Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Inport Snapshots


Towards the end of a longish inport, we're getting ready for patrol again. Here are a couple of snapshots from last week.

Stores upon stores upon stores stacked in the DC Flats
FS3 Cody Frizelle & SA Nate Emborski getting ready to brave the reefer
We got a *huge* order of stores in on the coldest day so far this year. It was warmer in the freezer where a lot of this stuff was going than outside on the pier. 

They eventually got it all packed away, with help from FS3 Billy Shuck and FS3 Chris Vitale over the course of a couple days.

video
Deck Department also built a new paint float this inport. We had a grand launching event (ok, maybe not so grand...it was just LTJG Brent Lane and SK1 Bismarck Miranda watching from the focs'le, and me taking pictures/video) one day last week. This video shows the Deckies getting ready, positioning, repositioning and using some excellent engineering principles to put the 12'x12' float in the river...without flipping it upside-down. 

BM3 Jake Rorabeck is handling the tending line in the foreground. FN Christian Sekula is holding the ship's mooring lines out of the way. ENS JD DeCastra, the First Lieutenant, is supervising (and providing the engineering expertise) off to the left. From top left corner around are: SA William Ball, SA Robert Morse, SA Avery Trombley, BMC Robert Vanlandingham (in the watch cap), SA Sean Roten and SA Ronnie Liles. You can see the Peanut Gallery...uh, I mean LTJG Lane and SK1 Miranda up on the focs'le.

Unfortunately the video of the float actually going in the water was too big and I couldn't get it posted. Needless to say, it was a great exercise in teamwork and overcoming unexpected conditions...which they did effectively and safely.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Intentions for 2015

I don't do New Year's Resolutions. Maybe it's a reluctance to commit; maybe it's too many yoga classes...but I'm calling some changes I want to make my Intentions for 2015.

First is to write more. Not emails, not taskers, not talking points, not OER bullets, not anything actually productive like any of those. Just write. For me. To get the noise out of my head. It doesn't have to be for the blog (would be *great* if it was). It could be emails to friends and family (ooh boy! Bet y'all can't *wait!*). Or it could just be a few words in a book of blank pages before my head crashes onto my pillow at night. But writing really does help me process my day and any challenges I'm facing. If I don't write, I have a really bad tendency of letting the hamsters in my head get on any one of a number of thought treadmills and spin round and round frantically and uselessly until they 'bout make me loopy. I've found that getting the words out helps to calm the rodents. And can give me good ideas and better approaches to problems.

My second intention is really probably the one that keeps me from calling them resolutions...to eat better, exercise more and maybe, just maybe drop a few (that's a few in the double digits) pounds. I can't believe there's much about the mundanity of my HQ job that I miss, but I did have a *much* better fitness routine and better eating habits while I was there...riding my bike 15 miles round-trip to and from work about two or three times a week burned a lot of calories that I'm still eating even though I'm not nearly working out that much.

I gave myself a pass during our last patrol, and worked out when I felt like a had a spare half hour, mostly on Sunday mornings while I did my laundry. And I ate what I wanted. Including desserts twice a day if they were available (mentally, I replace beer with sweets underway). I have been putting the hamsters in my head to work trying to figure out why I can't help but eat, eat, eat all the time, especially on the ship. I'm usually the first person in the wardroom for meals. Seriously.

One thought I came up with is that when we were kids, Mom used to make my sister and me clean our plate before we got dessert. If we didn't finish our dinner, no treats. So, I am programmed to eat all the food on my plate. Combine this with portion sizes onboard that are scooped for 20-25 year old young men with the metabolism of grasshoppers, and I don't think I'm being particularly well set up for easy success with portion control. So my first stop needs to be the salad bar...so I can cover 1/2 to 2/3s of my plate with salad, and leave just a small, barely there space of plate for the main dish. Seemed to work ok with today's lunch of delicious chicken and seafood gumbo. At least the plates are not giant-sized.

Third is to do more good stuff with my money. That may mean saving; that may mean investing; and that may mean spending. I have enough disposable money, though, that I want to be conscious of where it goes, instead of just sending it away without some measure of thoughtfulness and consideration.

Three is a nice round number of intentions. I'm excited about 2015...so many possibilities :)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Random Bits, December 2014

I haven't had any major, timely ideas for posts that easily write themselves. What  I have had is a bunch of little random thoughts that with significant time for reflection and excessive wordiness might turn into something worthwhile. In an ideal world, I would emulate Seth Godin, and post these little thoughts as they come up, and not require them to be three-page, fully explored treatises (treatae?) before posting them. Here are a few for now:

Time: CDR Randall is really good about giving timely and regular feedback. Our daily conversations usually have a performance dimension woven in about once a week to 10 days. He gives suggestions about how I could approach a challenge in a different way, or provides another way of thinking about an issue, or simply tells me I'm doing a fine job. He did have an observation for me last week, which definitely stuck with me, and has given me something to work on. He commented that, while I turn things around quickly, sometimes I move them through too fast and miss stuff. It's not usually big stuff, but there's enough volume that tells me I need to pay more attention. 

I'll never forget my first exposure to an XO's primary responsibility as gatekeeper for quality work. I was XO on WASHINGTON, and (now) CDR Steve Adler was my CO. We were going through MLC compliance checklists, and I had tasked out development of some required bills. MLC had templates on their website, so all our Department Head had to do was tailor the template to our ship and local situation. Unfortunately, there were lots of tailoring s/he missed, but as I looked through it, I figured well, s/he's senior enough to know what s/he's doing, so I'll just send it up as is. 

