Sunday, September 21, 2014

Drydock Recovery/Patrol Prep

Apparently this isn't going to be as easy as I thought, blogging as an XO. It has nothing to do with the subject matter -- there's **always** plenny to write about. No, it has more to do with actually finding a spare moment to sit down at the laptop and put words on the screen.

In my defense, the last few weeks have been...intense. Insanely busy. Barely controlled chaos. Packed full every. single. day. Where to start?

Last time I blogged, we had just gone back in the water after being on the blocks for just over 10 weeks. That was the Friday before Labor Day. By the time I got back to the ship on the following Wednesday (I made a quick trip down to Wilmington over the weekend to close on my house -- Hale Hikina), the crew and the Yard were in a mad dash to get the ship underway for sea trials. We originally had planned for 12 days in the water prior to sailing, but both the ship and the Yard made a massive push to get us outta there after a  very short seven days. It was a close thing, not knowing until mid-evening the night before that we had met all the CO's requirements to be ready to go.

The crew was fantastically responsive and adaptable. Damage control gear was onloaded and restowed; equipment was tested, repaired, tweaks made, tested again; stores were onloaded and stowed; charts were reviewed; drills were briefed, run and debriefed; checklists were broken out and followed. People were flexible and worked incredibly hard to make it all come together. Needless to say, we had some motivation -- to get home.

We all had big chunks of rust falling off of us (metaphorically speaking -- most of the physical rust was gone from the ship by now, thank goodness), as we prepped to get underway and make the 12 hour transit down the Chesapeake Bay. We didn't do everything perfectly, but we did it well enough to be safe and get where we were going. Along the way, we swung ship, which means we went round and round in circles adjusting the magnetic compass, trying to eliminate deviation that makes the magnetic compass read differently than the gyro compass. We also had the small boat in the water, both to transport Yard workers and the compass guy to and from shore and to do drills and requalify people as boat coxswain and boat crewman. We anchored, exercising both anchors. The starboard anchor gave us a few fits, not wanting to seat itself in the pocket (tuck up into where it usually goes) when we hauled it up; but eventually with some tenacity and creativity from the focs'le crew, they were able to get it haused.

The transit down the Chesapeake Bay was mostly uneventful, though I know the CO and EO were taking phone calls all night long in accordance with (iaw) their Standing Orders to the watch. When asked, CDR Randall (the Commanding Officer -- shame on me for not introducing him before now!) said he got phone calls about every 40 minutes because of shipping traffic. All. Night. Long. Oof. We crossed over the Chesapeake Bay Tunnel at about 0345, I think, and headed out to sea.

The day of transit off the coast was another full day. We ran a main space fire drill, abandon ship drill, man overboard drills, both shipboard and small boat pick up. We left the small boat in the water so they could do more training and continue working on qualifications, while onboard the ship, new conning officers practiced driving the ship and chased after a couple of red cherry fenders tied together as something to aim for. I'm sure there was much more going on in each of the departments as well, but that's what I can remember from a couple of weeks removed.

We pulled into Wilmington on the morning tide. Families were waiting on the pier. Liberty was granted around 1145, after the CO let me have the privilege of reading a Team Commendation Award the EO (Engineer Officer, LT Todd DeVries) had written for the great work the crew had done while at drydock.

Things didn't really slow down once we got back home. The crew got a (very) few days of standdown early in the week, and then we had a couple more workdays. I don't remember what all had to be done, but we don't have long before we leave again on patrol. We fueled, had two deliveries of ammo to onload, stores onload, supplies onload, small boat ops to keep going with getting people trained up, lots and lots of purchasing of stuff (especially since FY14 is winding down -- spend, spend, spend!!!), more equipment testing, receiving and stowing all the goodies we had ordered that came in, DILIGolf tournament planning, DILI 50th Anniversary planning (definitely more on those two events to come), route planning, chart preps, new people reported onboard, some folks left off to A school, inport damage control drills were run, a crane came to help us repair some gear on the mast, a new-to-us small boat was delivered from the boat pool, and I'm getting wore out all over again just remembering how busy we've been. There were some random personnel issues thrown in there as well which helped to keep me occupied in the intervals.

