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NMSAS welcomes Lt. Charlene Felkley to its staff

Lt. Charlene Felkley says: “Having a job is wonderful. But being in a career where you provide a service is so much more fulfilling. It’s not always about making the money. When you serve a mission that is greater than yourself, your impact multiplies — and I guarantee you'll be happier.”


Felkley is the Marine Operations Coordinator for the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa (NMSAS). She was assigned to the NMSAS in October 2013 and according to her, she wears many hats within the office.


Felkley is a research vessel operator/coordinator, dive-master, facility manager, safety officer, training officer, and program coordinator for the NMSAS.


In a world where women have come a long way to solidifying their role in today’s society, Felkley has proven that females can in fact excel in a ‘man’s world’.


She attended Ohio State University, majoring in Natural Resource Management and she holds a Masters Degree in Sustainable Development from Hawaii Pacific University. After receiving her undergraduate degree, Felkley joined the Peace Corps and spent two years doing natural resource program development work in Togo, West Africa. While there, she learned how to speak French and became passionate about traveling and living in different parts of the world. 


When she returned stateside, she became a teacher at a residential facility for troubled youth in Richmond, VA where she taught math, art, and swimming. Afterwards, she joined the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Commission Corps as an officer, supporting NOAA science and serving in leadership roles within NOAA.


She then went to training at Kings Point, New York at the Merchant Marine Academy where she “learned all about driving research vessels and the missions of NOAA.”


She recalled, “My first assignment was as the Navigation Officer on board a fisheries research vessel out of Woods Hole, Massachusetts.” Her second assignment took her to the PEAC Center in Honolulu, HI, working with climate products and services offered in the USAPI (United States Affiliated Pacific islands).


Her third and current assignment brought her to American Samoa.


When asked if she had any words of advice for local young women, Felkley referred to a quote from E.E. Cummings: "To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best... to make you everyone else… means to fight the hardest battle any human can fight”. She added, “This advice has carried me along. People will question you and your decisions at every turn: ‘Why are you having babies, why are you not having babies? You should get a career, you should travel, you should stay at home, etc.’ The important thing to remember is to be true to yourself and what you value. Carve your own path through this life. Advice from those close to you will be important but in the end, listen to your heart. You'll never go wrong. No regrets.”


Felkley’s assignment at the NMSAS is for two years but extensions are not uncommon. She is originally from the small village of Martinsburg, Ohio, a farming community in the Midwest.


When asked how she has adapted to life in the islands, Felkley responded, “So far, I love it here in American Samoa. The people have been very welcoming and nice. It's hard being away from family, but the experiences I am having will make me a better person and increase my knowledge about other cultures.”


So what are some exciting things about her job? Felkley explained, “I get to see and do some of the most amazing things!”


She reminisced about how she sailed on a research vessel out of Cape Cod, where they  conducted shark and whale surveys. “We were able to get 'up-close and personal' with hammer heads, tiger sharks, humpback whales and many other species,” she said, adding that she loves the fact that her “job changes every two or three years.”


“I get to travel and move from place-to-place, learning all about NOAA and the many services it provides,” she concluded.


Currently, the territory is in need of people — both male and female — to pursue careers in marine science related fields.


Those interested in getting an insight from someone who has been in the field for many years can contact Lt. Charlene Felkley at 633-6500.