Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Gray's Reef Expedition 2012
Mission Information

Wednesday: June 6, 2012
Log Day 7

LCDR Holly D. Jablonski
NOAA Corps / CO Ship Nancy Foster

LCDR Holly D. Jablonski

LCDR Holly D. Jablonski
(Photo: NOAA)

Lieutenant Commander Jablonski was commissioned in the NOAA Corps in July 1999. She graduated from Purdue University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering, and spent a few years working in the private sector before appointment. This experience ranged from restaurant management to environmental and engineering consulting.

During her 13 years in the NOAA Corps, Lieutenant Commander Jablonski has served aboard NOAA survey and research vessels acquiring four years of sea-going experience and three years of mobile duty. Her two prior sea assignments were as Junior Officer, NOAA Ship Whiting and Executive Officer, NOAA Ship Rude. Her three years of mobile duty were spent aboard the 56-foot NOAA Survey Vessel Bay Hydrographer, initially as Junior Officer in Charge and then taking over as Officer in Charge. Combined with temporary duty assignments, she has served in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Caribbean Sea, Chesapeake Bay, eastern Gulf of Mexico and Bering Sea. In April 2012, Lieutenant Commander Jablonski assumed Command of the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster, beginning her third sea assignment.

LCDR Holly Jablonski (l) - Incoming CO and LCDR Stephen Meador(r) Outgoing CO, at Change of Command - NOAA Ship Nancy Foster, April, 2012

LCDR Holly Jablonski (l) - Incoming CO and LCDR Stephen Meador(r) Outgoing CO, at Change of Command - NOAA Ship Nancy Foster, April, 2012.
(Photo: NOAA)

In between sea tours and mobile duty, Lieutenant Commander Jablonski has held two challenging shore assignments. Her first shore assignment was as a Staff Assistant for Office of Coast Survey's Hydrographic Surveys Division in Silver Spring, MD. Primary duties during this assignment included revising the Office of Coast Survey Field Procedures Manual for hydrographic surveys, providing formal justification to support replacement of the Bay Hydrographer, and creating a long-term hydrographic training proposal. Most recently, serving as Chief of the Officer Recruiting Branch in NOAA's Commissioned Personnel Center, she was responsible for coordinating and facilitating all NOAA Corps recruiting activities from career fairs and initial contacts to on-boarding new Basic Officer Training Classes. She also drove the development of an online recruiting system that has streamlined the recruiting process, significantly increasing production of this two person unit. During this assignment, LCDR Jablonski used her personal time to complete a Masters degree in Marine Engineering through the United States Merchant Marine Academy.

Personal awards and decorations include the Department of Commerce Bronze Medal, NOAA Corps Commendation Medal, NOAA Corps Special Achievement Medal (six awards), NOAA Unit Citation (four awards), USCG Special Operations Service Ribbon, and multiple NOAA sea-service / mobile duty ribbons.

Lieutenant Commander Jablonski resides in Harpers Ferry, W. Va. Her husband, Ron, splits his time between West Virginia and a residence in Howard Beach, NY.

NOAA Ship Nancy Foster Officers at Change of Command, April, 2012, (l to r) - ENS Jamie Park, C/M Donn Pratt, LCDR Stephen Meador, LCDR Holly Jablonski, LT Joshua Slater, ENS Kelsey Jeffers

NOAA Ship Nancy Foster Officers at Change of Command, April, 2012,
(l to r) - ENS Jamie Park, C/M Donn Pratt, LCDR Stephen Meador, LCDR Holly Jablonski, LT Joshua Slater, ENS Kelsey Jeffers.
(Photo: NOAA)

Q: When / Why did you join NOAA Corps?

A: I was appointed in the NOAA Corps in 1999. I discovered this unique opportunity my senior year of college (1994). What interested me was the diversity of assignments, rotating time between sea and shore, the structure of a military-style personnel system, and the job security that can be had if you work hard and do a good job. Unfortunately, I was only selected as an Alternate candidate and did not make it in.