I don't really know where September went. Last time I up and looked around, it was still August, and I was sunning myself on the beach, waiting (unsuccessfully the first time) to close on my house. A lot has happened in the meantime. And more to come over the next few weeks.

Now -- bring me that horizon!

Monday, September 1, 2014


DILIGENCE has been in drydock at the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore since late mid-June. I have what I’d call a tolerance-hate relationship with drydocks…I recognize the fundamental need for the deep maintenance that gets done on the ship, but I have a visceral dislike of actually being in drydock. The ship is torn all to pieces, things don’t work the way they should, the normal routine of either underway or inport is disrupted, there are a bunch of people I don’t know on the ship, and everything is dirty.

Yard workers working to replace wasted metal plating on the hull
I have a theory about all that dirt: normally, a ship is cushioned in the water. Any vibrations from work on one part of the ship are dampened by all the water surrounding the hull. In drydock, since the ship is out of the water, there is no cushioning or dampening, so all the dirt and grime that has built up over the course of 50 years vibrates out when work like needle-gunning or water blasting is done. And those vibrations ripple out in intensity from the site of the work…if work is being done on the focs’le (on the front of the ship), the vibrations will shake out the dirt in aft steering (at the back of the ship), so that you can never really tell where the next mess will come from.

The Palomino look -- primer going on the boat deck
This drydock has focused mainly on shaft work to make sure the shafts will continue to be able to rotate safely in alignment at high rotations per minute (rpms) to turn the propellers and move the ship and hull, freeboard, superstructure and mast preservation where contractors took all the exterior metal (other than the decks) down to bare metal and then primed and repainted everything. There are plenty of other smaller projects that are in progress also, but those two items are the big drivers for how long we’ve been on the blocks.

Besides the work that the Yard is doing, the crew is also cranking out a lot of ship’s force projects. The Tiger Army is a group of voluntolds from each Department that tackle a different project each week, like PPPing (prep, prime paint) the interior fire stations, PPPing a number of interior hatches and doors, removing vestigial degaussing cable from a number of spaces, PPPing some interior bulkheads, and cleaning the galley and getting it ready to reopen.

 Each Department has their own worklist as well: the Engineers have been busy PPPing equipment and pipes in the engine room and throughout the engineering spaces, repairing brackets and guards for equipment including dehumidifiers in the berthing areas to make the living spaces more comfortable and less wet, replacing air handling motors to improve the circulation on the ship, and a bunch of other projects. Many of the Engineers are also inspectors for drydock work items, making sure that the Yard workers and contractors are completing the work to the specifications required by the Coast Guard. You’d think that since we were in a Coast Guard facility, it wouldn’t be an issue. And while the Yard workers do great work, they are human, so our inspectors are a great backstop and are critical to the team work necessary between the ship and the Yard to make sure the work gets done right.

FSC Mike Eckstrom, FS1 Justing Henkel, and BMC Robert Vanlandingham
 on bucket brigade
The Engineers also spearheaded an impromptu, pick-up project that became more reasonable when we had some flooding in CPO (Chief Petty Officer) Berthing. While the hull was being painted, the overboard discharge holes were plugged up so that paint wouldn't get into them. The plugs were left in after the workday. And then it rained. A LOT. The first time it rained overnight, so MKC Terry Tice woke up at 0130 to the disturbing sounds of flowing water within his berthing area. Somehow the deck drains are piped into the same line as the air conditioning units. Since the discharges were plugged, the rain water backed up from the deck drains into the a/c units, and came out in the berthing area. The second time it happened it was during the workday, and we were able to get control of it before the water got too deep. 

MK1 Bobby Messick, FN Josh Evans and FN Marvin Campbell
scrape up carpet goo
Because the carpet got all wet, MPA decided it was the perfect time to rip up the carpet, clean the deck and seal it against some fuel that had been spilled ages ago. The guys did a great job on it, and no diesel fumes linger.

ENS Brent Lane and ET1 Calen Isbell taking me on a tour of the mast
The Operations Department has been doing a ton of different work too. On the bridge, the Navigation Division PPP’ed  bulkheads, joiners and the console, updated navigational charts and are still working on prepping for our next patrol. The OSs (Operations Specialists) and Maritime Enforcement Specialists (MEs) are also prepping for next patrol, updating checklists and references, indoc’ing newly reported personnel into the many security requirements the ship has, and doing their own workspace improvement projects. The Electronics Technicians (ETs) have done a ton of work too, removing some obsolete equipment and installing some new gear…which all has been totally overshadowed by their installation early last week of the DirectTV satellite equipment. Huge morale boost for the crew! And me J I had DIY’s Rehab Addict on in the background for the rest of the week.