Oops. 

Cap'n was *not* happy. It was one of the (thankfully) few times I have been counselled on my own poor performance in the Coast Guard. Steve made it a relatively positive experience (i.e., he didn't yell), but I could tell how deeply disappointed and frustrated he was that he even had to talk about this very fundamental tenet to his XO. 

From that little counseling session, I try to make sure whatever passes through my hands (or inbox) does not have spelling, formatting, grammar mistakes, or outdated organizational information including reference manuals, organizational structure, or policies, and applies some level of common sense and is consistent throughout. Whew. I didn't realize until I wrote it all out how much I actually do when I review something. 

I said I try. Because when I have a stacks of folders that seem to breed in my inbox, sometimes I feel like I just have to *get through* them so that I can get to the next big or several small items on my to-do list. Because almost *everything* goes through the XO. Page 7s (even the routine ones for qualifications (and non-qualifications)), A school requests, purchase requests, memos, waivers, draft instructions and Cutter Organizational Manual (COM) updates, message traffic, every.single personnel evaluation, and on and on. 

I know it sounds like I'm complaining. I'm really not. I swear. I'm simply acknowledging that a lot of information passes across my desk and providing quality review TAKES TIME. And time is a precious commodity. It is finite. No matter how hard I try, I cannot make more of it, so I have to make what I do have count. Especially since I don't want to spend my entire day stuck in front of my computer. There are lots of other equally important things for me to do, like walk around and talk and *listen* to people and *look* at the ship and all her spaces and *think* about how to make things better. And eat...let's not forget to eat :)

In writing all this out, the conclusion I'm being drawn to is that I need to be more mindful of my time. Like most people, I get easily distracted by my technology. So I need to turn off the little pop-up box that flashes when a new email comes in. I need to not jump away from what I'm doing every time my cell phone buzzes in my pocket with a new email. I really should leave my personal cell in my purse so I'm not chat-texting with friends throughout the day (though that does have it's own benefits of reminding me that I'm not *just* an XO -- I'm a Real Person, with Real Friends). 

But even though it would probably increase my productivity, I simply cannot bring myself to shut my stateroom door, even after the workday, so I don't get interrupted every 5 minutes by someone needing something from me. Because if whoever it is cannot find me, or feels awkward in knocking on my door, I have effectively slowed their progress...and one of my (other) XO tenets is to give people the tools/resources they need to do their job, and then get out of their way. Making myself inaccessible directly undermines that progress.

So there's a balance to acknowledge between productive and effective. 

BT

People not onboard: We've had a lot of people on leave these last few weeks. I am grateful that our inport is long enough for people to finally get some down time and delighted they are taking the opportunity to spend time with their families and loved ones. Even though it means they're not on the ship. Because the ship is different when individuals are gone. It's not just that there is more room on the messdeck for people to sit at tables during all-hands musters or training or lunch, or that someone is not available for a question, or a task may have to wait a few days until someone gets back.

It's more that everyone contributes their individuality to the overall personality of the ship, so when someone isn't there, the boat is a little different...even when it's someone who is mostly an introvert is gone. I think that may be one of the things I quietly like a lot about being underway -- our ship has all her peeps and is so much more...I don't know...*whole* because of it. Right now, I feel some gaps. They're good gaps, mostly (see the second sentence in the paragraph above), but they're gaps all the same.

BT

Risk acceptance: CDR Randall recently shared a truth about that I think I knew, but hadn't yet vocalized: What *we* teach our JOs and junior enlisted *now* about risk and risk acceptance will be the Coast Guard's future level of risk tolerance. 

Um...wow. As much as I've railed about how I think the Coast Guard culture is moving towards being more and more risk averse, this thought puts the responsibility of where we go back squarely in my lap. 

Our JOs think it's perfectly normal to transit the Cape Fear River after dark. We've only had one transit since I've been onboard that has been completed in full day light. Our crew thinks it's perfectly normal to conduct unrestricted BECCEs (basic engineering casualty control exercises where we could potentially lose ship's power) while we have a boarding team out on a boarding. Our crew thinks it's perfectly normal to have members of the public onboard everyday for tours since we moor up in downtown Wilmington and are imminently more accessible to the general public than any other Coast Guard unit I know...even if it means that when the downtown bars shut down at 2 am, their duty nights might get a little more exciting than they really want. All of these DILI norms are slightly more risk tolerant than other units I've been on. In fairness, we took different risks at other units, but those were generally on a case-by-case basis...not something that was incorporated into our normal operating procedures.

Of all the lessons I've learned so far onboard DILIGENCE, I think the thoughtful pursuit of the acceptance of risk is one of the most important, deeply resonant and organizationally important things I could ever internalize. CDR Randall does not accept risk willy-nilly. He acknowledges it, trains his crew to recognize and overcome it and then sails on through it. 

A tangent thought about risk: mediocrity is antithetical to the safe acceptance of risk. We have to be *Good* at what we do to safely accept the level of risk we do. Which takes time to train and pay attention to details and get all the maintenance done and train some more.Time...did I mention time?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

DILIGENCE's 50th Anniversary

DILIGENCE was originally commissioned on August 26, 1964, so she turned 50 this summer. CDR Randall wanted a celebration that former crewmembers would want to come to and that truly honored the hard work, dedication and well, diligence of all her crews over the last six decades.