After that I did some restaurant management work until finding a job in environmental/engineering consulting. I enjoyed this job as far as the quantity of field work involved (about 50% office / 50% field work) and learning lots of new things about environmental pollutants/remediation. However, I did not like being evaluated annually on how much money I brought into the company, nor did I like the dog-eat-dog nature of this industry. After about two years at that job, I reapplied to the NOAA Corps. With the professional experience added on to my resume, I was selected as a Primary candidate for the NOAA Corps' 97th Basic Officer Training Class.

Q: What are the requirements to become a NOAA Corps officer?

A: This can be found on the NOAA Corps website , along with additional recruiting information. To be eligible for appointment in the NOAA Corps, an applicant must meet the following criteria.

Q: Knowing that this is your first command, can you describe what it is like to take command during a busy field season and lead a set of projects as complex and challenging as we've done in Gray's Reef?

A: Exciting and busy! It is a challenge to learn any new ship, but with Nancy Foster's diversity of missions and capabilities this learning curve is steep. Fortunately for me, the science parties so far have been amazing. Flexibility is key in such a dynamic environment, and Gray's Reef has had a number of weather issues this year. Through them all, the science party has been positive and understanding that safety is paramount. They also came prepared with alternate goals to pursue if weather did not cooperate. Their planning and great attitude, combined with Nancy Foster's diverse capabilities, has enabled us to keep performing valuable work throughout the cruise. Nancy Foster's ability to maintain productivity through multi-mission objectives is very appealing to me, and worth pushing through the steep learning curve.

Q: What are some of the challenges you face as a female commander of a ship?

A: I believe I face pretty much the same challenges as any male commander of a ship. Taking responsibility for a ship, all persons aboard, and success of a scientific mission is a huge commitment. There really isn't any time for gender issues.

Q: What elements do you consider when making a decision about diving operations from the ship?

A: Any decision like this requires risk analysis and risk management. The work we do, or even just being at sea, involves inherent risk. Factors to consider include:

  • Can we safely launch the boats? Can we safely recover the boats?
  • Can we safely deploy divers? Can we safely recover divers?
  • Are weather conditions forecast to get better or worse?
  • What is the skill level of the boat cox'n? What are the skill levels of the divers?
  • How fatigued are the crew and the divers?
  • How critical is the diving mission?
  • Can the dive be completed another day?

I also believe it's important to get the perspective of your experts in these areas. The Chief Boatswain knows his boats and the skill level of his cox'ns. The Chief Scientist knows his/her divers' skill sets and the mission requirements. Once risks are identified and weighed, I just have to determine whether the overall risk is reasonable and manageable.

Q: What elements do you consider when making a decision to abort (temporary or permanent) an operation?

A: This is pretty much the same risk analysis/risk management process used to determine when diving operations are safe. If the risks are high, cannot be mitigated, and the operation is not critical then it just doesn't make sense.

Q: If you decide to seek shelter from a storm how do you decide where to go?

A: We receive weather information from a number of sources, including NOAA and the Navy. We also have access to various websites (thanks to VSat) and a satellite weather program. Navy also has an Optimum Ship Track Routing center that can help determine a safe route to evade a storm.
In general, we'd want to be out of the storm's path and in a sheltered port. Every NOAA ship has a hurricane/heavy weather plan that contains contacts for various ports where we might seek shelter. Which one we choose depends primarily on the storm track.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your job??

A: What I enjoy most about being a NOAA Corps officer is the diversity of assignments and rotation between shore and ship billets. This keeps me from getting bored with any particular job. It also ensures I continue to learn and be challenged throughout my career.
With respect to this specific job as CO, NOAA Ship Nancy Foster, I don't believe I've been in the assignment long enough to say specifically what I enjoy most. In more general terms, I'd say I love the potential I have to make a positive impact.


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