Posted on May 29, 2018
MAJ(P) Chief, Current Operations, G 43
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I’m interesting to learn what’s the difference between being a Department Head in the Navy and an Officer in Charge (OIC)? It’s my understanding that Naval Officers don’t have the opportunity to command until the O-5 Level, where as Army and Marine Officers first command at the O-3 Level. In the Army Medical Department we have Branch and Division Chiefs which we value above those positions simply titled Officer in Charge. So many AMEDD officers seek Chief positions when not in command or when not serving as a primary BN or BDD staff officer. Any Navy folks out there that are willing to provide some insight into the differences and day to day duties of a Department or Division Head?
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LCDR Surface Warfare Officer
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A 'Department Head' is a position almost entirely exclusive to a ship. You are the officer that is the head of a particular department-- Operations, Engineering, Supply, etc. Different sized ships have different numbers (and ranks) of DH's. The very largest ships (the Aircraft Carriers) have O6, post-command officers as Department Heads for some departments. Most of the smaller ships DH's are O3-O4.

On shore commands, the people who do the exact same level of job as a Department Head on a ship are referred to as 'directorate heads' or something similar to that. We affectionately refer to ourselves as 'bubbas' most of the time.

Your levels of officers on a ship are Division Officers, Department Heads, then XO then CO.
Your basic levels of officers on staff duty are 'Action Officers', 'Directorate heads', and OICs (with some Chiefs of Staff, deputy OIC, other randomness thrown in depending on the staff.)

An OIC is a 'boss' that isn't a 'Commanding Officer'. Not exactly tied to only ships, but predominantly ships and fleets, a 'Commanding Officer' is (wait for it) in command of something. Most shore units don't have 'Commanding Officers'... they have 'Officers in Charge' or OIC's which do the exact same thing as CO's, but are 'in charge' of something rather than 'in command' of something. It is as semantic an argument as it can get with some potential ramifications regarding what types and levels of punishment can be wielded by an OIC vs. a CO... For all practical purposes-- the difference is semantic.

As to your specific question: differentiating between Department heads and OICs...
Apples and Oranges as one applies to sea duty and the other only applies to shore duty.
Depending on the size of the department or shore command-- ranks can vary across the board. I've seen everything from O6 Department Heads to O2 OIC (usually in charge of 'detachments' of small craft).

If none of this makes anything any more clear, and instead only leads to more confusion, please take comfort in the fact that you are a member of a very, very large club. I think the Navy does it on purpose... Just like we can't do rank like everyone else.
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LCDR Surface Warfare Officer
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My favorite is when I was the 1st LT onboard a Large Deck Troop Carrier as a LCDR.
(1st LT in the Navy is a position, not a 'rank'. It is the Department Head in charge of Deck Department.)
So the Marines come onboard, and this poor little Marine 1st LT-- the regular, O2 type-- was so completely confused... Apparently an Oak leaf wearing 1st LT doesn't make any sense.
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MAJ(P) Chief, Current Operations, G 43
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Thank you Sir. Great insight and great information. With the DoD becoming more “purple” it’s nice to be able to look at an officer and better understand thier depth of experience. Thanks again!
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LCDR Sales & Proposals Manager Gas Turbine Products
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One thing they really, really should do during pre-commissioning, is try and explain this mare's nest to wanna-be JOs so they "get it" before they set off to do "glorious" things that have very small chances of success. In many ways, I'm glad I was either too ignorant, or too cocky to think about "career" much-It allowed me to learn from and enjoy the ride of what has to be the "best" job for an officer in the Navy...DIVO.
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SFC Observer   Controller/Trainer (Oc/T)
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Excellent overview. Thank you for that.
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MCPO Roger Collins
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As an E-8, I replaced a CWO-4 as OIC NAVCOMMU Message Center, Cheltenham, MD. On board ship/submarine, despite being a Master Chief Petty Officer, the closest I could be to a Commissioned Officer status was a boatload of “O” Collateral duties.
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LCDR Vice President
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In the Navy OICs are designated because the job is not significant enough to warrant a CO. For instance as an O-3 I had orders to San Antonio MEPS as the OIC. I would be in charge and have two other officers reporting to me AF, USA to round out the group of URL needed to swear in new recruits. Yet there are still "early command" opportunities where you can be a CO prior to reaching O-5. Big difference is some Title 10 stuff and NJP.
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