Unfortunately, DILIGENCE was still in drydock on the actual anniversary of her commissioning, so before I reported to the ship, it was decided to have all the celebration events on Veterans Day weekend, when we were pretty sure we'd be in homeport. This worked out wonderfully because it really highlighted honoring of all the veterans that had been on the ship and gave us more opportunity to talk about how it was the efforts of all the crews, all along the ship's service life that have left the ship in such great

Here's the schedule of events from that weekend:
Front Street Brewery supports DILI!

Friday, 7 Nov: Front Street Brewery tapped three special DILIGENCE 50th Anniversary kegs at 11:30 am. At 5 pm a bunch of folks from DILI, SMILAX and BAYBERRY all showed up for a toast, graciously given by EMCS Del Castillo, one of CDR Randall's good friends. The company was better than the actual beer, but then again, I don't particularly like sour ales.

Saturday, 8 Nov: The 4th Annual DILIGolf charity tournament was held at Magnolia Greens golf course and sponsored by the Wilmington Navy League; proceeds benefited Cape Fear Hospice and the Cape Fear Community College Coast Guard Scholarship Fund. We raised over $5,000 due largely to the coordinating efforts of ENS Aaron Corn, FS1 Justin Henkel, DC2 Adam Carignan, SN Rick McCabe from DILIGENCE and LTJG Angel Kwok from Sector North Carolina, along with all the other volunteers and support from the Wilmington Navy League.

Saturday, 8 Nov: The ship was open for tours from 12 pm to 4 pm. I think we actually started giving tours at about 10 am because there were people already lined up. While I hadn't planned to, I hung out at the ship on Saturday, talking to people who were waiting to go on the tours, answering their questions and thanking them for their patience and support. These were our regular tours that we give most days we're inport (sometimes the work schedule doesn't allow us to), that start on the flight deck, go up to the focs'le and then through Upper O's passageway to the bridge and back down again. They take about 15-20 minutes depending on how many questions people ask. We had over 500 people onboard on Saturday.

CGC SMILAX and CGC BAYBERRY also came down to Wilmington to help us celebrate and they were both open for tours as well. SMILAX is the Queen of the Coast Guard fleet as the oldest commissioned cutter in service; she was commissioned in 1944 and is 70 years old. BAYBERRY was commissioned in 1954 and is 60 years old. And of course, DILIGENCE was commissioned in 1964 and is 50 years old...we had over 180 years of cutter service on the Wilmington downtown waterfront for our celebratory weekend -- pretty cool!

Saturday, 8 Nov: Wilmington Harbor Enhancement Trust (WHET) sponsored a barbecue for past and current crewmembers, their families, city representatives and sponsors downtown at Cape Fear Community College's Union Station, catered by The Sawmill Restaurant. I finally got my fix of delectable Eastern North Carolina barbecue...vinegar based chopped pork...so delicious! I wasn't sure what kind of turn out to expect, so imagine my surprise when I showed up and found the 500-person capacity room nearly packed! We had nametags out for folks so we'd all know who each other was. We also had a guest book for people to sign, so we'd know how far people came from. We had a "memory box" for people to write down snippets and sea stories from their time onboard DILI; we'll compile those after a few months so we can capture some more of the history of the ship.

DILIGENCE underway on her latest patrol
We also had a row of tables with six decades of DILI memorabilia. Former crewmembers and COs had shared their photo albums and news paper clippings from their time on the ship. There were pictures from the original commissioning in 1964 in Miami, FL and plankowner certificates from the very first crew. There were pictures from the search and rescue case of the M/V CUNARD AMBASSADOR  in the mid-1970's when the ship caught fire, and DILI responded to help fight the fire and rescue more than 300 people onboard. There were pictures from a structural test fire of the 3" gun in the late 1970s. There was a picture of a very young Jimmy Buffett in a DILIGENCE ball cap, and the accompanying Rolling Stones cover of the very same picture. There were pictures from the 1980s of marijuana busts with the crew plunging their hands into the bales of pot for the camera -- many of them had some amazingly robust beards. There were some great photo albums of DILI's change of homeport to Wilmington in 1992. And there were patrol videos showing in the background from the 2000's. (I tried to add some of these scanned pix, but unfortunately couldn't figure out how to get a .pdf to attach in the blog, or how to save the .pdf in another format -- hmph.)

Crewmembers spelling out "50" on the flight deck
I mingled a little at the dinner, talking to as many former crew as I could. My very favorite story from the whole weekend was the two engineers (and I feel awful that I can't remember their names!) who served onboard from 1965-1968. They were best of friends down in the engine room, but hadn't seen each other in the intervening 47 years. Their wives and other family members were there with them, and they had such a great time reminiscing and getting back in touch after so long.

It was also very sweet to see the reaction from many of the older women, wives and sisters of the former crewmembers, that were very proud to see a female XO onboard DILI. I think it made them feel like their efforts and hardships many, many years ago had paid off huge dividends because opportunities exist now that they didn't have. So ladies, thanks so much for all your work and suffering through those unfortunate social standards, the changing of which have allowed me to enjoy such a fantastic career!

