News: New beginnings: NOAA officer training program moves to CGA campus
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina was one of the most destructive and costliest natural disasters in U.S. history. Four years later, the Deepwater Horizon oil-drilling rig exploded, creating the largest offshore oil spill in the nation’s history. Both the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were first responders to each of these incidents.
The NOAA officer corps provides a cadre of professionals trained in engineering, earth sciences, oceanography, meteorology, fisheries science and other related disciplines. The officers are trained for positions of leadership and command in the operation of ships and aircraft; in the conduct of field projects on land, at and under the sea and in the air. They manage NOAA observational and support facilities; as members or leaders of research efforts; and manage various organizational elements throughout NOAA.
With the Coast Guard and NOAA working so closely together in the field, the decision to train both OCS and NOAA together made sense. As the trainees are together for 18 weeks, they will make bonds, which will spur more partnerships and collaborations, predicted NOAA Lt. Cmdr. G. Mark Miller.
Miller is the NOAA Corps Officer Training School chief and has been an officer in the service for almost 14 years.
Previously, NOAA trainees had been training at Kings Point Maritime Academy in Kings Point, N.Y. But, when the Global Maritime and Transportation School closed this past spring, the corps was left with making the choice to run their own program or collaborate with the Coast Guard.
“It just makes sense,” was the consensus among the NOAA officer corps to integrate the newest class of officer trainees with the U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s Officer Candidate School, said Miller.
On Aug. 18, 2012, 12, NOAA officer corps trainees reported to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., for an 18-week training course that ends on Dec. 21, 2012.
NOAA Commissioned Corps Officers are an integral part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Officers can be found operating one of NOAA’s 19 ships or 12 aircraft to provide support to meet NOAA’s missions. Duties and areas of operations can range from launching a weather balloon at the South Pole, to conducting hydrographic or fishery surveys in Alaska, to maintaining buoys in the Pacific.
The NOAA trainees now also have peers they can train alongside with.
While training at Kings Point, the NOAA trainees were segregated from the rest of the campus. Training with OCS will allow the NOAA trainees to collaborate with other trainees who are older and are college graduates.
The principal objectives of the NOAA corps officer training have stayed the same, said Miller. They will develop maritime and nautical skills with emphasis on shipboard operations, organization and management, small boat handling, marine navigation, ship handling, seamanship and related subjects. The major changes to the curriculum are the addition of leadership and management and leadership and writing courses offered at the Coast Guard Academy.
The culture of the Coast Guard Academy is different than Kings Point, said Miller.
“NOAA trainees are feeling the pangs of having a lot more supervision than previous classes,” said U.S. Coast Guard Academy Officer Candidate School instructor Lt. James Bendle. “They would have four supervisors at Kings Point - now they have 17. The microscope is closer now. It’s more challenging now than previous classes.”
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Deputy Director Rear Adm. David Score takes a tour of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Officer Candidate and NOAA barracks, Oct. 2, 2012. The Coast Guard's Officer Candidate School and NOAA joined efforts and resources to integrate NOAA training at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in June 2012. U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Petty Officer 3rd Class Diana Honings.
“As far as moving to the academy, it’s been remarkably smooth,” Miller praised. “There are minor issues we are figuring out, but they are things OCS staff and NOAA corps officer training staff are working on.”
For future classes, NOAA trainees will report on the same day as the OCS candidates and class will be extended from 18 weeks to 20 weeks to allow for more integration into OCS courses like sailing on U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Eagle, damage control training, Rules of the Road navigation training and testing and team building obstacle courses. NOAA corps officer trainees will also be more involved with OCS in barracks life such as standing watch, cleaning schedules and inspections.
“We’ll always have two distinct accession programs so the service history and culture do not get diluted,” said U.S. Coast Guard Academy OCS Chief Cmdr. Zachary Pickett. “But, both NOAA and OCS have common bonds of leadership, character and service that all officers can learn together.”
NOAA’s move to the academy has not only been a change for the NOAA trainees, but for the Coast Guard officer candidates as well.
Integrating NOAA was a challenge according to Bendle. “We had to prep the barracks, move the library, offices and our Master at Arms locker (cleaning supplies room) to make room for NOAA. We had to redesign our footprint on marching around the academy and executing daily operations and plans.”
After all the hard work by both NOAA and Coast Guard staff and faculty, the move turned out to be advantageous, said Bendle.
“Our partnership with NOAA and OCS was the right thing to do at the right time,” said Pickett. “It was the perfect opportunity to reach out and host a service that we have a lot in common with.”
When the next disaster of national significance affects our country, students from both the Coast Guard and NOAA who’ve attended the new joint classes will have a head-start on their counterparts in the inter-agency cooperation necessary for a successful response.