Sunday, June 26, 2016

Fare Thee Well, Boundless Deep

Unless craziness ensues, I have sailed my last on the mighty warship DILIGENCE.

We ended our patrol in the Florida Straits with six interdictions and 600 people onboard who were attempting to illegally immigrate to the United States. I had to give up on my goal of blogging every day underway. I felt like I was writing the same post over and over again -- all about how the AMIO (alien migrant interdiction operations) mission is hard. More on that in a moment.

On the way home, we got our asses kicked for about 18 hours by a strong system that was blowing from the northeast at 30 knots sustained winds and seven to nine foot seas (though the bridge watch swears they saw at least one 14-footer). We slid out of the Gulf Stream to see if that would settle the seas at all. It might have. Barely. I never "pulled the trigger" (i.e., gave in to the need to puke), but my belly ached like someone had punched me repeatedly. 

The weather finally settled, and we got the flight deck tent taken down and put away, a freshwater wash down done and AMIO supplies stowed in MAA stores (the most forward space on the ship, which can become an anti-gravity chamber when we're pitching in the seas). At our sunset Quarters, we recognized a number of people who were departing the ship when we got home, pinned Cutterman pins on our newest Cuttermen, and then followed the whole shebang with a cigar social on the fantail. I nearly missed my last sunset from sea trying to figure out how to pay for a van to take dependents down to Southport to catch a ride out to us the next day. I raced from the fantail, up to the flight deck and then the stack deck and the bridge deck and finally to the open bridge to see if I could catch the sun as it sunk below the horizon. Then I made my way back to the fantail to enjoy the Golden Hour.

Our river transit was smooth, if very windy. I took over the Conn a couple legs before we went under the power lines that cross the river. Slowed down to launch our cutter boat so they could trailer the boat and then be line handlers on the pier for us. Passed a light tanker just south of the State pier ("I'm light, he said; I'm pretty small, he said" as he took up most of the channel, and made us glad there wasn't another vessel moored at the State pier). The Cape Fear Memorial Bridge came up to welcome us home. We got a standing ovation some of the Riverfront restaurants' crowd. And I made a glorious starboard side to approach on the pier, had all lines over, and main diesel engines and the helm station secured within about 15 minutes (even with waiting for the line handlers to get back from trailering the cutter boat), And ended up *exactly* where I wanted, no shifting of lines needed. Mike drop.

Then there was a blur of families, entering port requirements and finally Quarters on the pier where we recognized more of the folks who were leaving when we got back from patrol. 

Another one in the books.


About halfway through this patrol, I made a concerted effort to stop referring to the people on our flight deck as "migrants." They are *people.* Sure, a group of people who have a special circumstance in common (i.e., illegally migrating to the US from Cuba by way of handmade, not very sea-worthy vessels). But calling them migrants felt dehumanizing, for both them and me. 

And the night that four of them jumped overboard to try to swim the five miles to shore tested all our patience for their dedication to their dreams. We picked up two of them relatively quickly, but the other two evaded our boat crews for over an hour, until one of them got too tired to swim any more (duh -- FIVE MILES!!) and the other was brought reluctantly onboard the small boat and then restrained so he couldn't jump over again. At that point, it's a Safety of Life at Sea issue, and not so much an immigration issue. People DIE without the appropriate safety gear on the open ocean. Even if they jump overboard themselves. 

All this is said from my comfortable seat of privilege and First World problems. And that's why I couldn't come up with anything new to say for the last couple of weeks of the patrol. I had already said it, wasn't adding anything new, didn't have any good solutions for making things better for our guests or for our crew, and was on the verge of an excoriating rant on the futility of being on the pointy end of the spear tasked with enforcing failed public policies. Screaming into the gale.

And now the hardest bit. This is my last post. I hope I have brought enjoyment and insight into our underway world to my readers over the last seven years. Maybe a couple chuckles and fond remembrances of shared experiences. 

It's been a wild ride, and I truly appreciate every time someone clicked on one of my posts. You, my readers, never failed to bring a smile to my face when you reached out to tell me you spent your precious time with my thoughts and perspectives. And I have never stopped being surprised and delighted at the breadth of my readership.

It's time for me to move on. I hope to keep writing in a different (yet to be determined) forum. The last few months, I have felt constrained by the need to be mostly positive on this blog. The burden of positive leadership weighed heavily on my keyboard, limiting how fully I could paint the picture of my experiences. I will always strive to keep a positive outlook and not focus on all the things that are wrong, but most all times, life is more nuanced than I think is fair to share in this forum. The people who work for me rely on me to provide solutions and keep them in the tools to get their job done. Not whine and complain that those tools are hard to find and oh, by the way, might not be effective for getting us to the end goal anyway. 

