NOAA TAS Lisa Battig
Aboard Fairweather Alaskan Hydrographic Survey Ship
September 8, 2017
Location: Coast Guard Base, Kodiak Alaska
Weather from the bridge: 48o F, 1-2 knot wind from, Completely overcast,
Executive Officer Michael Gonsalves in his overwhelming (because of all the things he does) office.
An Interview with XO (Executive Officer) Michael Gonsalves
How long have you been with NOAA?
I’ve been here for 13 years…I’ve been on the ship for about 6 months.
What brought you into NOAA?
Certainly I’ve always had an interest in the ocean and in the environment. One of my undergraduate degrees was in oceanography. So I think that’s what steered me towards NOAA. My other undergraduate degree was in math, so I liked the idea of being able to apply math in an environmental setting.
As a side note, XO Gonsalves also has a MS in Applied Math and a PhD in Marine Science
What is it that you do – what is the job of an executive officer?
The Executive Officer position is second in command. So if anything should happen to the CO (commanding officer) I would assume command. Though that is a contingency; that is not my actual job… All administrative work goes through me. For example, the budget, payroll, travel, performance, disciplinary actions, scheduling, arranging all port logistics, …getting augmenters to come out to the ship to fill in… I do everything to allow everyone else to do their job. My job is not the mission. My job is keeping the ship safe and logistically ready to execute the mission.
This is typically a step on the path to becoming a CO, is that correct?
Typically, that’s right. Usually the average NOAA Corps officer will have four sea assignments. Basically every five years, give or take, they will be going back to sea. The first will be as a junior officer, an Ensign. The second is as an Operations Officer who will be coordinating the mission [of that ship]. On the hydro ships that means coordinating the hydrographic science. The third sea tour will be as an Executive Officer and the fourth, around year 15, will be as a Commanding Officer.
I know that NOAA Corp officers spend roughly two years at sea and then three at a land billet. So what has your path been thus far?
I lingered in nearly all of my assignments by a little bit. My first assignment was here, on Fairweather, just after she was reactivated. It was a very skeletal crew. I had opportunities to be trained quickly. We only had two launches at the time. There were so few boats, there were so few people trained in doing things, it was in the crew’s best interest to qualify me because very few people were qualified to do anything.
My first land assignment was at the University of Southern Mississippi. It was a double billet. Number one, it was full-time university training. There was also working with an inter-agency group, The Naval Oceanographic Office and the Army Corps of Engineers, both also conduct survey operations. It’s a nice inter-agency group with similar issues and problems and we can share best practices and things like that. Their particular niche is airborne laser bathymetry, so they are working from an airplane.
Back to University of Southern Mississippi, what was the degree you were pursuing?
Initially it was a master’s degree as a one year program. As it happened, there was a project that I could work on of suitable interest to the joint LIDAR center. We all agreed that I could continue to work on it. The university felt that it was dissertation worthy. So I received my Ph.D.
What was your second tour at sea?
My second tour was as an Operations Officer on Fairweather’s sister ship, Ranier. All three of my assignments thus far have been on hydro ships. There is something to be said for that. It’s a little bit tricky to bring someone in from the outside. It’s a steep learning curve.
My second land assignment was working for the NOAA Operations Branch in Washington D.C. This is a part of the Hydrographic Surveys Division. They govern the field units on the large scale. So I was making the big decisions for what the hydro ships would be responsible for during that particular season. We determined what type of coverage would be needed in each area. That is then the information that the Operations Officer on the ship is working from.
What made NOAA so attractive to you?
Giving service to the US government was a big part. I happily pay my taxes. I appreciate having a police force and knowing that my meat is safe. So that was definitely a big part of it. But NOAA also has a unique mission that I found attractive. And the variety is important to me – just knowing that every couple of years the assignment will change.
And what is it that keeps you going while you’re out here at sea? Is there anything you miss or are looking forward to when this sea tour is complete?
People are tricky and a lot of my job involves personnel. The whole job keeps me going, really. I do miss Washington, D.C. – the public transport, the museums and the shows. There are so many things to do and see. There are a lot of jobs in D.C. and I am making clear that is a desire for the next land billet.
Junior officers, ENS Calderon and ENS Carroll on the bridge working on the computer navigation system. Both also are intimately involved with the surveying program.
