Objectives: Medicine is a practice characterized by ongoing learning, and unique qualities of the operational learning environment (LE) may affect learner needs. When physicians move between differing practice environments learners may encounter situations for which they are unprepared. Using a conceptual framework specific to the LE, we therefore asked the following research question: what is the difference in LE for Navy emergency medicine (EM) physicians who practice in U.S. hospitals but serve an operational environment, and how do these differences shape their learning needs?. Methods: We interviewed Navy EM physicians who recently deployed to explore their perceptions of the deployed LE, how it differed from the LE they practice in stateside, and the perceived effect this difference had on their learning needs. We used the constant comparative method to gather and analyze data until thematic saturation was achieved. Results: We interviewed 12 physicians and identified six interconnected themes consistent with the LE framework in the literature: 1) patient care is central to the learning experience; 2) professional isolation versus connectedness; 3) a sense of meaningful practice engages the learner in the LE; 4) physicians as educators shape the LE; 5) team trust impacts the LE; and 6) the larger military organization impacts the LE. Conclusions: Our themes span the conceptual framework put forth by previous work and did not find themes outside this framework. These interconnected themes describe the difference in LE between the stateside and deployed setting and impact the learning needs of Navy EM physicians. These results inform strategies to position the deployed medical unit for success.