The Support Department has been busy supporting everyone else, from buying all the stuff the other departments need to get their work done, working  towards FY14 closeout, taking advantage of being onsite with the CG Yard Clinic to take care of medical readiness items like periodic health assessments (PHAs) to OMSEP (oof, I cannot for the life of me remember what that stands for, but it’s all the work safety type stuff like hearing tests, respirator fit tests, and lead monitoring) to dental appointments and flight physicals to making sure crewmembers’ pay and benefits are squared away, checking in new people and checking out departing members, and getting ready to reopen the galley with a deep clean on the food storage spaces and planning out  an amazing menu for when the galley opens today!!! Biscuits and gravy on Thursday!! Yay!

GPOW in the Quarterdeck shack and
waterjetted superstructure waiting to be painted 
And last but not least, the Deckies have been cranking away at rescue and survival (R&S) system preventative maintenance and ground tackle (the anchors and equipment to work the anchors) PPPing. Deck Department has also contributed a number of members to the Tiger Army since their worklist has been shifted to the end of the yard period because of all the exterior PPPing going on by the Yard. The Boatswain’s Mates (BMs) are also the main inspectors for that work, making sure that the environmental tests were completed each morning so the paint will be solid for years. Too much humidity is bad for the new-fangled paint systems, and can cause massive failures. Paint falling off the hull while the ship is in the water = bad, bad, bad.

Yup, we’ve been busy. Folks have also gotten the opportunity to take some well-deserved leave, attend schools, go TAD on other ships, and get some required training knocked out.
The bright side of drydock -- props shining in the morning sun

I guess looking at all that good stuff that’s gone on during the yard period, I shouldn’t be so down on drydocks! The ship looks awesome and we got a ton of work done while we were here. And the best part is, we're back in the water as of this past Friday. Equipment testing today, fueling tomorrow, and closer every day to getting back underway!

Monday, August 11, 2014


Blog meet DILIGENCE:
I may have jumped the gun a little with my last post, and slacked with providing any context from where the post was coming from...but I was also so excited to have real live, exciting *boat stuff* to write about again! So here's the backstory:

USCGC DILIGENCE (WMEC 616) is a 210 foot medium endurance cutter homeported in Wilmington, NC. She has a crew of about 75-80 members (depending upon whether or not there's an aviation detachment onboard), that is mostly enlisted, with 13 officers onboard. DILIGENCE works for LANT Area (Atlantic Area -- covers, well, the Atlantic coast, from the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean all the way to the Northern Atlantic off of New England), and has done mostly fisheries enforcement patrols for the last year, but also goes south for AMIO (alien migrant interdiction operations) and counter-narcotics patrols. The ship is currently in drydock at the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore, MD (more on that later) to address scheduled maintenance required to keep a 50-year-old ship operational. DILIGENCE was commissioned on August 26, 1964...she really will be 50 years old in just a couple of weeks -- no hyperbole or exaggeration there! Her name is frequently and affectionately shortened to DILI.

XO of DILIGENCE was my first choice of billets upon leaving Headquarters. I knew I needed (and wanted!) to go back afloat after my staff tour, so it was really a matter of prioritizing which ships to ask for, and in what order. I looked at their maintenance schedule (so I willingly went into my sixth drydock with eyes wide open), their patrol history, who the CO was, when s/he was due to rotate, and geographic area before finalizing my list.

DILIGENCE came out on top based highly on her homeport. Wilmington is a super cool town...or so I remembered it as such. I lived in Wilmington before I joined the Coast Guard, having moved there after living in southwestern Virginia for almost a year, trying to make a go of living on someone else's farm and working for an organic farmers' cooperative. It was a good year, and I learned a lot, but there simply weren't many opportunities in Dungannon to earn enough of a living to buy my own farm. So I picked up and kind of randomly moved to Wilmington. I loved the beach, so why not?

