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CHIPS Articles: NOAA Officer Takes Turn as Navy Oceanographer

NOAA Officer Takes Turn as Navy Oceanographer
By George Lammons, Naval Information Forces Public Affairs - May 15, 2018
STENNIS SPACE CENTER, Miss. (NNS) — Lt. Laura Dwyer looks like any other young Navy oceanography officer working with the Naval Oceanography Mine Warfare Center (NAVOCEANMIWCEN) operating unmanned vehicles and analyzing sonar bottom data to help find mines. She wears the uniform and is a division officer and deploys and just had her three-year tour extended six months.

"I lead 10 Sailors in the operation of unmanned underwater vehicles and post-mission analysis in expeditionary mine countermeasure companies (ExMCM Co) and mine counter measures (MCM) operations worldwide," she said.

Except, she's not a Navy officer.

Dwyer, recently promoted to lieutenant, is a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Corps Officer serving with the NAVOCEANMIWCEN, an operational Navy command.

Her assignment underscores the long, close relationship that NOAA and Naval Oceanography have enjoyed. They both forecast weather and ocean conditions - NOAA for the U.S.; the Navy for Navy assets and operations overseas. That long association also includes the National/Navy Ice Center, a joint Navy/NOAA agency commanded by a Naval Oceanography officer with a NOAA employee as the agency's senior civilian and deputy director. NOAA Corps officers have been assigned to Naval Oceanography staffs. The relationship is formalized in a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), recently renewed for another five years.

But until recently, NOAA Corps officers had not been assigned to operational oceanography commands like NAVOCEANMIWCEN. Dwyer's predecessor in the billet, LCDR Jon French, was the first NOAA Corps Officer at NAVOCEANMIWCEN.

Dwyer serves as a division officer for an unmanned underwater vehicle platoon. She has deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet with an unmanned underwater vehicle platoon earlier in her tour. Her platoon deployed to 5th Fleet works with units of the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command in the mine-hunting effort. And she apparently has embraced her assignment.

"I'm the second NOAA Officer to be attached to NOMWC (NAVOCEANMIWCEN). I'm the first to complete Expeditionary Combat Skills (ECS) and deploy as a UUV Platoon Division Officer for a six-month deployment as part of an ExMCM company. I've deployed domestically and internationally, participating in exercises in San Diego; Anchorage; Panama City Beach, Florida; San Clemente Island, California; Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi; Kingdom of Bahrain; South Korea; and Spain."

NOAA Corps, one of the seven uniformed services of the United States, traces its roots to 1807 when President Thomas Jefferson created a new federal agency whose mission was to chart the nation's coastal waters to ensure that ships could move civilians, troops, and materiel safely. NOAA Corps Officers work on land, in the air, and on the sea providing products and services that support maritime domain awareness; help ensure safe passage of commercial and military traffic on our nation's waterways; warn mariners, aviators, and the public of severe weather; aid search and rescue efforts; and conserve and protect our natural resources.

The Navy-NOAA MOA recently renewed is designed to conduct personnel exchanges between the two services to leverage expertise for the benefit of each agency and to provide developmental assignments.

French, the first NOAA Corps Officer at NAVOCEANMIWCEN, had sailed on a hydrographic ship and was able to bring his knowledge and understanding of the ocean environment to help stand up the data fusion cell (DFC), which collects and process the all the data collected by various sources in a mine warfare operation. The DFC excels at creating tactical environmental analysis and providing Intelligence Preparation of the Operational Environment.

Dwyer's background with NOAA was on a fisheries ship. "Our shipboard operations relied heavily upon knowing and understanding the operational environment to ensure the safety of the crew and ensure the best data collection to complete the mission," she said. "My knowledge has a direct correlation and impact on the UUV side as a division officer on missions to increase the safety, effectiveness and efficiency on the water. My focus is also learning about the emerging technologies and potential scientific packages that can be used by NOAA and the UUVs to increase data collection availability onboard our ships."

NAVOCEANMIWCEN conducts ocean bottom surveys, oceanographic assessments, and data fusion for tactical execution of mine hunting. Certified NAVOCEANMIWCEN teams deploy in direct support of Global Mine Warfare forces.

"I get to work with an amazing group of Sailors daily where we learn from each other's strengths and overcome our weaknesses. I've had the opportunity to develop into a stronger, more competent and confident officer with the help from the Sailors and the great mentorship from NOMWC (NAVOCEANMIWCEN). Everything I learn on this assignment will help me in the future as OPS and XO on any NOAA ship," Dwyer said.

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