NOAA, the service that’s a little ‘less formal’
Call it the "military for geeks."
At least that’s how Lt. j.g. Jackie Alemeida describes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Corps, a group of 300 officers commissioned by the Department of Commerce, under which NOAA operates.
The corps consists of aviators, meteorologists and other scientific professionals who work alongside NOAA civilians to generate weather forecasts, aerial mapping of disaster zones and marine mammal surveys.
"It’s not as strict as the regular service," said Alemeida, a meteorologist working temporarily from Yokota Air Base in Japan as part of the Winter Storm Reconnaissance Program.
"We joke that it’s military lite."
Considered the seventh uniformed service — the sixth is the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps — the NOAA Corps uses the same ranking structure as the Navy and Coast Guard but has no enlisted personnel. Officers receive all the same benefits provided to troops in the traditional services, including military exchange and commissary privileges, Tricare insurance, VA benefits, tuition assistance and a retirement pension after 20 years.
NOAA’s Aircraft Operations Center is located at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., and NOAA operates from other military bases, too. But researchers, both officer and civilian, do not work hand-in-hand with the military, nor do they deploy to war zones or carry weapons.
Though much of their work is unclassified, they must be eligible for a "secret" security clearance, according to the NOAA Web site. Half its officers — who can receive a commission up to the age of 42 — have former military service, according to NOAA.
Like the military, officers in the NOAA Corps must make rank to stay in the service.
"We’re just like the other services — you’re either up or you’re out," said Cmdr. Jeff Hagan, an aviator who joined the NOAA Corps 16 years ago after flying C-130s in the Coast Guard. "Are we a little less formal than the other services? Absolutely."