I don't really remember having any sense of the Coast Guard before I moved to Wilmington. I mean, I'm sure I heard about it on news stories, like for big rescues or incidents, but I never had any personal exposure to anything Coast Guard. That changed when I got to Wilmington. It wasn't anything dramatic like a rescue at sea, but the Coast Guard has a pretty large presence in the town. I'd see the 47s and the 41s from Station Wrightsville Beach cruising along the beach front, and drove right by Station Oak Island if I ever headed down to Oak Island. There were a couple of prominently place advertising bill boards I would see also. And of course, there was DILIGENCE moored in all her glory *right* downtown. I'm fairly certain that my curiosity was wildly piqued when my boyfriend and I would go downtown for dinner out and we would see the ship there. All that drove me into the Wilmington Recruiting Office to find out what the Coast Guard was all about.


DILIGENCE meet my blog:
I learned a pretty important lesson about this blog when I was on KISKA. Back then, I was writing it, but I wasn't forthright with the crew about it. Not that I lied about it or anything, but I also didn't tell them about it. They were a little um...not quite offended, but maybe had their feelings hurt a little that they had to hear about stories I was telling about them from their friends. The Coast Guard is a small community. Word got back to the crew pretty fast that this blog thing was going on.

So when I decided to keep writing upon my transfer to DILI, I knew I had to be more straightforward in letting the crew know what I was doing. Here's the email I sent out to them:


I started writing a blog about my Coast Guard experiences about five years ago. I offer an explanation of why I write below. The short of it is that I get a lot of professional and personal satisfaction from sharing my CG experiences in this forum.

I plan to keep writing while I'm on DILIGENCE. I offer the following ground rules, based on my respect for you as individuals and professionals, that I will follow:
-- I will respect your privacy and not share details about any personnel issues. I may talk about personnel issues from a general standpoint, as they relate to challenges we face as a ship and I face as a leader.
-- I will not make fun of you. I will strive to describe the humor that keeps us sane throughout crazy days.
-- I will regularly mock myself. This does not give you permission to also make fun of me.
-- I will not play favorites, and will try to mention people, divisions, departments, and collaterals equally to the best of my ability, depending on whatever the topic is I'm writing about.
-- If you do not wish to be written about at all, I won't mention you. Please just send me an email, and I'll keep you out of any posts.
-- I will be relentlessly positive. There is plenty to complain about with the lifestyle we've chosen. I chose to focus on what I can do to keep moving things in the right direction, as opposed to whining about what sucks. One of my favorite quotes is "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness," from Eleanor Roosevelt.
-- I will write on my own time. This is not part of my official duties, and I will try to keep it from impinging on all the other things I have to do as your XO.

The link to the blog is Don’t be put off by the blog's title -- I rarely delve into strictly girly topics, mostly because I think being female is pretty irrelevant to how I do my job. Please feel free to share the link with your family and friends.

I'm also open to considering guest appearances if anyone is interested in submitting a post :)


So, introductions have now been officially made on both sides. I'm pretty excited to see how this all works out!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Fire Main

Fires are one of the most dangerous and common casualties that happen on ships. It's been that way since sailors started sailing. But because fires are so dangerous, we have many ways to combat them onboard. And we train relentlessly to get good at putting them out quickly and safely.

An interior fire plug -- freshly painted by the Tiger Army, 1st Regiment
One key component of our fire fighting capabilities, and really any kind of damage control, is the ship's fire main. The fire main is the system that carries sea water throughout the ship. It can also be used to dewater a space (I know -- it sounds counter-intuitive, but it works on the Venturi it, mostly because I suck at explaining physics), to desmoke a space, for cooling water to protect fire boundaries, and a host of other common and uncommon chores onboard, some of which are related to damage control, and some that are not (including flushing the sewage tanks, and providing a sea water supply to the refrigeration system).

So the fire main is *REALLY* important. Which is why every new crewmember has to draw it out on a piece of paper, with all the valves, fire stations and various accouterments their first month onboard. I can always tell when someone is working on their drawings, because their head is craned up, looking at the overhead, they have a pencil and pad of paper in their hands, and a somewhat frustrated and puzzled look on their face as they try to follow the pipes throughout the ship. I know this also because I was one of those folks these last few weeks.

