NOAA 99-052
Contact: Jeanne Kouhestani

Fields is first woman, and first African American, to hold this position

Rear Admiral Evelyn J. Fields today formally assumed command of the Office of NOAA Corps Operations and the NOAA Commissioned Corps. She is the first woman and first African American to hold this position.

Secretary of Commerce William M. Daley, who oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said, "I am proud to have such a visionary and outstanding officer as Rear Admiral Evelyn Fields lead the NOAA Corps, which so recently distinguished itself through courage, expertise, and professionalism during a national tragedy. Rear Adm. Fields has broken a lot of new ground throughout her career with the Corps, and has a proven track record as a manager and leader both at sea and ashore. She was the first African American to be commissioned in the Corps and the first woman to command an ocean-going federal ship. Under her guidance, while deputy administrator of NOAA's National Ocean Service, NOAA's nautical charting mission took a quantum leap forward. From technology improvements in data acquisition capabilities to development of raster and vector charts and improved production time, NOAA is now able to create top quality charts much faster than before."

NOAA is the environmental science agency whose ships Rude and Whiting were called into service to assist in the search for the missing aircraft of John F. Kennedy Jr. It was the hydrographic survey ship Rude, under the management of the NOAA Corps, that located the aircraft wreckage.

President Bill Clinton nominated Capt. Fields for the position of NOAA Corps director on Jan. 19. The Senate confirmed her nomination on May 6; she was promoted to rear admiral, upper half, by NOAA Administrator D. James Baker the next day, and began serving as director at that time. Today's assumption of command ceremony was formal recognition of her new position.

"The NOAA Corps and its civilian operations office are integral to the success of NOAA's mission," Daley said. "We've just witnessed what a valuable asset they are to the nation during a time of crisis. But it's just as important to know that each day these
dedicated professionals help improve our understanding of the environment, whether charting the ocean floor for safe navigation, flying through hurricanes to improve our prediction capabilities, or conducting fishery resource assessments. I have every confidence that Admiral Fields will take the already strong NOAA Corps and cadre of civilians under her command and make them even better."

Fields began her career with NOAA in 1972 as a civilian cartographer at the Atlantic Marine Center in Norfolk, Va., and in1973, shortly after NOAA began recruiting women, was the first African-American woman to join the NOAA Corps. She is now the most senior woman in the Corps.

During her 26 years as a NOAA Corps officer, Fields has served in a variety of staff and operational billets with increasing responsibilities. Most notably, she was the first woman to serve as commanding officer on a NOAA ship, the McArthur, as well as the first woman to command a federal ship for an extended period within the nation's uniformed services. She was selected to be the second U.S. Exchange Hydrographer with Canada. Most recently, she served as deputy assistant administrator of NOAA's National Ocean Service.

The Office of NOAA Corps Operations, composed of civilians and commissioned officers, operates and manages the agency's fleet of research ships and aircraft; officers also support NOAA programs through diverse shoreside positions. The NOAA Corps is the nation's smallest uniformed service. Officers—all scientists or engineers—provide NOAA with an important blend of operational, management and technical skills that support the agency's programs at sea, in the air, and ashore.