Chemistry Careers in the Armed Forces

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the Department of Defense is the largest employer in the U.S. with 2.15 million service members and over 732,000 civilian workers as of the onset of 2019. About 4,800 defense sites spanning all 7 continents in more than 160 countries, the U.S. military is poised for global reach, ensuring the nation’s security and deterring war. Aside from war, each branch plays a part in influencing the lives of people all over the world, whether it be the Army’s role in medical research that protects Americans from epidemics; the Navy, Marine Corps, and the Coast Guard’s role in keeping the oceans free and safe for the passage of over 90% of the world’s trade and protecting global communication and web access by safeguarding underwater fiber optic cables; to the Air Force’s role in owning and operating the entire GPS constellation. The U.S. military has a large role in the normal lives of people all over the world while consisting less than 1% of the U.S. population as an all-volunteer force.


For those pursuing a degree, this almost always leads to becoming an officer in the Armed Forces. For those pursuing chemistry in the military, there are a few tracks that one can follow.

Ways of becoming an officer:

  • Attend a senior military college or service academy
    • Usually right after high school
  • Enroll at a traditional college or university with a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program
  • Attend Officer Candidate School (OCS) after graduating from college
  • Receive a direct commission after earning a professional degree
  • Advance through the enlisted ranks and then complete officer training

For all intents and purposes, this page will focus on the Reserve Officer Training Corps and the Officer Candidate School programs

Reserve Officer Training Corps

Its goal is to train college students for future service in the U.S. armed forces. The program immerses students in military culture, traditions, procedures, and history all while led by senior cadets and active duty and reserve military cadre. More information found on Today's Military ROTC Programs.

  • Program spans the majority of your undergraduate or post graduate career
  • Scholarship opportunities that pay for college expenses
  • Chemistry-oriented jobs in the Armed Forces are competitive and are not guaranteed, consult an ROTC counselor.

Program Process

  • Enroll in a community college or university with your program of interest
    • Community college students must transfer to a university for bachelor’s degree completion
  • Enroll in a ROTC program near you
    • ROTC locator tool (2019):
    • Get medically qualified
    • Participate in program activities and academics
    • Pass a physical fitness assessment before cadet field training and before commissioning
    • Pass an officer qualifying exam
    • Participate in cadet field training mid college career
  • Graduate from university
  • Commission into the armed forces


  • ROTC participation with enrollment in a masters and PhD programs vary, consult an ROTC counselor
  • CSUCI does not have an ROTC program, consider cross town agreement, commute to neighboring universities for ROTC participation may be required
  • As of 2019, CSUCI has a crosstown agreement with Loyola Marymount University Air Force ROTC
  • Consult an ROTC cadre member at the host school regarding setting up crosstown agreements for CSUCI student ROTC program participation.

Officer Candidate School

Its goal is to train civilian professionals or enlisted personnel in order to commission as an officer in the armed forces. More information on Today's Military Officer Candidate School .

  • Length of program varies for each branch
  • Post bachelors’ program

Program Process

  • Graduate from a university with a bachelors, masters, or PhD
  • Contact an active duty, reserve, or national guard recruiter to begin application process
  • Get medically qualified
  • Take a qualifying officer exam
  • Participate in Officer Candidate School
    • Length of program varies by branch
  • Commission into the armed forces

Civilian Opportunities – Federal Jobs

Unique hiring paths offered by the Federal or State government to include various government departments.

Hiring paths to select from:

  • Open to the Public
    • S. citizens, nationals or those who owe allegiance to the U.S.
  • Veterans
  • National Guard & Reserves
    • Current or prospective
  • Senior Executives
  • Family of Overseas Employees
  • Peace Corps & AmeriCorps VISTA
  • Federal Employees
    • Current or former, includes the competitive and excepted services
  • Military Spouses
  • Students & Recent Graduates
  • Individuals with a Disability
  • Native Americans
    • American Indian or Alaskan Native
  • Special Authorities


  • Create USAJOBS profile
  • Search for jobs
  • Review Job announcement
  • Prepare your application
  • Submit application to agency
  • The agency reviews the application
  • Participate in an interview
  • The agency selects candidates
  • The job is offered


  • Job requirements vary with a bachelor’s or graduate degree.
  • Locations vary greatly, but some jobs offer relocation assistance.
  • Clear and distinct requirements for promotion and pay increases
  • Security clearance and drug testing may be required


army logoArmy Mission Statement: To deploy, fight and win our nation's wars by providing ready, prompt and sustained land dominance by Army forces across the full spectrum of conflict as part of the joint force.