Which brings me to a confession -- I took more than a month to get my fire main drawing done. I have excuse after excuse, but I'm definitely embarrassed and a little frustrated with myself that turned it in just today -- **five** weeks after reporting onboard. Absolutely not the example I wanted to set. Ugh. But it's done now. I handed it to DCA (the Damage Control Assistant, ENS Jon Sapundjieff) for his review. I expect to get it back tomorrow, hopefully without too many corrections required.

I'm expecting there won't be too many corrections because I definitely learned from the best. DILIGENCE's MPA (Main Propulsion Assistant, CWO Andy Molnar) walked me through the fire main about four times (mostly because it took that long for some of the intricacies of the system to start sinking into my little pea brain -- it had nothing to do with his teaching skills). MPA knows the fire main from memory. He can (and does, regularly, for all the new folks) draw it without hesitation, on the glass of the framed chart of the Caribbean that we have hanging in the wardroom. He sketches it out to give an idea of how it's laid out and then leaves it up to the crewmember to walk around, trace the pipes, label the valves and find the fire stations. Which was hugely helpful -- but only once I realized that he was performing fire main magic. He was making 90 degree turns in the actual pipe into straight lines on his drawing. Once I got that little trick through my head, the drawing became a lot simpler!

I said lots of times during the probably eight hours I spent crawling all through the ship working on my drawing that it was like a massive treasure hunt. I'd get so excited when I got to the end of a branch and find a fire plug, or a cut off valve for the countermeasure washdown system, or the magazine sprinkler, or...anything! that meant I didn't have to keep following that particular branch of pipe and could go find the next branch.

A naked fire plug on the exterior of the main deck (starboard side)
One funny story about my adventures tracing the fire main: on 3 Jul, the Yard needed to move DILIGENCE on their ship rail system to bring another ship out of the water. I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to work on my fire main drawing. There wouldn't be any power to the ship because they had to disconnect all the shore ties while they moved us, so I couldn't work on the computer. I'd be a captive audience for the move because the brow wouldn't be attached. What a great use of my time -- throw on some coveralls, grab my flashlight, and go work on my fire main. It was a fantastic plan. I got a ton done on the drawing, even though it was mostly pitch black in the interior spaces. The battle lanterns were working, but there's just not that many of them to supply emergency lighting. There was one known flaw in my plan -- the very fact that we're in drydock. A goodly number of valves, all the strainers, and all the exterior fire stations have been removed as part of work items. Needless to say, that just added an extra bit of challenge to the whole process.
The other flaw I wasn't really expecting. I was down in the deepest belly of the engine room, all the way forward, just outside of the forward auxiliary space, and the ship started to move on the rails.

So...ships are meant to move smoothly *through the water,* NOT on land, and NOT on some rail system. It was creepy as creepy could be. I'm pretty sure I ran screaming from the engine room like the worst actress in a B-grade horror flick -- you know, the one who leaves the house, or answers the phone when everyone in the audience is hollering at her not to. But the room was moving, it was dark (and ghastly hot), and I didn't have any frame of reference *at all!* Newly reported OS3 Joseph Sanchez and BM3 Andrew McLellan were in the engine room doing their drawings at the same time (they'd been onboard for four days), and I'm pretty sure they chortled aloud as I stumbled in a mad panic out of the space. They calmly continued working. I crept back in a few embarrassed minutes later, to take another whack at it. Thankfully, moving on the rails took less than 10 minutes, so I didn't lose too much time being a complete wuss.

After spending about five hours on the day we shifted on the rails working on my drawing, I had to take a break. When I went back to work on it again a couple of days later, MPA was busy doing other DC training for unqualified members on the messdeck. He recommended I ask SA Christopher Kingsley to help guide me through what I had left. Kingsley was a huge help, knew how the fire main came together in the uptake space, and was wonderfully patient walking back and forth with me while I tried to wrap my head around the tangle of pipes. Imagine my surprise the next day when, talking with MPA about how helpful Kingsley was, I found out he had been onboard for less than four months. Holy moly! I was sure he had been here at least twice that, given how well he knew the system!