We also had the former COs and single plankowner in the crowd speak for a few moments. CAPT Andy Cascardi (1992-1994), CAPT Dennis Inhat (1994-1996),  and CAPT Ed Daniels (2001-2003) all shared some great stories and thoughts from their time onboard. And CAPT PJ Kies was the only plankowner able to attend, but he also had some wonderful memories from the very early days of the ship.

Sunday, 9 Nov: We opened the ship for "enhanced tours" from 12 pm to 5 pm. The enhanced tours had nine stations with crewmembers ready to talk about the particulars of that station. I don't remember all the stations, but there was someone at the 25 mm to talk about the armament (flak jackets and helmets were out for the kids to try on), someone at the small boat dressed out in LE gear to talk about boat operations and more law enforcement, someone on the flightdeck with gumbie suits that the kids could race to put on, someone on the fantail with the P-100 pump to talk about damage control, someone in OPS and Deck berthing areas to talk about the living quarters onboard, someone in the engine room to talk about engineering details, someone in the galley talking about cooking for 75 people at a time, and someone on the bridge to talk about navigation and help the kids to use the alidade to shoot a bearing (if I was really on my game, I'd be mentioning specific crewmember names...shoot.). These tours took about an hour, and we tried to run two or three at a time; the local Girl Scout troop helped us out by taking tour goers from station to station. We had over 1,000 people onboard for tours on Sunday. BAYBERRY and SMILAX also continued their tours.

Sunday, 9 Nov: No-host Cuttermans' Call at Bourbon St bar just up the hill from DILIGENCE. I didn't stay for very long, but we had a pretty good turn out. I left before the sea stories got too outrageous.

DILIGENCE on 11 Nov 2014 during the 50th Anniversary Ceremony
Tuesday, 11 Nov: This was the actual ceremony. Representative Mike McIntyre (NC, 7th District), City of Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo and New Hanover County Commission Vice President Beth Dawson all made remarks. CDR Randall also spoke and presented commemorative DILIGENCE 50th Anniversary challenge coins to each of the former COs and CAPT Kies, Plankowner. We had great weather, and standing room only. It was a nice, simple ceremony. I just felt bad for the tallest member of the color guard detail who lost his cover coming under the tent. There was nothing he could do about except carry on, which he did with dignity and honor.

Throughout the entire week preceeding the events, CDR Randall gave half a dozen or more interviews to local media. All the local news stations came down at one time or another, including a few live spots on WECT, the local NBC affiliate early on Friday morning. It felt like a full-on media blitz.

So all in all, it was a chaotically busy week, making sure all the details were ready and covered. I definitely felt a little like my hair was on fire. But here's the absolute truth -- it was All Entirely Worth It! The former crewmembers had nothing but complimentary things to say about the ship and the crew. I mean, I know we have a great crew, but to have such enthusiastic and unwaveringly positive feedback from so many people was a solid validation of what I know to be true. And I really hope some of that spilled over for the crew to hear, not just from CDR Randall and me, but from the former crewmembers themselves. Over the years all these crews have all worked so very hard to keep this ship in good shape after 50 years. It was refreshing to hear so many people say it has paid off.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Initiative

DILIGENCE's Commanding Officer, CDR Jeff Randall has used basically the same command philosophy on all three of the ships he has commanded. With permission, it follows here:

While I have the privilege of serving as your Commanding Officer, I will ask you to live by the following three themes. These themes are the foundation for all we do and will ensure that we execute all missions to the best of our abilities. These themes are:

Take the Initiative - Recognize and take action to do what needs to be done. Learn and know your role and perform assigned duties to the best of your ability to the betterment of yourself, your shipmates and DILIGENCE.

Operate as a Team - Be a team player. Rely upon and respect your shipmates. Working as a team ensures that we can accomplish our missions effectively, efficiently and safely. Everyone and everything we do contributes to mission execution.

Execute the Mission - The success of DILIGENCE is measured by the public, our supervisors and our peers by how well we execute our assigned missions. By taking initiative and operating as a team, we position ourselves to put forward our best effort. The public and the Coast Guard expect this of us on a daily basis.

These central leadership themes will guide my leadership decisions while I have the opportunity and privilege to serve as your Commanding Officer. I challenge and expect you to live by these themes during your service aboard DILIGENCE.

Semper Paratus,
Jeffrey K. Randall
Commander, U. S. Coast Guard
Commanding Officer


Nothing earth-shatteringly radical about it, but well spoken, simple, to the point and comprehensive. And most important, it works for CDR Randall.

We've been having some discussions onboard about taking the initiative -- what that looks like, how to instill initiative in junior members, how it fits into the bigger picture both for the ship and for members individually.

I can look back and identify when I was first introduced to the idea of initiative. It was at Larriland Farm, my first real job, starting at 14. I first worked in the market, stocking shelves and answering customer questions. One of my boss, Lynn's pet peeves was having people standing around shooting the breeze, starring off into space, or otherwise not engaged in something productive. She used to do (and probably still does) the math that if 12 people stood around the market yakking to each other for only 5 minutes, she had effectively lost an hour's worth of productive work. So she constantly was on us to make continual rounds of the market shelves to see what needed to be stocked and replenished, what work could be done ahead (cleaning and bagging spinach was my *least* favorite, seconded only by cutting fudge or inventorying the 50+ types of jams and jellies), and if all else failed, going to the lower level of the big red barn and reorganizing the chaos down there. If I stayed busy and productive, I didn't get tasked with something less pleasant.

