A staff officer in the US Army Chemical Corps assiged to a Battalion or higher staff. This officer provides the commander and other staff with training and guidance on Nuclear Biological and Chemical weapons or NBC. One of the most junior members of the battalion staff, as a 1st or 2nd Lieutenant this officer exists for the sole purpose of being a subject matter expert on this uniquely nasty method of warfare.
Usually, as a function of their place on the army pecking order, this officer, rather than serving as a wealth of knowledge on his area of study, becomes the staff bitch, and is stuck with various and unpleasant jobs such as the USR or Unit Status Report. An important and classified report filed on the 15th of every month, the USR is, without a doubt, a humongous pain in the ass.
Also known as a chemo. (pronounced kem-oh)
Chemos, as they are usually called, can be either men or women, but as women are forbidden by law from serving in certain coded combat arms positions, the chemos in infantry, artillery, armor, special forces and cavalry units are exclusively male. This results in an unusal distribution of women at the higher-level staffs at division or corps level, which can be filled by either men or women, and at the Chemical decontamination, recon, and smoke platoons.
The Chemical Corps offers some unique opportunity to lieutenants who are interested in taking the "path less traveled" early in their Army careers. Only chemos have the potential to leave their Officer Basic Course and go directly to a Ranger Battalion, a Special Forces Detatchment, or a Technical Escort Unit, which is the special Army unit that provides NBC support to the federal government, often assisting at large events like the Olympics, and escorting the President at high-visibility events. The Technical Escort Unit, along with the Marine Corps' CBRF responded to the Anthrax attack on the Senate office buildings.
It is extremely easy to become a chemical officer. It is one of the shortages branches the Army assigns officers to, and unlike a popular branch such as Aviation or Medical Service Corps, any ROTC Cadet who chooses chemical as a top choice for his branch selection will almost certainly be assigned there. (OCS candidates and West Point cadets follow a different branch selection process but make up a smaller slice of the Army) In fact, there are some officers every year who don't put chemical anywhere on their list, but are assigned to the branch nonetheless. This is the unpleasant reality of being a commissioned officer. While enlisted soldiers are guaranteed their choice of Military Occupational Specialty, officers commit to military service before knowing the specialty to which they will be assigned. Luckily, most of the officers who are focibly assigned to the Chemical Corps are only branch detailed, meaning they will probably leave to transfer to their preferred branch after only 1.5 to 2 years.
There are very few chemical officers in the Army. The Chemical corps is the smallest non-specialty branch in the Army. There are, in fact, more special forces officers than there are chemical officers. This is one of the positives of life as a chemical officer. There is a definate community, and on a post of 50,000 soldiers and civilians, I know every chemical officer by name.
The Army offers many opportunities for advancement and professional certification for chemical officers. In exchange for an additional commitment, captains who attend the 6-month Captain's Career Course have the opportunity to earn a masters degree at night in environmental engineering from the University of Missouri, Rolla while attending, paid for by the Army. Even officers who don't attend the course will be certified in hazardous materials transport certification by the DOT, a very expensive and marketable certification at transport companies in the civilian world.
On the other hand, most chemical officers will leave the Army as soon as they have fulfilled their commitment. There are many reasons for this. The Army lifestyle puts a great deal of strain on relationships and families. On an average day, I get out of bed at 5:20 to get ready to leave for PT at 5:35, and do not return to the house until after 6:30. These hours do not include the long periods of separation for training missions and operational deployments, which tend to fall into 6-month rotations and arrive with little or no notice. The Chemical Corps is utterly inflexible about base assignments, and no school or work plans can be wisely made until you have arrived at your unit and have begun to work. This negates any attempts by spouses (or significant others) and children to plan for the future, since officers only stay at an Army post for an average of 2 to 3 years. As a second Lieutenant with 2 years in service, I will make about $37,000 this year, including tax benefits. On the other hand, chemical officers can look forward to promotions, but no real interesting career growth as the career progression path for a chemical officer involves moving from a job as a chemical officer to another identical job as a higher or similar level of command. Long hours on the job are not spent coordinating training, teaching soldiers and leaders, and managing chemical defense equipment, but are spent with endless mindless office work, fighting Microsoft Powerpoint and writing reports. While other officers in the staff shop can look forward to a fulfilling and exciting company or battery command, the chemical officer will possibly never command and almost certainly not command a chemical company, rather more likely to be relegated to a basic training command if command comes at all.
The Army is undergoing a transition to deal with the homeland defense mission, and new, exciting jobs are opening up at the state level at CSTs where active-duty national guard teams led by chemical captains and lieutenants respond to potential terrorist NBC attacks at a moment's notice. These units are well-funded, spend all of their time training, and have no training distractors, (such as leaf raking or trash collecting that most units are subject to). Unfortunately, lieutenants who volunteered for active duty are ineligible for these jobs until they have fulfilled their active duty commitment. Many company grade chemical officers who do want to remain in the NBC arena are leaving for these jobs when their commitment has been fulfillfed.