Change of command for NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson

On April 12, 2019, the crew of NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson hosted a change of command in Brooklyn, NY. Cmdr. Briana Welton Hillstrom accepted command of Thomas Jefferson, relieving Capt. Christiaan van Westendorp in a ceremony led by Capt. David Zezula, commanding officer of NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) Marine Operations Center-Atlantic.

Distinguished guests included Mr. Michael Burten, deputy director for constituent affairs, U.S. Senator Gillibrand, GMD Shipyard Corporation partners, and commands of USCGC Diligence (WMEC-616) and NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler. Congratulatory letters from U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), U.S. Representative Grace Meng (D-NY-6th), U.S. Representative Nydia Velazquez (D-NY-7th), and Rear Adm. Shep Smith, director Office of Coast Survey, were read during the ceremony.

Capt. Chris van Westendorp and Cmdr. Briana Welton Hillstrom salute with Capt. Zezula looking on.
Cmdr. Briana Welton Hillstrom accepts command of NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, replacing Capt. Chris van Westendorp as Capt. David Zezula facilitates the exchange. Credit: Cmdr. Olivia Hauser
Cmdr. Briana Welton Hillstrom, Capt. Chris van Westendorp, Capt. David Zezula, Capt. Rick Brennan.
Official party of the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson change of command ceremony. From left to right: Cmdr. Briana Welton Hillstrom, Capt. Chris van Westendorp, Capt. David Zezula, Capt. Rick Brennan. Credit: Lt. John Kidd

The commanding officer of a NOAA ship has ultimate responsibility for the ship, its activities, and the safety of all aboard. On board NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, the commanding officer is also the chief scientist with responsibility for the execution and success of the ship’s assigned hydrographic survey operations.

Captain van Westendorp served as NOAA Liaison to the Oceanographer of the Navy prior to taking command in July, 2016. He also served aboard Thomas Jefferson as operations officer (2006-2008), and again as executive officer (2012-2014). During his tenure, van Westendorp completed 32 surveys in total, covering areas such as the Gulf of Maine, Chesapeake Bay and Approaches, Approaches to Savannah, and Approaches to Galveston. Twenty of these surveys were in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in response to Hurricane Maria restoring maritime commerce to ports in the area and aiding the recovery of the local economy. He also oversaw the ship through three major repair periods. Captain van Westendorp’s next assignment will be as chief of Coast Survey’s Navigation Services Division, where he will lead NOAA’s navigation response, regional constituent and stakeholder outreach, and nautical publications.

Capt. Chris van Westendorp’s command pin is transferred by his best friend.
Capt. Chris van Westendorp’s (right) command pin is transferred by his best friend from the right to the left breast of his uniform during the Thomas Jefferson change of command ceremony in Brooklyn, NY. Credit: Lt. John Kidd

In his congratulatory letter to Capt. van Westendorp, Rear Adm. Smith stated, “Your persistence, flexibility, and dedication during this extended tour as Commanding Officer brings credit to you, the NOAA Corps, and Coast Survey. Your accomplishments as Commanding Officer of Thomas Jefferson continue to uphold our tradition of high standards in NOAA ocean mapping. I want to personally thank you for your support of the Office of Coast Survey.“

Cmdr. Hillstrom most recently served as the chief of Coast Survey’s Atlantic Hydrographic Branch in Norfolk, VA, where she managed the branch through a period of significant change in which HCell cartographic compilation ceased and reviews of externally sourced data and source input into the National Bathymetric Source (NBS) rose dramatically. Cmdr. Hillstrom was previously the commanding officer and executive office of NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler, and operations officer aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather, and a junior officer aboard NOAA Ship Rainier.  This assignment to Thomas Jefferson rounds out an assignment history to all four of the hydro ships. She is a CAT-A certified hydrographer.

Cmdr. Hillstrom at podium.
Cmdr. Hillstrom delivers remarks at the Thomas Jefferson change of command ceremony in Brooklyn, NY. Credit: Lt. John Kidd

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