Fast-forward almost 30 years, and those early lessons are still with me. Except now, finding useful things to keep busy with is not as easy as checking to see if I need to pack up more pecks of peaches. And I'm the boss, trying to encourage good habits in junior members that will carry them forward in the decades ahead.

One thing that I think is critical to getting effective proactiveness from people is a common understanding of the bigger picture. Why are we doing what we're doing? Why is it important to get people qualified quickly, or to have charts correctly prepared in advance, or have PMS done on schedule, or get the running rust scrubbed off the hull, or update checklists based on the current operations, or deconflict projects between departments so the cooks aren't trying to make chow at the same time the engineers need to take down potable water for something?

I have to get people to look beyond the immediacy of just being told what to do, and have them understand the **why** of having it done so they can start to anticipate the next step. That's on me. But sometimes (many times) I don't have time to explain everywhich why, I just need stuff to get *done!* and it's even better when it's done without me having to say it needs to get done.

The CO and I have been saying "trust your instinct" regularly, particularly to the junior officers. If something makes you go, "hmmm," or the little hairs stand up on the back of your neck, maybe you should look at it a little more in depth. Because most of the time, there's something worth investigating further. And if nothing else, you might learn something.

Which leads to the follow on advice of "Ask questions." Incessantly. Even if they're stupid or basic questions. Asking questions means that I know you're interested and engaged, thinking ahead and wanting to know more. It shows you care enough to learn additional details and expand your horizons. I have told a couple of the JOs about my experience at CG-821 where I never knew when some tidbit of information I picked up from some random place would come in handy and be useful to a discussion I was having with the program.

Asking questions has helped me to expand my imagination, see the potential in a situation instead of just accepting things the way they are. Find out how something is supposed to work, instead of just accepting the current expediency and work around. I still have some work to do on expanding my imagination, though.

But asking questions is hard when you don't know what you don't know. How do you get the right answer when you don't even know what question to ask? I feel like I have a handle on about 90% of what I need to do, but I still get completely blindsided by about the remaining 10% -- stuff that just comes totally out of the blue that I've never even heard of before...even after 15 years of doing this. (My goal is to get that down to about 2%; it won't ever be zero because that's just the way the bureaucracy works. Policies change, new requirements are made, and the word takes a while to filter down.) But for people new to the organization, the sheer amount of knowledge you're expected to have, and quickly, can be overwhelming. So the asking question advice has to be accompanied by patience from the questionee for seemingly stupid and basic questions. Otherwise how do people learn?

I also see lots of effort expended sometimes with very little effect gained; people spinning their wheels as hard and fast as they possibly can, but getting absolutely nowhere. During a discussion a few mornings ago with the CO, he distilled the following points for me to offer individuals struggling with the effort v. effect dilemma:
1. Have a clearly defined goal. If the effort you are expending does not support that overarching goal, you need to ask yourself why you are expending that effort in the first place.
2. Make sure the defined process transcends your personality. Processes should be self-sustaining and not dependent upon the force of an individual to make sure they are followed. Codify functional processes and revisit existing processes to find more efficiencies.
3. Set and communicate specific expectations. This is tied very closely to having a well-defined and well communicated process. If the expectations are clear and well-known, they are much easier to follow and achieve.
4. Equally important is to hold people to standards of accountability. If you've communicated an expectation, hold people to it. It can be appropriate to make allowances for exigent circumstances and modify deadlines, but do *not* let people off the hook just because they ran across dome difficulties getting a task done. It's the taskee's responsibility to communicate the difficulty, and the tasker's responsibility to help remove the barrier.

But at the end of all this yammering on getting stuff done, if someone's givashitter is broke, it's gonna be hard to coerce any level of initiative from them. And that is a difficult truth for me to accept. I think it's a difficult thing for many cuttermen to accept. You don't sign up for this job if you don't care; it's simply too hard a life. The possibilities for failure are numerous, and the sacrifices are only sparingly outweighed by the opportunities to see and do amazing things.

People chose their own course. I can only make sure the shoal water is clearly marked in blue ink on the chart, teach them how to read the buoy tails to make the current work for them, and give them the checklist for engineering light offs. I can't drive their boat for them. I may however tow them, dragging along kicking and whining...for a short time. At least until they figure out the controls for themselves.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Underway Daily Routine

We had my first Training Board meeting a few days before we got underway, to plan our training for the patrol. The Department Heads were very patient in explaining to me the typical underway training schedule. It went something like this (acronyms explained below; pipes included in the schedule):