Jobs That Need a Bachelor’s Degree

Active duty – Reserve opportunities.

A Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear officer commands the Army branch that specifically defends against the threat of CBRN weapons and Weapons of Mass Destruction. These officers lead an extraordinary chemical unit that is completely dedicated to protecting our nation.

Job Duties
  • Command CBRN operations during combat/peacetime
  • Coordinate employment of CBRN Soldiers at all levels of command
  • Instruct CBRN skills at service schools and training centers
  • A bachelor’s degree, preferably in a biological/chemical science.
  • A qualifying score on the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery
Required training
  • Completion of the CBRN Basic Officer Leaders Course Phase III
  • Bonuses opportunities available to $40,000

Jobs That Need a Graduate Degree

Biochemist/Physiologist Officer – more info on U.S. Army Careers & Jobs
Active duty – Reserve opportunities

Responsible for scientific research of biochemistry and physiology for the Army health care team.

Job Duties
  • Supervise tests, provide consultation/expert advice and conduct research.
  • Manage laboratory operations and fiscal/personnel resources.
  • Serve in section, branch, department or as a division chief in various laboratories.
  • Active Duty
    • Master’s degree in biochemistry or related specialty
    • Ph. D. in human physiology or related biological specialty
    • Must be between 21-42 years of age.
    • U.S. citizen
  • Army Reserve
    • Above requirements
    • Permanent U.S. residency
    • For ages above 42, a waiver may be requested.
Required Training
  • Completing an Officer Basic Leadership Course (Officer training school).
  • Bonuses opportunities available to $40,000


navy logoNavy Mission Statement: to maintain, train and equip combat-ready Naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas.

Jobs That Need a Bachelor’s Degree


Jobs That Need a Graduate Degree

Biochemistry Careers – more info on America's Navy Biochemistry Careers

Research Biochemist Officer Overview

Conduct and manage basic and applied research on biochemical problems of interest to the U.S. Navy from harnessing sea and solar power to developing vaccines to battle new diseases.

Forensic Toxicologist Officer Overview

Work in military forensic laboratories, Navy research laboratories or environmental preventive medicine units.

Active Duty/Reserves
  • Be a U.S. citizen currently practicing in the U.S.
  • D. or master’s degree of at least 2 years’ duration with complete research thesis in one of the following:
    • Chemistry (with a strong life sciences background)
    • Toxicology
    • Pharmacology
    • Molecular biology
  • Be willing to serve a minimum of three years of Active Duty
  • Be between the ages of 18 and 41
  • Be in good physical condition and pass a full medical examination
Preferred Requirements
  • Experience in biological and analytical techniques from graduate training or work experience
  • Authorship or co-authorship of publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals
  • Undergraduate GPA of 3.2 or higher, 3.5 or higher for graduate work
Required Training
  • Officer Development School (Officer Training School) upon graduation from graduate school.
  • Opportunities to qualify for the Navy Health Professions Loan Repayment Program.

Air Force

air force logoAir Force Mission Statement: to fly, fight and win in air, space and cyberspace.

Jobs That Need a Bachelor’s or Graduate Degree

Chemist/Nuclear Chemist – U.S. Air Force Chemist/Nuclear Chemist


Develop new techniques and policy in the area of chemistry, biochemistry, and weapons of mass destruction.

  • Bachelor’s in chemical engineering, biochemistry, molecular biochemistry, chemistry or equivalent.
  • Minimum 24 months experience in qualified position, master’s degree with 12 months experience, or Ph D in a specified discipline.
  • Completion of a background investigation.
  • Completion of Officer Training School (civilian to military) after obtaining above requirements or completion of the Air Force Academy (entering the academy after high school), or Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (training done while in completing college undergraduate degree)
  • Must be between the ages of 18-39

This page content was made by Bryan N. Palmer

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