A quick one question survey for the junior officers on the ship… Why did you choose a hydrographic survey ship? A collection of the answers I received are below:
- To have the opportunity to be much more deeply involved with the science
- My background is math or math/mapping
- To be in Alaska
- This is a route to pursue flying with NOAA Corps
- Didn’t want the technical skills developed in prior work to go to waste
- Had already worked on fisheries ships with Department of Fish and Wildlife
As with all officers in our uniformed services; NOAA Corps officers have had degrees conferred prior to service. Most of the degrees are math and science. The hydrographic survey ships tend to attract the math, physics, and geological science degrees for obvious reasons. Many then go on to pursue advanced degrees as did LCDR Gonsalves, the focus of my interview.
An interview with Kathy Brandts and Tyrone Baker; Ships Stewards
How long have you been cooking for NOAA Ships and what were you doing prior?
Chief Cook Tyrone Baker, master of the grill
T: I cooked for the Navy for 20 years out of school. When I finished, I went to work for a casino for a while – still cooking. Then NOAA called me up (he had put in an application a while before and forgotten about it) and here I am! That was back in 2005.
K: I started out in the Coast Guard…I wanted to be a bosun [boatswain] mate, which is what everyone wants to do. But it was going to take a long time to make grade, and hardly anyone wants to be a cook because it’s a lot of work. I decided to go through their school, which was two months. That was when it started, in ’94. My first ship assignment was the Polar Star, which was an ice breaker.
Kathy Brandts, Queen of the kitchen – also known as the Chief Steward. This is the day she let me cook a bit with her.
Kathy, why did you get out of the Coast Guard and what finally got you to NOAA?
K: All of the land assignments were being contracted out to [private companies]. So I was never going to get a chance to cook on land. So I decided that wasn’t for me. I got out after my four and a half years. I landed in Seattle, and that’s where NOAA was based. I had heard about them when I was in the Coast Guard. I knew they were hiring, talked with somebody, and essentially got hired on the spot. And I was in Alaska! I started out in the augmentation pool, I worked on Discovery and then on Ranier. Then a permanent position came up and I jumped at it. I didn’t really get along with the Chief Steward, though – so I left NOAA and worked for Keystone Ski Resorts in Colorado at their stables. [She spent several years on land at that point.]
The Chief Steward on Ranier tracked me down [in Colorado] and asked me to come back. There was talk of Fairweather coming back online and I wanted the Chief Steward job. I didn’t have the experience at that point, so I took a year off and went to Culinary School. I applied for the Chief Steward job on Fairweather and got it. I was on Fairweather from 2004-2013. [She is now the Chief Steward on Ruben Lasker, another NOAA ship, but is helping out on this leg]
Why be a ship cook?
T: I’ve been so many places and seen so many things I wouldn’t have otherwise seen. I’ve really been all around the world. I’ve been in almost every port of the world. How many people can say that? I wouldn’t trade it.
K: I was a restaurant cook for a while. I hated it. You’re either going 9 million miles an hour or there’s nothing. There’s a lot of alcoholism and drug use in that industry and they live a different life. The service industry… (laughs). And people are either sailors or they’re not. I think, much to my chagrin, I found it out after I quit the Coast Guard.
T: Yes, I agree. I’m a sailor. It was why I joined the Navy.
What are the best and most rewarding things about what you do?
T: I just really like it. I enjoy the cooking. I enjoy the work.
K: I like good food and I like when people are appreciative of what I do. And we’re all stuck out here together, why not make it the best that it can be. Meal time is what you look forward to when you’re on a ship.
GVA Dave – he just joined Fairweather and was actually helping out the stewards on this leg, but now he’s where he’s supposed to be in the deck department.
Crew member of the Day: Electronic Technician (ET) Charlie Goertzen
Charlie Goertzen, tech guy extraordinaire!
So today as we pulled into Kodiak, the news came in that the long awaited new televisions were here. Immediately, Charlie was notified. And he will work hours to make sure that each crew member has a working television in their room.
He is the guy that keeps the connectivity going in pretty difficult conditions. He has to spend a lot of time keeping various computer components talking to each other. He has to content with all of the complaints about lack of bandwidth, slowness of applications, slowness of wireless – and he does his best to keep things optimized and clean and efficient all the time. Two of the things he loves the most are the ocean and working with electronic components. He gets both of them all the time!