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Chad Cary close-up Commander Chad Cary. Photo credit: NOAA.
Chad Cary at sea with a NOAA vessel in the background Cary with the NOAA Ship Bell Shimada in the background. Photo credit: NOAA

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May 19, 2017
Contact: Shelley Dawicki

NOAA Corps 100th Anniversary

Talking with: Commander Chad Cary

"A career full of unique challenges, lots of sea time and a wide variety of environmental experiences"

Chad Cary was born in Cordova, Alaska and graduated from high school in Juneau, Alaska. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he received a bachelor of science degree in environmental science, and earned a master of science degree in geography from Portland State University. He has also received a certificate in legislative studies from Georgetown University.

How did you learn about the NOAA Corps and what attracted you to it?

I was a senior in college and still not sure what I wanted to do after college when I decided to take a road trip to Atlanta to attend an all environmental career fair.  Just before this road trip to Atlanta I had visited the UNC Chapel Hill marine station in Beaufort, NC where we sampled fish from a trawler and spent two days on the ocean.  I remember leaving the field trip thinking this was what I needed to pursue.

In Atlanta I circled the booths offering a wide variety of environmental related positions before I found the NOAA Corps recruiters.  Behind the two members in uniform I saw pictures of research ships, hurricane hunters, divers and satellites and was immediately intrigued.  After talking with the recruiter on site, I scheduled an interview for later that day. The opportunity to travel, especially in Alaska, learn new aspects of environmental science, wear a uniform, and contribute to the NOAA mission convinced me that I had found the right career.

Where have you been stationed and for how long during your time in the corps?

After Basic Officer Training Class 100 in 2001, I was assigned as a Junior Officer on the NOAA Ship Miller Freeman based in Seattle, Washington from 2001-2003, but we worked mostly in Alaska. I went ashore from 2003-2006 as a hydrologist at the Northwest River Forecast Center in Portland, Oregon, and then back to sea as Executive Officer/Commanding Office from 2006 to 2009 on the NOAA Ship John N. Cobb , which was also based in Seattle, but worked exclusively in Southeast Alaska.

I switched coasts in 2009 to serve my next duty station as Executive Officer at the National Weather Service National Centers for Environmental Prediction Environmental Modeling Center in Camp Springs, MD. In 2011, I became the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) liaison for a year in the Program Coordination Office at NOAA Headquarters in Washington D.C. 

I came to the NEFSC in 2012 as Executive Officer on the NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow, which is based in  Newport, RI,  and works for the NEFSC mostly in the North Atlantic. Since 2015 I have been Acting Division Chief for Operations, Management, and Information at the NEFSC, based at the Woods Hole Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. Next year I will be heading back to sea again for my fourth sea assignment in the NOAA fleet. 

What do you most like or enjoy about being in the NOAA Corps?

I love exploring new challenges every few years. As a NOAA Corps officer you get the chance to enter an office, contribute as much as possible during a two or three-year period and then transition to another position. While it is not always readily apparent, offices need turnover to certain positions and fresh perspectives. They need individuals that can lead change, build relationships and execute difficult tasks in a short period of time. I really like the people that work for NOAA. Today, some of my best friends work for NOAA. The NOAA mission is meaningful and satisfying. At the end of each year, there are specific things you can say your organization did that made a difference. 

What have been the biggest challenges you have faced?

The biggest challenge I have faced in the NOAA Corps is working across NOAA programs to clearly articulate the importance of the work conducted.  NOAA is composed of the National Weather Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (NOAA Research), the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS), National Ocean Service (NOS) , and the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO). NOAA Corps officers command NOAA's fleet of research and survey vessels and aircraft, and serve within each of these line offices. We fully understand the great work we do and the value it provides to the nation, but we struggle sometimes to break that down and communicate the message in a way that everyone can relate to. It’s a big agency with a very broad mission.

What are common questions people ask you about your job?

What is the NOAA Corps?  This small service is not very well known. I probably explain it to someone new every month!

If you are active, do you think you will stay in the NOAA Corps until you retire?

Yes – I am committed to the career and will continue to serve as long as I am healthy and can continue to meet the needs of the service. 

What is the best advice you can give to someone thinking about the NOAA Corps as a career option?

If you want a career full of unique challenges, lots of sea time and a wide variety of environmental experiences – join the NOAA Corps!

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