My fire main drawing -- signed off by DCA
I realized I still had a little more work to do after I transferred my working copy to a clean copy, so I went down to the log office, where there are a set of DC plates that show how all the piping runs through the ship for the fire main. MK1 Bobby Messick was working peacefully on the laptop in the space, and noticed me rifling through the DC plates. Jokingly, he asked me where the drawing was that got passed from XO to XO. It's a totally legitimate question -- why *did* I spend so much time hot and sweaty, frustrated and confused, bashing my head (a few times literally bashing my head --ouch!! I still have the bump on my forehead from cracking my noggin on a pipe trying to get a visual on that one valve just forward of the number one fire pump that's tucked oh so sweet and cozily behind the hot water tank) against the fire main?

In a slightly more elegant manner than this, I told him that I felt like I had gypped myself on my last big ship. I was OPS, and I could get away with not taking the time to draw out the 378's fire main. And I always regretted it. I felt like I didn't know the ship as well as I could have. I simply don't want to feel that way again. I *want* to know how things work on the ship. I *want* to know exactly what it means when something breaks, if for no other reason than to gain a very visceral understanding of where the line that shan't be crossed actually is. 

We have lots and lots and lots of safety margin built into a lot of what we do on a day to day basis. But when the shit hits the fan, I want to know exactly how hard I can push -- our equipment and our people -- to effectively complete the mission without permanently damaging something or someone beyond repair. And the only way to know that is to be completely familiar with the ship. Drawing the fire main is a great place to start, and is in no way an end to my desire to learn about the ship.

One final thought on the fire main (sung to the tune of "12 Days of Christmas," of course -- with a few extra syllables crammed in): six interior jumper stations, five motor operated valves, four main deck fire plugs, three remote starts, two fire pumps, and one zebra valve in the uptake space.

PS - I did get my drawing back, with four corrections I had to chase down. The re-submission after corrections was successful! I got it back in my inbox today, signed off on by DCA!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Next Step

I don't even know where to start. It's been a whirlwind month. I'm not sure when things will settle down, but I vaguely remember this feeling from previous transfers...where I'm waiting and waiting and then all of a sudden the time comes, and I fall over the precipice into transitional chaos. There's only so much preparation that can be done beforehand, and the rest is just trying to keep all the details from flying off to boomerang back to slap me upside the head.

It's not too hard to pinpoint when things started to go slightly awry. I originally scheduled my household goods (HHG) pick up for the Tuesday, three days after I got back from two weeks at PXO school. Unfortunately, I've collected too much crap, and the movers needed two days to pack and move me. So, they scheduled my pack out day for Saturday...the very day after I got back from being gone for two weeks. Which meant that before going to school, I had to be mostly ready to live the next three-ish months with whatever I separated out from being packed. The week before school was busy, dividing stuff into piles: one pile for two weeks of school, one pile for three months until my stuff gets delivered, and everything else.

The movers came. My stuff is gone to storage, and I hope that whatever I forgot to separate out is either not too critical or not to expensive. Things are still spread out...a pile of stuff where I'm staying, my Service Dress Blues (SDBs) are at another friend's house, my car has some bags of crap, and The Old Man and some gear is still at my old house. One day it'll all meet back up again.

PXO school was a great opportunity to scrub off some of the rust accumulated from four years ashore. I felt for the JGs and ENS that were coming from ships because there was *a lot* of simulator time -- and they've likely all stood a lot of watch lately. My group got run over by a 900 foot container ship headed inbound under the Golden Gate bridge...whoops! But better in the simulator than in real life.

The discussions in class were good also, even it if was kind of like pulling teeth to get more than one or two people in the class to talk (needless to say, I was not one of those people that had a hard time talking -- pretty sure folks got sick of hearing my nattering). More on those discussions in a few...

I have officially departed from CG-821. Friday, 30 May was my last day, and oh what a day! I was the third person to leave the office this summer, and it felt like I lingered around like the stench of all the bags of popcorn I burned in the microwave over the last two years. My accounts have been in the very capable hands of my relief since a while before I went to PXO school, so all I really had to do was checkout.

Umm -- so, ahh, I never got back to finishing this post in a timely manner. Which is really a shame, since by now I've forgotten all the stuff I was going to say a month and a half ago.