If I had better tools to suggest, I would be writing a different post right now. I'm hoping that in freeing myself from (my admittedly self-imposed) constraints, I can move my thinking and writing in a different, more productive direction. 

Thank you all, again, for your support, comments, remembrances and thoughtfulness. I will cherish you always.

I shall never rid the salt water from my veins.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Outrunning a Storm

We had just met up with an FRC to transfer a couple dozen people they interdicted earlier in the day. The water was glass, silkily reflecting the colors from their stripe like a funhouse mirror. A green bar of storms blanked out the radar to the south. As we made the last few boat runs between ships, a glowing bolt of lightning carved a brilliant line through the clouds. A few moments later, a clash of thunder nearly startled me out of my skin as it crackled and sizzled around us.

We got both boats cradled and secured for sea, and sped up away to our next destination. A breeze freshened the water in front of the line of storms, rippling the glassy waters to opacity. Rain drops hitting the water defined the next line behind the breeze, and it marched boldly towards the ship. Standing on the bridge wing, I could hear the rain pounding down, fresh water protesting the obliteration of its purity into the salty seas. For a moment, it looked as if our stern would be caught in its drenching territory. We managed to pull away with about 50 feet to spare.

Now I'm staring out my window, marveling at the rainbow shades of grey and silver that carry the water surrounding our ship out to the far horizon that blends nearly seamlessly to the clouds and into the sky above.

LCDR Charlotte Mundy
Executive Officer

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A Little Dog Named Diligencia

Last patrol, we had a group onboard that had a little black dog with them. The little dog was mostly black, with a few white spots. She was probably about 25 pounds -- one of those big dogs in a small body, not a yappy little thing at all. She was very well behaved, even though she struggled to eat the beans and rice either because the seas didn't sit well on her stomach or because well, when you're a dog, beans and rice are tough to eat from a Styrofoam bowl that doesn't stay in place on the non-skid deck. 

She didn't belong to anyone specific from the group. I'm really not sure how she ended up with them in the first place. A few of the group played with her, roughhousing a little too much for many of our crew's comfort. But she got repatriated along with her group after having stayed with us for about nine days because the weather was too rough for a faster repat.

A few days ago, one of the individuals we have onboard now approached our translator and asked if he remembered him. He reminded our translator of the little dog (who was pretty unforgettable), and said he had adopted the dog when they got back home. He had even named her -- Diligencia, because that's where he found her. His mom is taking care of her, as he tries again to make his way to the United States. 

I'm not sure why this story touches me so much. Maybe because it's a good reminder that every one of these people *have* stories. They are not individuals whose existences are limited to our interactions with them; they have pasts and they have futures that occur separate and regardless of our brief encounter with them. Or maybe it's because in naming his dog Diligencia, he acknowledged that our paths crossed, and in a way he wishes to remember. It's a blending of the stories, his and ours, that expands out as more people meet the little dog named Diligencia.

LCDR Charlotte Mundy
Executive Officer

Tuesday, May 31, 2016


My feet hit the deck before I fully realized a pipe was being made. It was 0243 by my watch. We found the chug spotted by the MPA a full 12 hours before. 

Over the course of the next four hours, our team performed as trained, safely and professionally. There were a few tired squabbles as peoples' patience wore thin momentarily -- vaguely sharpened voices over the crackling radio, exacerbated by a couple metal decks' worth of interference. There were also shipmates helping shipmates, people offering a hand wherever they could. Lots of teamwork, buckets full of patience and overwhelming tolerance as we all worked together to get a difficult job done before the ass-crack of dawn.

And by 0645, I was sitting down to a veggie scramble with cheese, bacon and an English muffin. Watch sections were back in place and the ship's routine went ahead, with no hint of the turbulence caused by the early morning evolutions. 

The hard work done, the dedication shown, the effort put forth by this crew humbles me on a daily basis. OPS has finally just gone to bed after about an hour's worth of sleep over the past 40 hours. Boat crew and LE team members didn't blink an eye when we piped a debrief at 1930 to talk about lessons learned from the morning's excitement; instead, they came chock full of good suggestions, ways to make us all better at what we're already damn good at. During his impromptu check in with me on the bridge just before lunch, brand newly reported SN DA asked me about qualification deadlines. Not asking for an extension -- just raising the issue because, since he reported aboard two weeks ago, he's gone from standing migrant watch, to using his language skills as an interpreter, to breaking in helm and look out on the bridge, and he hasn't been able to get to any of the DCWQS training offered each day -- so willing to do what needs to be done at the moment and yet still concerned about meeting his future obligations.

