villard-howe in Tongass Narrows
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Then an Ensign, Villard-Howe on the NOAA Ship Rainier in Tongass Narrows near Ketchikan, Alaska
needlegunning in the bilge
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Always work to do: Needlegunning in the bilge. (Credit: Carl Rhodes, NEFSC/NOAA)
Villard-Howe on the Gloria Michelle
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Gloria Michelle's New Officer in Charge, Lt. Anna-Liza Villard Howe (Credit: Shelley Dawicki, NEFSC/NOAA)
Villard-Howe with dechand Bill Sutter
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Hauling in the net with deckhand Bill Sutter. (Credit: Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries)

Lt Anna-Liza Villard-Howe
Officer in Charge and First Female Captain

Love of Boats Comes Naturally to NOAA Corps Officer

LT JG Anna-Liza Villard-Howe assumed the duties of Junior Office in Charge of NOAA’s R/V Gloria Michelle in June 2010. Since then she has performed preventive and cosmetic maintenance on the vessel, served as watch officer (sole operator) during deck and fishing operations for the annual Gulf of Maine shrimp and groundfish surveys, managed additional crew and scientists while underway, and performed duties required while the vessel was in drydock in Rhode Island.

On June 1, 2012, she will “fleet up” to Officer in Charge of the NEFSC’s 72-foot research vessel, a part of the career process for NOAA Corp officers whose assignments alternate between land and sea (ship). Being assigned to NOAA’s Woods Hole Laboratory and the Gloria Michelle seemed almost destined.

Villard-Howe grew up on Chappaquiddick Island, off of Martha's Vineyard, and attended high school at Falmouth Academy, graduating in 1997. Off to Vassar College, she spent spring semester of her junior year at the University of Western Australian in Perth. She graduated in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in economics. Her senior thesis while at Vassar: The effects of rural electrification on dairy farming in the Tennessee Valley.

She thought about a career after college as an actuary, but soon realized it was not meant to be and discovered she was much happier being on or around the water. Her father, David Howe, is a retired naval reserve officer and admiralty lawyer; her mother, Elizabeth Villlard, is a longtime resident of Martha’s Vineyard and well-known local historian who also works as a captain on the “Chappy” ferry. A sister, Catherine, lives in Boston and works as a paralegal.

After college Villard-Howe worked as a school and tour bus driver on Martha’s Vineyard, and as a captain and deckhand on the Naushon and Chappaquiddick Island ferries. She also worked briefly on tug boats in Buzzards Bay. She holds a 500 Ton Mates License as well as a Class B Commercial Drivers License.

A desire to increase her professional maritime experience led Villard-Howe to apply to the NOAA Corps. She excelled in the basic officer training class at the US Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, graduating second in her class in 2006 and as the only candidate allowed to dock the T/V Kings Pointer.

Her first assignment as a junior officer and navigation officer on the 231-foot NOAA Ship Rainier, sent her to Seattle in December 2006. The Rainier, designed and outfitted for conducting coastal hydrographic surveys in support of NOAA’s nautical charting program, is named for Mount Rainier in Washington state.

Villard-Howe spent two and half years on the Rainier, conducting hydrographic surveys in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. From Rainier, she moved to a land assignment in 2009 to Silver Spring, Maryland, to work for a year as Flag Lieutenant to the Director of the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) and Director of the NOAA Corps, Rear Admiral Jonathan Bailey. (Admiral Bailey also served as Officer in Charge on the Gloria Michelle early in his career.)

Anna-Liza currently lives in Bourne with her husband, Tim Michaud, and their dog, Hank.

While the vessel is docked at the Woods Hole Laboratory, plenty is still going on. Dockside work following a shipyard maintenance period this winter was busy, with preparations for a fleet inspection in March adding to the mix. The annual spring groundfish survey in state waters for the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries was conducted May 7- 22. Next up: equipment testing work in late June, followed by the annual Gulf of Maine shrimp survey in July and the fall groundfish survey in state waters.

Now a Lieutenant, Villard-Howe is also certified as a NOAA working diver, inspired in her pre-NOAA days “by having to free dive in May to clear line on a boat’s propeller.” She also spends time visiting schools to talk with students about opportunities in the NOAA Corps, or participating in diving programs at the lab for various needs. In January of this year she was certified as a NOAA Divemaster.

On June 1, Villard-Howe will assume duties as Officer in Charge of the Gloria Michelle Ensign Shannon Hefferan , currently assigned to the NOAA Ship Delaware II as a communications officer, will join Villard-Howe as Junior Officer in Charge on the Gloria Michelle, the first all-female crew in the history of the vessel, and perhaps for any NOAA research vessel. The current Officer in Charge, Carl Rhodes, will be moving to another assignment ashore.

When not at work, Villard-Howe enjoys include knitting and crochet, ballroom dancing, motorcycle riding, and music. She sang in the NAACP Gospel choir on Martha’s Vineyard, and worked as crew on Royal Perth Yacht Club and Edgartown Yacht Club vessels. She also enjoys Ham radio, sailing and racing, and marlinspike seamanship (or ropework, the set of processes and skills used to make, repair and use rope).

For the next year or so, until the completion of this billet or assignment, Villard-Howe can be found on the water, happy to be driving the boat!

January 2015 Update:  Following a December 17, 2014 Change of Command ceremony, Villard-Howe moved on to a new NOAA Corps assignment as Assistant School Chief, NOAA Corps Officer Training Center at the US Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT.

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(File Modified Jun. 17 2016)