So to catch up my readers -- here's the rundown since I last wrote in this post: I  closed on selling my house in DC, rode The Old Man down to North Carolina, stopping to see my aunt and the black and whites (aka my cats, Lucy and Harry) on my way to Wilmington, reported to my ship (USCGC DILIGENCE (WMEC 616)), rode the ship up to Baltimore, Maryland by way of Little Creak, Virginia, took over as XO, drydocked the ship, and made an offer on a beach house in Carolina Beach, NC that was accepted by the builder. No big.

Actually, that's *so not true!* The last month and a half has been chaos :) A good, maybe great, kind of chaos, but ridiculously busy all the same. But I am back to posting. I'm not sure how this is going to work beyond having *way* better stories to tell about what's going on with the ship than I ever had from my time in the office! I may post in fits and starts for a while -- at least until I get my fire main drawing done and pass my DCPQS test. I mean, a Girl has to have her priorities straight!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Disentangling, Control Freak-Style

It's a control freak's nightmare...having to slowly and inexorably release the grip on the helm and allow someone else to take over steering the ship. Never mind how competent, capable, energetic, and excited the new helmsman is (which he totally is!), it is still a very difficult thing to do. I only hope I can do it with grace and humor.

My Body Shop relief (BSR) showed up at the beginning of February. He's coming from grad school, an off-season transfer. Serendipitiously, he also took over from me on MAUI, so we've worked together (briefly) before. I'm just glad he wasn't so put off my whatever messes I left on MAUI (because inevitably, there were some) that he ran screaming into the night when he heard he'd be relieving me again.

It has been *great* to have this relief time with him -- we have an almost four month turnover period. BSR took the first few weeks to find his way around the building and attend some useful DHS budgeting training, which will serve him well. We also spent a bit of that time going over the basics about Body Shop issues. My (old) account (good grief, I can't even seem to talk about in a way that is not deeply imbued with ownership) is complicated and technical: FTP and FTE, actuals, enacted, PresBud levels, all slightly different; mandatory appropriations versus discretionary appropriations versus supplemental appropriations, and how they each affect the FTP/FTE numbers; military, civilian (temp, term and permanent) and SELRES workforces, all with different management strategies; PPA structure; how OE is different from AC&I is different from the other minors; Balanced Workforce Strategy (BWS) and the Balanced Workforce Assessment Tool (BWAT); the details go on and on.

One of the hardest things I've been trying to do since BSR took over (officially on 7 Mar) is to listen to a conversation and not jump in with my opinion, and instead let him form and communicate his own opinion. I've pretty much sucked at it. I'm trying to tell myself it's still ok...the subtleties of many of these issues took me more than a year to understand, so BSR is continuing to learn about the connections while I spout out the details.

But I think I know how he's feeling...or at least I remember how I felt after about two months with these there was a mountain of information I was trying to dig through with a teaspoon, looking for gold nuggets of relevancy, but I didn't know what gold looked like -- and it was dark anyway. I spent many, many days wondering when I was going to get fired for being the dumbest person in the room.

So I'm trying to be encouraging, reminding BSR that this is complicated stuff, that I've been working with it for over two years, and I still get taken by surprise by nuances.

Another hard thing about any kind of relief is that new issues will continue to crop up even as others quiet down and return to their graves (sometimes to churn back up like zombies a couple weeks or months later). The bureaucracy chugs along. I joke that I have left BSR a bakery case full of shit-filled twinkies (thanks to my Company Commander from Boot Camp for that lovely twinkie analogy :)). I don't know what all the issues are; I know, or can guess, what some of them might be. But I can only do my best to give him the information and background to react to anything new that comes up.

With schools and leave (trip to Hawaii!!! Yay :D), I have about 18 days left in the office. I'm definitely ready to go on to the next adventure...but I'm not sure I'm ready to leave this challenge yet. Definitely the good kind of problem to have.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Selectively Direct

I'm going to tell two stories in this post; one is umm, shameful, if not sad and mortifying, and the other is exactly how things should be.

The summer my mother passed away, I was one of her primary caregivers when her health deteriorated to the point she could not do things for herself. My sister was her other primary caregiver. Towards the end, she was wheel-chair bound (but thankfully not for years and years and years like her own mother), and the circulation in her extremities was very poor. We put cloths on her legs to protect her skin. We had a process, and it was very particular. Cloths had to be set in just the right places to make sure Mom was comfortable. Getting her into and out of bed had to be done "just so." 