There are, undoubtedly, 82 other examples from each of the folks onboard this ship, of daily selfless acts, both large and small, offered freely from a deep commitment to the larger goal..and frequently, with enough humor to keep it all in perspective. And this is what gets us through long days and exhausting weeks.

LCDR Charlotte Mundy
Executive Officer

Monday, May 30, 2016

Busy is Good

No pretty pictures for today's post. I know we took some, but they haven't yet made their way onto the public drive for me to scroll through. Today was quiet for most of the ship for most of the day. CIC was busy tracking maritime patrol aircraft (MPA (not to be confused with the other MPA -- Main Propulsion Assistant)) flights. Once the flights got up in the air, then CIC got busy tracking sightings of potential migrant vessels. 

We did get in a leadership pro dev session on Coast Guard appropriations structure, which *I* think is fascinating and highly useful stuff. I didn't have anyone throwing things at me, and there were some insightful questions asked, so I call it a highly successful session for how dreadful the topic was (to the non-budget geek). 

So basically, I don't really have anything to write about tonight. Some moments I feel like we're barreling to the end of my tour, and I'm frantic to make sure I have everything in order. Other moments, I feel like we're moving through the molasses of time, and it's all I can do to stretch my patience through until our next port call. I'm sure reality is somewhere there in the middle. 

The on again, off again nature of how this patrol is going is contributing to the feeling. At Evening Reports each evening, I look to OPS to tell us what to expect the next day. Some days, we just write TBD for everything because trying to map it all out is an exercise in frustration because guaranteed! something is gonna change. 

But we're busy, and busy is good. 

LCDR Charlotte Mundy
Executive Officer

Sunday, May 29, 2016

A Thousand Words

I'm not sure what struck me about this picture; maybe that there are so many stories to tell from it. I think we had just finished up transferring migrants, and were setting up for a photo op with a few ships all in formation. Someone's cutter boat was in the water to take the pictures, and got a few candid shots along the way. 
The beauty of a ship at sea It's a classic bridge shot, from the lookout staring intently through the big eyes on the fly bridge (just forward of the black mast), to the CO resting his forearms on the teak rail, looking out to the horizon. OPS, EO and I are all in a gaggle close up to the bridge bulkhead, talking about heaven knows what. BMC RB has the Deck and the Conn, and is watching to make sure everything was going according to plan. I can't quite tell who is further aft, just behind the .50 cal. The CB-L (Cutter Boat-Large -- we're so creative with names) is resting peacefully in her cradle. The TSTA Es are all bright and shiny. And there's a little hometown pride shown with the outline of North Carolina on the gumby suit box just aft of the spar-colored davit arm for the CB-L. And as you start to look closer, the ship's bell stands out with its brass color an anomaly among all the white, black, blue and international orange (at the bottom of the mast, aft). The wind is blowing gently about 10 knots off the starboard side. It must have been kinda hot for the CO leaning out into the sunshine like that on the lee side of the bridge. The radar arms are caught in an unusual moment of stillness; usually they rotate endlessly. Everything has its purpose, and (most) everything is in its place. Oh, the beauty of a ship at sea... LCDR Charlotte Mundy Executive Officer USCGC DILIGENCE (WMEC 616) **UNDERWAY**

Friday, May 27, 2016

Sunrise and Sunset

I was up for sunrise this morning, and I'm about to head out onto the foc'sle to watch sunset. I didn't actually see the sun pop over the horizon this morning -- our boat launching course put it on the opposite side of the ship, but I did spend about 30 minutes watching the sun light the clouds across the sky, coloring the higher ones a dazzling pink, but leaving the lower ones dark and grey somehow. 

I couldn't resist checking on it at least once, though. When I did, the sun was already about two inches above the water, shining brightly through a cloud as it rained. A few minutes later, a rainbow materialized out in front of us. 

Just checked -- still have about five minutes before I'll start to miss good stuff for this evening's sunset. Right now all there is to see are green specks in front of my eyes from glancing at the blazing ball of fire.

Since this may be my last patrol (ever), one of my personal goals is to watch at least sunrise or sunset every day, and hopefully both. So far so good. The early morning migrant transfers make catching sunrise doable, and I've had to be careful about how I schedule Evening Reports to make sure sunset fits into the plan of the day. No two are ever alike, and some are so subtle as to be...unremarkable, but the very idea of including a totally non-work related ritual that I can only experience at sea appeals to me. 

My five minutes is up. Off to sunset.

LCDR Charlotte Mundy
Executive Officer