0800 - 1000 M/W/F - BECCEs: "Now, commence unrestricted BECCEs. Place all sensitive electronic equipment in standby. Limit phone calls to Main Control."
0800 - 1000ish T/R - DCPO Day and Small Boat training
0800-0930 M/T/W/R/F - Personal development time
0800 Sat - Field Day of common spaces and work areas
0945 M/W/F - DCTT brief
1000 Sat - Materiel Inspection
1015 M/W/F - DCTT drill (doesn't start until 1015 so the midwatch (midnight to 0400 watch) can sleep until 1000 and actually get a couple hours of uninterrupted rest): There's a super long pipe that goes along with setting the training environment so that everybody knows what to do in the event of an actual casualty (v. just a training team imposed casualty), what a safety time out is, and what a training time out is. The end of drill is piped as, "Now, secure from drill. Stow all gear."
1130-1230 everyday - noon meal
1250 T/R/S - Officers' Call: "Now, officers' call, officers' call. Quarters will be held at fair (on the flight deck)/foul (on the messdeck) weather parade."
1300 T/R/S - Quarters: "Now, all hands to quarters."
1315 T/R - LE training
1530 everyday - Sweepers: "Now, knock off ship's work. Sweepers, sweepers, man your brooms. Give the ship a good sweep down. Take all trash to the receptacles on the starboard main deck. Now, sweepers."
1530 everyday - DCPQS training
1645 everyday - evening meal for watch reliefs and 1st Class Petty Officers, "watch reliefs to the head of the line"
1700 everyday - evening meal for all hands
1830 everyday (or at least most days, because I can't seem to remember to take it off the POD (Plan of the Day) even when we're not supposed to have it...and if something is on the POD, it happens...yeah, right!) - OPS Brief
1845 everyday - Evening Reports: "Now, 1845, lay before the mast all evening reports. Departmental representatives muster in the wardroom."

BECCEs: Basic Engineering Casualty Control Exercises, pronounced beckies...one of my more favorite acronyms, where the Engineering Casualty Control Training Team (ECCTT = ee-set) runs engine room watchstanders through a variety of potential casualties, like a uncontrollable hot bearing or loss of l/o (lube oil) pressure on the NR1 MRG (number 1 (starboard side) main reduction gear))

DCPO: Damage Control Petty Officer

Personal development time: just what it sounds like...if you don't have somewhere else to be with all the training going on, you can use the time to work on something productive, from fitness to watchstanding quals to advancement requirements...sometimes even to sleep if the days have been extra full.

Field Day: Deep cleaning (as opposed to Sweepers)

DCTT: Damage Control Training Team (pronounced de-set), coordinates the damage control training like major flooding, fire or other calamity onboard

Officers' Call: When the Chiefs and Officers have a little powwow to pass information before going out in front of everybody.

Quarters: All hands gatherings; used to pass items of interest to most, if not all hands. Awards/recognitions are typical, as are drill debriefs, where we talk about recent training events.

LE training: Law Enforcement training...gotta keep those Boarding Officers (BOs) and Boarding Team Members (BTMs) proficient and certified.

DCPQS training: Damage Control Personnel Qualification Standard -- how we learn about all the DC tools/systems/equipment we have onboard and how to use them safely and effectively to combat damage to the ship.

Evening Reports: Accountability check, making sure we still have all hands onboard. But, it usually turns into a mini-Department Head meeting with taskers flying around, deconflicting the next day's POD and sharing any other pertinent information that's useful for cross-departmental purposes.

Once the Department Heads ran me through what all was in the training schedule, I kinda looked around and said, well, that should keep us busy. When do we do operations?

Everybody laughed. Of course, I knew the answer -- operations always comes first. If we have a case, that takes precedence over training.

Though I have seen a true commitment on this ship to multi-tasking. We did a couple of fisheries boardings on the way down to our op area, and once the boarding team was away on the small boat, unrestricted BECCEs commenced iaw (in accordance with) the POD. Hadn't seen that before, but it's a realistic situation...how else do you know how to combat a casualty when your boarding team is on another boat?

There are lots of other random items thrown in the POD also. Flight ops when we have a helo onboard; Morale Committee meetings; Navigation Briefs the evening before we pull into a port; all hands medical training; lately we've been doing two sets of BECCEs some days, to provide break-in engineers with the opportunities to get qualified at their watchstations; LDAC (Leadership and Diversity Advisory Committee) meetings; and whatever other fun stuff might come up.

Stuffing all these events into the POD makes for some very full days. But we're not underway to sit around playing video games and watching movies! :)

The weeks have been busy since we pulled into port the last time. Lots of chasing "hot intel," and training and meetings and departmental work when the intel turned out to be luke warm at best. We've done one boarding. It took 50 hours. Everyone was a little wore out after that. I was one of the lucky ones that actually got to sleep for a few hours overnight, so my internal clock stayed pretty much on track. The CO, OPS (LCDR Jim Pafford) and the Boarding Officer, ME2 Craig Miller...not so much. All three of them were up for about 30 hours straight. We did our best to swap people out and make sure they had the opportunity to sleep and recover, but there are just some functions that have to be maintained during an operation.

We did a hot wash (debrief/discussion of the pros/cons/lessons learned) a few days later, once everyone had recovered. Comms can always be improved; the teamwork was strong and definitely contributed to the smoothness of the boarding; the plan needed to be more of a work in progress, with specific missions defined at each step that then determined who needed to be involved on the boat being boarded. Some suggestions for additional training were noted. We didn't find anything illegal onboard, but we got permission to turn the boat over to the destination country so they could do a more thorough inspection at the pier once the cargo had been offloaded. Not a total victory, but also not a full defeat.

