“I think it’s really vital that NOAA has a diverse workforce. It should look like America, as far as I’m concerned.” - RADM Evelyn Fields, NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, retired
First African American woman in NOAA Corps
RADM Evelyn Fields began her career at NOAA as a cartographer in 1972, only two years after the agency formed. Less than a year later, the NOAA Corps began accepting women into its commissioned officer ranks, and she became the first African American woman to join. Her first sea assignment was on NOAA Ship Mt. Mitchell, a hydrographic survey vessel (now decommissioned) with a home port in Norfolk. Through the years, all but two of Fields’ assignments at sea and on shore were within the National Ocean Service and related to nautical charting. Fields also served as chief of the Hydrographic Survey Division and administrative officer of the National Geodetic Survey.
First woman to command a NOAA ship
In 1989, Fields was selected to serve as the commanding officer of NOAA Ship McArthur, an oceanographic and fisheries research vessel based in Seattle, Washington. She was the first female officer to command a NOAA ship and the first African American woman to command a ship for an extended period within the nation’s uniformed services. “Being selected to command McArthur was a real high point in my career. It’s the kind of assignment you look for, and it never occurred to me to turn it down because I’m a woman,” she said.
First woman and first African American to serve as Director of the NOAA Corps and OMAO
Fields reached the top of her profession in 1999 when she became a rear admiral and director of both the NOAA Corps and the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO). She was the first woman and the first African American to hold this position, as well as the first woman to become a NOAA Corps rear admiral. As director, she was responsible for the management, maintenance and operation of NOAA’s fleet of research ships and aircraft and for the officers who serve not only on these platforms, but throughout various program offices within NOAA. Rear Admiral Fields retired in late 2002.
Hear from RADM Evelyn Fields in this video: