Maria Madrigal: Highlighting the NOAA Corps, April 18, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Maria Madrigal

NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

April 2-18, 2012

Mission: Comparison of Fishery Independent Sampling Methods

Geographical area of cruise: Tutuila, American Samoa

Science & Technology Log: April 18, 2012


One of the first individuals I met when I came on-board the Oscar Elton Sette was Operations Officer, Justin Keesee. Not only was he friendly but he also looked like he knew what he was doing. So, who is he and what does he do?

Lieutenant Justin Keesee
Lieutenant Justin Keesee

The NOAA research vessels are operated by commissioned officers that are part of the NOAA Corps. The NOAA Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States and is administered by the Department of Commerce. The other uniformed services are the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. “NOAA Officers can be found operating one of NOAA’s 19 ships or 12 aircraft to provide support to meet NOAA’s missions.”

Justin’s knowledge of the NOAA Corps didn’t come until after a few years of experience working in Alaska where he was a fisheries observer collecting data on Pollock and Pacific Cod. Periodically, he would travel back to NOAA’s Western Regional Center’s Sand Point Facility in Seattle, Washington for debriefing meetings with a FMA (Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis) staff member and thoroughly reviewing the data collected. He worked as an observer over the span of five years.

He learned about the NOAA Corps when he reconnected with a college friend that joined the NOAA Corps right after earning his undergraduate degree. Having a degree within the major fields of study “that align with NOAA’s scientific and technological activities” is one of the educational requirements to apply to the NOAA Corps. Justin studied marine biology and earned his degree from the Florida Institute of Technology. His interest in science and the appeal of working for a government agency drove his decision to apply.

Lt Justin Keesee on watch
Lt Justin Keesee on watch

He confided that he was more interested in the science aspect of the job and he didn’t really know what he was getting into until he began his basic training. He described it as an intensive course in piloting a ship; the training ranged from learning navigational rules to mastering his knot tying skills. After completing basic training, officers are assigned to a NOAA ship for three years and then are appointed to a shore assignment for two years, which varies from working in a laboratory to doing administrative work. Officers are then on a continual rotation between ship and shore assignments. NOAA Corps officers are eligible for all military benefits including the new GI bill which delivers military education benefits to not only veterans but also active duty personnel. Keesee is taking advantage of this opportunity and working towards earning a master’s degree in business administration from his undergraduate alma mater.

Officer Keesee was first assigned to the NOAA ship Oregon II  based out of Pascagoula, Mississipi.  Before arriving on the Oscar Elton Sette, he also completed his first shore assignment at the Panama City Lab which is one of the five laboratories that conducts research as part of the Southeast Fisheries Science Centers. He currently serves as the Operations Officer, which means he is responsible for communicating with the scientific staff and the ship’s crew to ensure all needs are met and procedures are carried out safely. He has two four-hour shifts on the bridge as the officer on watch. The bridge is basically the control room that has a clear view of the ship’s path and holds all the necessary equipment to safely navigate the ship including nautical charts and various radar screens. During this watch time, he is responsible for the overall safe navigation of the ship ensuring that the ship is maintaining a safe distance from other vessels, tracking any weather patterns, maintaining communication with any small boats that may be out on the water, and ensuring any scientific equipment isn’t damaged by other boats. One perk of his job, is that he has a great view from his office.

When asked “if you you only knew then, what you know now what advice would you give yourself” his response was “to relax a little and enjoy my time with NOAA.” He further explained that he sometimes takes things too seriously but it is only because he wants to do a great job. He communicates well with the scientific staff and holds the respect of the ship’s crew. I’m only a visitor on this ship but it is evident that Officer Keesee has a great work ethic and represents the caliber of the personnel that comprise the NOAA Corps.

NOAA Corps Officers
NOAA Corps Officers

There were a total of five NOAA Corps officers aboard the Oscar Elton Sette during the research cruise. The ship normally has four officers but due to the busy workload associated with the comparison study, LCDR Colin Little was added to the ship’s crew.

NOAA Corps Officers
NOAA Corps Officers, (Pictured from left to right): Lieutenant Commander Kurt Dreflak, Lieutenant Justin Keesee, Ensign Daniel Langis, Lieutenant Commander Colin Little & Chief Mate Richard Patana (front) Ensign Justin Ellis

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