And in the meantime, people have been getting **QUALIFIED!!** I think the list might be even longer this time! Congratulations to everyone who earned a qualification this leg. You're making the ship more capable with each and every qualification! Here goes the list:

Engineering Type Watches (or at least submitted by EO, LCDR Todd Devries):
Auxiliary Watch Stander: EM2 Tony Bennett
Throttle: ENS Johnny Upton; EMC Walter Evans; MKC Jason Newby; MK1 Bobby Messick; DC1 Jeremy Salinas; MK3 Charles Murray
EOW (Engineering Officer of the Watch -- the highest engineer watch, in charge of all the engineering plant during the watch): EMC Walter Evans; MK1 Bobby Messick; MK2 Matthew Bowman; EM2 Matthew Ferguson
Basic DCPQS: ENS Johnny Upton; ENS John Benedict; BMC Rob Vanlandingham; SK1 Bismarck Miranda; DC1 Jeremy Salinas; FS3 Billy Shuck; FS3 Cody Frizzelle; SN Josh Shawler
Advanced DCPQS: ENS Johnny Upton; ENS Aaron Corn; EMC Walter Evans; MKC Jason Newby; FS3 Cody Frizzelle
On-Scene Leader (manages the attack team during a damage control scenario (fire/flooding/etc)): EMC Walter Evans
Locker Leader (coordinates repair efforts from the Repair Locker (where all the damage control equipment/gear is stored): FSC Mike Eckstrom

Operations Type Watches (submitted by OPS, LCDR Jim Pafford)
Boarding Officer (BO): ME1 Jason Pratt
CIC Watch (Combat Information Center -- where operations are coordinated; OPS spends a lot of time in here): ME1 Jason Pratt
GPOW (Gangway Petty Officer of the Watch -- the person who you'll see at the quarterdeck when we're inport): IT2 Jason Mansfield
Nav Plot (Navigation plotter -- plots the ship's position in restricted waters (<1 christopher="" div="" from="" jozan="" nbsp="" nm="" shoal="" water="">Bearing Taker (shoots bearings using the alidade to help Nav Plot figure out where the ship is based on visual fixes): FS3 Billy Shuck - Bearing-taker

Support Department Watches (submitted by SUPPO, ENS Joe Smith)
SSW (Safety and Security Watchstander -- inport watch that keeps an eye on things by doing rounds throughout the ship every hour): SK1 Bismarck Miranda 
Lee Helm (works the throttles when we're at special sea detail): SK1 Bismarck Miranda
Inport OOD (CO's direct representative while the ship is inport): FSC Mike Eckstrom

Deck Department Quals (submitted by 1LT, ENS John DeCastra)
Aft Steering (ready to take over steering locally at the rudders if something happens to the steering control system; manned during special sea detail): SA Josh Shawler
Boat Crew: BM2 Christopher Jozan
Coxswain: BMC Rob Vanlandingham
Davit Operator (the davit is what allows us to launch the boat from where it usually rests, secure in the cradle): SN Nick Docherty
Helm and Lookout: SA Robert Morse
Master Helm (more precise helm qual, used during special sea detail, or other evolutions where being even one or two degrees off course could be **really** bad): SN Nick Docherty
Needless to say, there are *a lot* more quals this post! Just goes to prove that we're getting salty! 

Friday, October 3, 2014

First Leg Out

It's 2241 on Wednesday, closing down day three underway. We just recovered the small boat after a run into the local small boat station for a pax (passenger) pick up. It's crazy dark out to the east, while the coastal lights brighten the western sky. Clouds are broken enough to glimpse some stars, and there are lightening strikes flashing off all around.

We're all getting back into underway mode, which means endless flexibility to respond to the next planned and unplanned evolution, as well as a comforting amount of respect, compassion and general acknowledgement that we have a lot of people sharing not very much space. It's as simple as people being courteous when passing each other in the (not very wide) main passageway, and making room for each other, or being aware of that person sitting next to the aisle at a table on the messdeck and not getting grouchy when they don't realize someone is there and try to stand up. I know there are squabbles, even if I don't see them -- this many people in this little space, it's inevitable. But the squabbles are contained, overcome and (hopefully) quickly forgotten as the operational pace picks up.

The underway mode also means lots of stuff going on all at once. I'm still adjusting my mindset from my last ships. On a WHEC 378, with a crew of 175 people, multiple things can happen all at once. But on a WPB 110 most evolutions take every person on the ship to accomplish, which limits how many separate and simultaneous actions can take place. The WMEC 210 is somewhere in the middle, with some evolutions taking nearly everyone, especially when there are break-ins (people training in a position), while other evolutions can definitely be done at the same time because different divisions/types of qualifications are required. I'm still working on figuring out which is which.

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It's now Saturday late afternoon. The evening meal was just piped for watch reliefs and all E-3 and below. Usually it's for watch reliefs and First Class Petty Officers, but I think the change up for holiday routine is quite appropriate. The Support Department all pitched some help to the cooks tonight, in a traditional Morale Pizza Night. I got hooked on chicken wings during patrols on my last 378 (I used to think wings were disgusting, but Saturday night after Saturday night they couldn't be ignored, and now wings are a fave underway or inport), so I'm looking forward to chow. I think I even recall seeing ice cream on the menu!

