Most people have heard of 5 of the 7 U.S. uniformed services: the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. But did you know there are 2 other branches—the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps (NOAA Corps) and the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (PHSCC)?
Unlike the other 5 services, which are armed forces and fall under the Department of Defense or of Homeland Security, the NOAA Corps and the PHSCC are noncombatant commissioned corps and come under the Department of Commerce and the Department of Health and Human Services (respectively). The uniforms of these 2 branches are very similar to the Navy’s, but the buttons, insignia, and other details differ for each service. The NOAA Corps and the PHSCC are both composed only of commissioned officers, with no enlisted men. Although noncombatant corps, as uniformed services they can be militarized into the armed forces in times of war or emergency.
The NOAA Corps (previously known as the Coast and Geodetic Survey Corps and as the Environmental Science Services Administration Corps) was founded in 1917, after World War I. It was established as a commissioned corps so that if members were captured while surveying battlefields or other dangerous areas, they couldn’t be executed for espionage. Today, there are almost 400 members of the NOAA Corps, and the branch largely does research pertaining to geology, oceanography, and meteorology.
The PHSCC (formerly called the Marine Hospital Fund and the Marine Hospital Service) became active in 1798 to provide health care to sailors. It was created as a commissioned corps so that the healthcare workers could be easily and quickly mobilized all over the country. Members are doctors, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, engineers, and scientists, and the corps members are frequently deployed to work with federal, state, and local agencies, as well as with other branches of the uniformed services, to help fill medical needs. There are over 6,500 members of the PHSCC, and the service is under the direction of the Surgeon General.