Victoria Obenchain: NOAA Corps Officers, July 3, 2018

Teacher at Sea Blog

Victoria Obenchain

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 25th-July 6th, 2018

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest, Alaska

Date: July 3, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

  • Lat.: 54o 53.1’ N
  • Long.: 162o 30.8’ W
  • Sea wave height: 1 foot
  • Wind speed: 29 knots
  • Wind direction: East, southeast
  • Temperature: 10.0oC
  • Visibility: 4 nautical miles
  • Sky Conditions: Overcast/Hazy

Personal Log

I am writing my personal log first this time, because I am just in awe of the beauty around me. We pulled in to Kodiak, AK on Sunday to pick up an Autonomous Surface Vehicle (ASV) which will be used later in the summer, and to refuel. The scenery here is just amazing, I spent the day on the Flying Bridge (the highest point I am allowed to stand) and just took in the sun, scenery and beauty. The water was a crystal royal blue, the mountains a bright green topped with white snow; and as we finally pulled out, fascinating sea life appeared all around us. From jellyfish, sea otters, porpoises, whales and puffins; it was beautiful. While I was not fast enough with my camera when an animal decided to grace my presence, here are some pictures of the scenery.

Science and Technology Log

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather, officers of the NOAA Corps work hard to keep our ship on course and accomplish the ship’s mission. The ship has a wide range of officers; senior officers who are within a few years of retirement, officers who have worked on multiple assignments and are working their way up the ranks to one day being a commanding officer (CO) of their own ship, down to junior officers who have just joined NOAA a few months ago and are still learning all they need to know to be a part of this amazing team.  They are an incredible example of respect, self discipline, perseverance and teamwork.

Officers on the bridge of NOAA Ship Fairweather

Today, the newer junior officers had a chance to take part in a docking and launching ship simulation. The XO designed a Playstation ship game to have the officers practice commands for the rudder, bow thrusters, and forward and back engines. The junior officers had to then try docking, turning, walking and driving the ship in different sea conditions. The officers yelled out the commands and the other players responded accordingly, much like they would do as an Officer on Duty. The ship on the screen then would move as it would in the sea. Junior officers could then see how a ship would respond to their calls. Docking and launching are done very little once on a mission, so junior officers might not get too many chances to practice this important skill. This seemed to get everyone a bit involved.

Every few years, officers rotate between ship deployments and land assignments. While an officer may really love their current assignment or position, this change in location and assignment allows them to learn new skills and develop as NOAA officers. NOAA’s commitment to science and technology has attracted some of the most passionate and scientifically-minded individuals to this career path; developing their skills and challenging them to grow within their field seems to be something NOAA has excelled at. On board NOAA Ship Fairweather, officers are constantly learning, pushing or supporting each other and following a chain of command with the highest respect.  I am constantly impressed with their knowledge of the ship, the engines, native sea life, navigational skills, safety protocols, survey planning (yes they do surveys, too!) and patience, especially with a very interested and inquisitive Teacher at Sea.

ENS Lawler and ENS Junge keeping us on course.

NOAA Corps is the smallest of the seven uniform services in our country. NOAA’s mission has a scientific focus, so all officers have an undergraduate degree in a scientific field and some level of science expertise. While many are excited to join this amazing team, there are some challenges outside the work itself. A ship assignment is not the easiest of jobs; to be in a self-contained area which serves as both your work and your home, one that may offer you little privacy and connections to the outside world when cell service is not available or wifi is slow, and yet together they lift each other up, help each other succeed and move past disagreements quickly, as they are all going through some of the same issues.

I have spent some time talking to a few of the newer officers about why they joined NOAA Corps. They are all so passionate about their job, yet, only one of them, when they were in middle school or high school, even thought this would be where they are today.  For time and space reasons, not to mention for my students’ attention spans, I will paraphrase a few of them below.

What was appealing about joining NOAA Corps?

-I really wanted to go to sea, and do science. I didn’t want to be sitting behind a desk. – ENS Kevin Tennyson

-NOAA Corps moves you around every few years, between land and sea assignments. This allows you to never get stagnant in your skills, you are always learning. – LT Steve Moulton

-Before this I was in the Coast Guard reserves and working on my science graduate degree, and this seemed like a good next step. What cemented it for me was when I got to go to Antarctica for some research on a ship for 37 days, it made me realize this was what I wanted to do. -ENS William Abbott

What are the best days like on the ship and in NOAA Corps?

-Driving the ship in cool places and in interesting, challenging passes. – ENS Patrick Lawler

-I like doing the small boat surveys; small boat operations and data collection, and getting diving practice in when possible. – ENS Peter Siegenthaler

-Just being on the bridge, orienting yourself with where you are, and figuring out the big picture when it comes to the ship. – ENS William Abbott

-Being on the bridge with your co-workers, figuring things out together, it can be really fun. -ENS Jeff Calderon

What challenges are there to working on the ship and in NOAA Corps?

-It can be a lot of pressure to perform your job well. You are responsible for those on board. – ENS Kevin Tennyson

-Being on a ship for so long, it starts to feel small, and you miss things like gardening and just the land in general. – ENS Linda Junge

-There is a lot of electronic equipment to become acquainted with and know how to work without thinking about. – ENS Cabot Zucker

What are you looking forward to in your NOAA Career?

-My next assignment is in Maryland, I’ll be doing small boat surveys and mapping in the Chesapeake Bay. It will be nice to be closer to home. – ENS Patrick Lawler

– Hopefully getting sent to Antarctica, they have a station there. It would be cool to work there for a bit. – ENS Jackson Vanfleet-Brown

-Hopefully going to dive school. I also like that throughout this job I will be constantly learning. – ENS Cabot Zucker

-I hope to be getting into pilot training/flight school within a few years.- ENS Jeff Calderon

What did you want to be growing up or what did you see yourself doing when you were older?

-Totally wanted to be a baseball player… or I guess something with Marine Biology or Marine Science, doing field research. – ENS Patrick Lawler

-Was very interested in being a pilot for a bit of a time. Sometimes I was unsure, but definitely knew I wanted to travel! – ENS Linda Junge

-I wanted to be on a ship, my Mom and Godmother worked on ships, this was kind of where I saw myself. – ENS Jackson Vanfleet-Brown

– The stereotypical mad scientist. Yep, that’s what I thought. – ENS Kevin Tennyson

Is there anything else you would tell someone about this job, in particular some adorable science loving, students who maybe have not heard much about this type of career?

-This is a lot of fun! It’s a good mix of science, active and outside work, and you get to see the world. –ENS Kevin Tennyson

– I definitely did not know about this growing up! I would say to look at Maritime Academies for those who might be interested. There are a lot of ship jobs out there that pay well and offer you fun interesting work that is not behind a desk. – ENS Peter Siegenthaler

– A ship is a cool environment to work in, not just for NOAA, any ship job can be great. If you are interested in research options to more exotic or isolated places, employers like those who have ship work skills. Those people can usually be resourceful and diffuse stressful situations; because, well you have to be able to. And it’s cool… so why not be on a ship? – ENS Linda Junge

– This job is all about adventure, it will definitely challenge you! – LT Steve Moulton

One last thing: I got a very short video of some porpoises, check them out!

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