How many uniformed services, would you say, does the United States have? If you said five, you’re thinking of the armed forces that are part of the Department of Defense (DoD). Those services are the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and the newly minted Space Force. (Admit it, you thought I was going to say Coast Guard, didn’t you?)
If you answered six, you’re thinking of the sum total of armed services of the United States, which includes the Coast Guard (USCG). However, the USCG is not part of DoD: it’s currently part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Notably, at various times in the past the USCG has been designated as part of the; (1) Department of the Treasury, (2) Department of the Navy (in wartime), and (3) Department of Transportation.
Would you be surprised that the correct answer is eight uniformed services? It’s true! The two uniformed services that most people have never heard of are not part of DoD but could be transferred to DoD in wartime, just like the Coast Guard. They wear military uniforms and earn the same pay as commisioned officers of the armed services, and with comparable benefits. However, unlike the USCG, these two services are not armed. Both have been around, in one form or another, for a surprisingly long time.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps) was formed in 1917, but can trace its beginnings back to 1807. Scientists, engineers, pilots, and scuba divers are among the professions that comprise NOAA Corps.
The United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (USPHSCC) was formed in 1889, with even older roots dating to 1798. Doctors, nurses, therapists, dieticians, pharmacists, and other health specialists staff the USPHSCC.
Just as the Marine Corps is part of the Department of the Navy, the Space Force is part of the Department of the Air Force, and the Coast Guard is part of DHS, the USPHSCC is part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and NOAA Corps is part of the Department of Commerce. Personnel of the USPHSCC and NOAA Corps are often assigned to work with other uniformed service branches, especially the Navy and Coast Guard. USPHSCC officers may even be assigned to work with NOAA Corps.
The USPHSCC and NOAA Corps share a few similarities. For starters, there are no enlisted personnel or warrant officers in either organization. Also, the two services wear the U.S. Navy Service Dress Uniforms (both blues and whites) for formal attire although, interestingly, they wear the U.S. Coast Guard Operational Dress Uniform (ODU) for working environments such as sea duty aboard ship. The USPHSCC wear Woodland Camouflage ODUs when assigned to branches other than USCG or NOAA Corps, in order to fit in with combat units.
Ranks and officer pay grades are the same as used by the Navy and Coast Guard, with special insignia adorning their uniforms to identify their own service branch (either NOAA Corps or USPHSCC).
That’s about where the similarities end. NOAA Corps is numerically the smallest branch and operates sixteen ocean-going vessels and ten aircraft in support of their mission. From the NOAA Corps website:
With 321 officers, the NOAA Corps serves throughout the agency’s line and staff offices to support nearly all of NOAA’s programs and missions. The combination of commissioned service and scientific expertise makes these officers uniquely capable of leading some of NOAA’s most important initiatives.NOAA.GOV
The NOAA Corps today provides a cadre of professionals trained in engineering, earth sciences, oceanography, meteorology, fisheries science, and other related disciplines. Corps officers operate NOAA’s ships, fly aircraft, manage research projects, conduct diving operations, and serve in staff positions throughout NOAA.
With over 6,000 doctors and health care specialists, USPHSCC is quite a bit larger and has a completely different mission. From the USPHSCC website:
The mission of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps is to protect, promote, and advance the health and safety of our Nation. As America’s uniformed service of public health professionals, the Commissioned Corps achieves its mission through:USPHS.GOV
• Rapid and effective response to public health needs
• Leadership and excellence in public health practices
• Advancement of public health science
The uniformed services are a fantastic way to serve your country. The two specialized but unarmed branches, USPHSCC and NOAA Corps, may be the services best suited for highly educated and highly skilled officer candidates.
Question of the night: If you could start your life over again, knowing what you know now, what career would you choose?