One day, I was helping Mom get settled for a nap. I was tired. Tired because I not slept well the night before; tired because I had been helping her for months by this point; and tired because I didn't know how much longer I was going to have to do this. Just tired. I was having trouble getting the cloths set right, and she was telling me how I was doing it wrong. Rather than jokingly saying, "I *know* how to do this!" and laughing about it, I became curt, barely giving one word responses. I'm sure I had a painfully pinched scowl on my face, and anything I said to her was spare and only exactly what had to be said. 

I made my mom cry. My sister told me later I had scared them both by being so icy. 


When KISKA was attempting to return to homeport after spending an extra few days in Honolulu unsuccessfully chasing that damn shaft vibration gremlin, it was a snotty, snotty day. Winds were howling at 20 knots sustained, gusting to 30-35 knots from the northeast. The Alenuihaha channel was 12 to 15 feet with wind blown waves. I was not really looking forward to the trip, but we were all ready to go home. We got about half-way through the Kaiwi Channel between Oahu and Molokai, special sea detail was secured, and most people had laid below to secure themselves for a shitty transit. There were probably four or five people on the bridge, watchstanders, break-ins and maybe one or two folks who just weren't ready to rack out yet. As we pounded through the waves, with the waves spraying over the mast, the gremlin came back with a crazed vengeance. 

The engineers made a mad scramble for the engine room, while we shut down the starboard engine from the bridge. Nobody on the crew could have missed the noise and feeling of the vibration, so they trickled up to the bridge to find out what was going on, and what they could do to help. Within about seven minutes, we had about 10 to 12 people on the bridge. The radios were turned up to hear any local traffic and comms with Sector about what had happened. There was traffic around us, a tug maybe, that we needed to figure out what we were doing with it, since we had come about so precipitously to provide a better course for the troubleshooting ninjaneers. People were all talking at once. We were losing the bubble. *I* was losing the bubble.

"SILENCE ON THE BRIDGE!" I commanded. 

Yes, it was a command, given with authority and directness. Everyone immediately shut their mouth. The radios got turned down. XO started sending people below, to make preps for returning to Honolulu. Movement returned to normal speed.

But for that split second, there was *silence* on the bridge. 

In both these stories, I fell back on what I think of as my training -- which was, at the time 12 years of military service where orders are given and received with minimal need for anything extra. The operational community of which I am part values directness...maybe more than values, maybe actually survives and thrives on directness. 

But Sheryl Sandburg in Lean In talks about how women who are direct tend to be thought of as bitchy and mean (I'm paraphrasing here since I don't have a copy of the book in front of me). Women are supposed to be nice and non-confrontational, empathetic and supportive. And anytime we step away from those characteristics, we risk being labeled "ball-busters." 

I'm ok with that. But I'd like to have my cake and eat it too. Because I think that I should play to my strengths, get as much value as possible out of being supportive and nice. There is no better way to build a strong team than having a team-member in a leadership position who visibly cares about and values the other people as individuals. The individuals are the building blocks of the team, and when they feel valued, it just makes sense to me that the team is better at what it does. 

I also want to have access to the power of that "silence on the bridge" moment. I want to know that I can be stunningly direct to achieve immediate results. No one on that bridge thought I was harsh or bitchy for cutting through the chaos that morning. In some ways, I think they may have been grateful for being given direction and a sense of purpose.

But in between those two ends of the spectrum is a whole lot of space. A close friend sent me a text a few days ago, "How do I stop being a pushover without becoming a mean, nasty person?" I think she is struggling with how to energize her apathetic team. My half-asleep answer was, "Set expectations and hold people to them. Including yourself." After thinking about it a little more, I would refine it to "Communicate clear expectations, and hold people to them. Including yourself." 

My expectation for myself is to be a caring person with strongly-held high standards. I think that works in both personal and professional settings. There is definitely a personal aspect to this, especially having opened with the story about my mom. But I've also been reminded lately that I can be direct in just daily interactions, especially if I haven't eaten in longer than I should have. So step one for success in meeting my own expectation is to not get hangry. Hangry or tired directness is the bad kind. Clear-eyed, know-thyself directness is the good kind. In my mind anyway.