnam and needed to be told by the top person that they were honored and appreciated," said retired Gen. Edward "Shy" Meyer, Army chief of staff under Reagan.
Reagan was at ease with soldiers and senior officers alike, charming Meyer by knowing the words to the Army's anthem ("The Caissons Go Rolling Along"). And he was supportive of military needs, said the general: "He put his money where his mouth was."
Caspar W. Weinberger, who served as Reagan's defense secretary, said Reagan "restored the military and turned around the morale almost overnight." The military was in such abysmal shape that some suggested a return of the draft, said Weinberger. But before long, "we had more volunteers than we could enlist," he recalled in a phone interview.
At the heart of the buildup in armaments, said Weinberger, was Reagan's belief that the United States trailed Russia militarily - he called it a "window of vulnerability" - and that the long-term U.S. policy of trying to contain Moscow's ambitions was not the right one.
"He said this is a Cold War that needs to be won. It was a matter of demonstrating to them that they couldn't win a war. In order to do that we had to regain our strength," said Weinberger.
Hundreds of attack aircraft, from the Navy's F-14 Tomcat to the Air Force's F-15 Eagle, took to the skies, while the Pentagon rapidly modernized its nuclear force with the Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missile, the Trident submarine and the B-1B bomber, wrote James Kitfield in his book Prodigal Soldiers, which chronicled the military's buildup in the 1980s.
There were complaints that the Pentagon was spending too much money, but Reagan pressed the buildup "regardless of the political consequences," said Weinberger: "They bought us what we needed. You can see it today."
The Army became faster and more lethal. Swift M-1 tanks, which could shoot on the run, replaced the lumbering Vietnam-era M-60 tank, which had to stop to fire. "The jeeps start going away and the Humvees start coming into the motor pool," one officer recalled.
Training for Iraq