Friday, May 25, 2012

NOAA Corps Flag and US Public Health Service Commissoned Corps

NOAA Corps Flag

Most people are familiar with the big four of uniformed federal service branches - Army, Air Force, Marines, and Navy and not to mention the Coast Guard. However there are two more federally commissioned corps that don't get much time in the spot light - NOAA Corps and the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.

The more familiar branch is the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. Perhaps the most famous of all uniformed generals known to the public is The Surgeon General - especially to smokers. The Surgeon General was created under President Grant in 1871. Recently famous and colourful Surgeon Generals included Joycelyn Elders and Everett Koop.

The least known of the Uniformed Service branches is NOAA Corps. NOAA Corps is a part of NOAA, but only NOAA Corps can wear the military style uniform. NOAA Corps is like a private navy for NOAA.

If you never heard of NOAA it is the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. NOAA is a federal Agency like the FBI, but instead of dealing with criminal activity NOAA pays close attention to the weather and environment. Instead of police, NOAA is packed with the scientifically minded. Thus NOAA corps is the closest thing to a real life American Star Trek Agency with military rank and a scientific mission. But in an emergency, the US Navy can draft NOAA Crops 'air-sea land troopers' when things get too thin.

US Public Health Service Flag

Both flags feature anchors in their flags - denoting a connectivity to the US Navy. The NOAA Corps flag features two anchors piercing the earth with an eagle standing in a proud stance on top of the earth.

The US Public Health Flag also uses wings but of a different sort - in the traditional medical wings of Ophiucus - the cosmic healer in the night sky.

Link to NOAA CORPS - "The Very Very Few, Proud & Adventurous"

Link to NOAA

Link to United States Public Heath Service
Did you know smoking increases the risk of cancer?

Johnny Depp and the Surgeon General talk about AIDS

NOAA Corps Video - the real life SEA LAB 2020


  1. Sad that few Americans today even remember the US Public Health Service (USPHS), much less know anything about them. The well-known Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is merely an administrative division of the USPHS.

    The USPHS is under the Dept of Health and Human Services, and has both civilian and military employees. The military employees belong to the Commissioned Corps (PHSCC), and it is organized along Naval lines. Under U.S. public law the PHSCC is one of our nation's seven Uniformed Services (the other six being the five Armed Services -- Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard -- and the Commissioned Corps of NOAA, what used to be called the US Coast & Geodetic Survey). That the officers of the PHS and NOAA be recognized as "uniformed service" of the U.S. is necessary to conform to international treaties and conventions regarding military members in war zones. The PHS, and NOAA, have often placed officers alongside our Armed Forces in time of war, going into war zones.

    The Surgeon General of the United States is chief administrator of the PHS, under the HHS Assistant Secretary for Health, and is the commander of the Commissioned Corps. He normally holds a rank equivalent to a Vice Admiral (although when he also serves as HHS Asst Sec for Health, then his rank is equivalent to a full Admiral.

    For some unknown reason, the USPHS has apparently desired in the past couple decades to stay in the background, publicly, while the "CDC" is used for all public pronouncements (aside from the Surgeon General's health warnings). This is sad, because the USPHS has a long and storied history as the leading federal public health agency, with organizational roots back to 1870 (the Marine Hospital Service), and origins that go back to 1798 when Congress first authorized "Marine Hospitals" for American seamen. The PHS definitely has a long tradition of service, and should once again be the "public face" of the public health field for the Federal government, not the "CDC".

  2. It is also a curious post in that it does not show the correct flag of the US Public Health Service. There are no blue rings around the letters in the seal of the current flag and the caduceus is all blue. The current PHS flag was adopted in 1912. While Wikipedia is not always the most reliable source they do better reflect the correct PHS flag.

    The staff by the way is not taken from the staff of Ophiuchus/Asclepius but rather the caduceus of Hermes/Mercury who was among other things the god of commerce. The PHS began as the US Marine Hospital Service and as a result had a direct connection to commerce from shipping in it roles in healthcare for merchant sailors and quarantine issues. What role the adoption of the caduceus by the PHS may have had in the later adoption of the symbol of the Army Medical Corps is less clear.