We've been underway for about a week now, and have reached our op area (operational area -- where we're going to patrol for the remainder of our time underway this trip). People are starting to get qualified at their new watchstations. Here goes with the list:

Engineer-type quals:
Auxiliary Watch Stander: ENS Johnny Upton, EMC Walter Evans, MKC Jason Newby, MK1 Bobby Messick, DC1 Jeremy Salinas, MK3 Charles Murray
Throttle: DC3 Phillip Wert
Advanced DCPQS: FS3 Christopher Vitale
Basic DCPQS: BM2 Christopher Jozan, OS3 Joseph Sanchez

Operational-type quals:
Boarding Officer: BM2 Christopher Jozan
Quartermaster of the Watch: BM2 Christopher Jozan
Helm/Lookout: SA William Ball, SA Tyler Fields, SA Ronnie Liles 
CIC Watchstander: OS3 Ryan Taylor 
Boarding Teammember: GM1 Jason Brewer U/W OOD: ENS John Decastra

Aviation quals;
Tiedown: SN Nick Docherty, SN Phillip Cook, ET3 Mike Piunno 
Landing Signals Officer: FS1 Justin Henkel 
Helicopter Control Officer: OS2 John Holden

Personal milestones:
BM striker: SNBM Jake Rorabeck

Congratulations to each and every one of you for your accomplishments! Next watch! :)

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And now it's well into our first port call. I've never been here before, much to the MPA's dismay. I wish I had been better about typing a little bit each night, even five or ten minutes, cataloguing what happened during the day. From this distance, the week was a complete blur. There were definitely a few highlights.

Swim call on Sunday afternoon -- depth of water over 1200 fathoms (6 ft/fathom = more than 7200 feet to the bottom of the ocean), 80 degree plus water temperature, crystal blue cloudless sky, gentle two foot swell, and the guys trying to catch a football thrown from the water as they jumped off the boat platform.
FY14 close out -- I had my head buried in a budget/spend plan (how ironic) for the majority of the three days before 2359, 30 Sep 14 to make sure we made the best use of our ships funds while not overspending...all over a sketchy to non-existent internet connection = nearly tearing my hair out. But the dedication of SK1 Bismarck Miranda, SK3 Kal Hukkeri and ENS Joe Smith triumphed and we all survived FY14. SK1 said he enjoyed a favorite cigar on the fantail to put the final classy touch on closing out FY14.
Helo ops on yet another cloudless afternoon -- the flight course didn't allow for internet access, so I had no excuse not to be on the bridge for flight ops. I went up completely grumpy and frustrated about the chaos of closeout, but soon lost myself in the absolute cool factor of cruising along in an undisclosed location in the Caribbean watching an unmistakable orange helicopter land on the flight deck. I'm not sure what exactly about it struck me as so distinctively awesome, but after watching a pax xfer (passenger transfer), a number of touch-and-goes, and a hot refuel (refueling the helo with the blades still spinning) I went back down below (after we resumed our internet-friendly course) in a much better frame of mind.
Multiple small boat launchings and recoveries to help with qualifications, a DCPO (damage control petty officer) day so the DCPOs could work on their divisional damage control equipment (battle lanterns and fire extinguishers PMS (preventative maintenance system = sprucing something up before it breaks -- still my least favorite acronym ever!), a Class Alfa fire in laundry caused by excess lint left in the dryer combined with a ruptured fire main pipe and an casualty from electrocution (don't worry, it was a drill!!), FS3 Cody Frizelle's advancement to Third Class Petty Officer, and certainly not least because it's listed last, EO LCDR Todd Devries' promotion to O-4 (at sea, because we're cuttermen and it's just cooler that way)!
There was a bunch of operation stuff in there too -- not like we're out here floating around not doing our assigned mission, but I can't talk about those details due to operational security (OPSEC) concerns. There's no need to make the bad guys' jobs easier by sharing where we are and how we work to thwart their nefarious intentions.

I know there was a bunch of other great work being done throughout the ship, especially as evidenced by the long list above of qualifications earned. Knowing that is a gentle reminder that I need to get out of my stateroom and be more involved in what's going on around me. FY14 closeout is no longer a valid excuse for holing up in front of my computer. Time to get back to learning the ship, learning the new mission, and learning the crew.

Today was one of those days I hope I remember when I'm old and gray, sitting on my front porch rocker telling tales to young whippersnappers about back when I was a sailor. The Chiefs' Mess put together a beach barbeque for the crew. The water was warm, even if the beach was rocky and full of ankle breakers, and the palm trees were picturesque against the azure sky, as long as you could imagine away the chain link fences in the foreground.

The beach really was fantastic for beach combing...all kinds of cool rocks and corals washed up. I spent a good little while picking up pebbles and casting them back into the water once they dried to bring back their brilliant colors. I found three or four pieces of fan coral which are currently soaking in a light bleach solution in my sink.

It wasn't a great day for snorkeling, but a number of the crew went out anyway, braving the rocks to get out beyond the breakers. Much hilarity ensued from those less intrepid souls onshore watching them pick their way back in and get knocked about by the sets. Thankfully only minor scrapes were suffered.

A bunch of the crew come through at regular intervals, each van run picking up a couple of people while dropping off a couple of others. A frisbee was tossed and caught, tossed and missed, and tossed and oh shit!! the iguana is chasing me!! missed.

MKC Jason Newby brought his guitar. Midway through the afternoon, he opened the case, couldn't find his slide, but rocked out some mad blues tunes. Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimmy Hendrix best watch out! MKC Newby In. The. HOUSE!! Nothing like a Garth Brooks' I've Got Friends in Low Places and The Eagles' Take it Easy sing-along with live guitar back up to make an afternoon unforgettable.

There will always be personnel issues, machinery casualties, materiel condition discrepancies and all the other negative hardships to overcome. But there are also moments like this afternoon, watching a bunch of hard working professionals enjoy some down time, knowing I'm even a small part of that august group, that tip the balance on those negativities, and make the hardships of the job completely and utterly bearable.