Monday, August 11, 2014

Introductions

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.

BT

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:

All,

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 www.justagirlindaworld.blogspot.com. 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 :)

v/r,
XO


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 effect...google 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 labeled...in 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 accounts...like 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. 

BT

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. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Penciled In

Tuesday was a snow day. Big OPM closed federal offices since we were supposed to get up to eight inches of snow. I went into the office before the snow started, partly to check what was going on, and partly to pick up my laptop so I could "work" from home. I didn't have anything immediately deliverable, but wanted to make sure I was available if taskers came in despite most things federal being closed.

And I wanted to stay "green-dotted" so the Assignment Officer knew I was not too busy to talk to him. I thought of if like putting a fishing line into the water while the ship transits between tasking. Fishing for a Detailer, if you will. I spent a lot of time catching up on the message board on Tuesday.

At 1222, an IM popped up at the bottom of my screen. "Charlotte, do you have time for a call?"

OMG, OMG, OMG, it *worked!!* "FISH ON!"

"Absolutely! I'm working from home, so call me on my cell..."

Two extremely long minutes later, the phone rang.

"I'm happy to tell you I have you penciled in for [your First Choice]."

Breathe, C, remember to breathe! I expressed my excitement, and we went through a few more details about what happens next in the assignment process (brief the command, issue orders, etc). I didn't really have any professional advice-type questions, since I must be doing the right things right to get my first choice. I'll definitely be reaching out to OPM towards the end of next tour to try to figure out what I should do for my next staff tour, but this one was kinda a no-brainer that I needed to get back afloat.

We chatted another couple of minutes about some other AY14-related issues (the unexpected WPB decomms in the FY14 budget), and then hung up so that he could get on with his other calls.

Thanks to all my friends, family and co-workers for being patient with me as the news sinks in and the giddiness abates. I didn't quite go skipping down the halls of Headquarters on Wednesday, but it was a close thing.

I'm being cagey about which boat it is for a reason. Orders aren't officially on the board, so things can still change. And I still need to figure out how to approach this blog thing as an XO. Which means talking about it with my new CO. Up until now, I have been relatively free to talk about what I want, how I want. The stuff I'm writing about here is distant enough from real people, that I don't risk getting crosswise with my boss about leadership or personnel issues. And when I was writing on KISKA, I was writing as the CO...my opinion was the one that mattered at the end of the day.

It's not going to be that way as XO. I will have my opportunity to express my opinion behind closed doors to the CO, but when the door opens, and decisions are presented to the crew, there is no room for daylight between the CO and XO. The XO is the Executive Officer...the title could just as easily be the Executor...the person who executes the commands. I don't get to have my own public opinion.

There are a couple of huge benefits I have gotten from writing this blog:
-- When I was on KISKA, it was a fantastic way to make the crews' daily lives accessible to their friends and family. I got *so much* positive feedback when I posted about normal, mostly boring details about patrols. The details are normal and boring to us who live them, but they are nuggets of insight into how we spend our days for folks back on the beach. Pictures of  something as routine as boat lowering detail can show loved ones that their sailors are *good* at what they do, professional and dedicated in ways that families don't always see.
-- I use this blog as a way to work through leadership and big picture issues in my head. I might not have any idea of where I'm going when I start a post, but by the end, I've usually distilled the issues and come up with some sense of what is important about whatever it is. And I'm forced to write about things because I have people reading the blog. It would be much easier to not expend so much brain power on thinking about any of this leadership crap, but because I have an audience, I write, and because I write, I'm a better leader.

I think that moving into the XO position, those two goals are likely mutually exclusive. I can see keeping an open forum for the first topic. I'm not so sure about keeping an open forum for the second. It will depend largely upon how comfortable the CO is with what I have to say. And also largely upon how well I think I can separate out the issues from the details. A ship's crew is a very small, self-contained world. There are not many secrets onboard a ship. And I will not jeopardize people's privacy for the sake of my blog. As FMR reminded me, I am accountable to the crew and the wardroom first and foremost, before being accountable to any readership I might have.

On the other hand, I think there is a definite need for continued consideration, analysis, reevaluation of leadership issues in today's Coast Guard. The issues are changing, the system is calcified, are the people caught in the middle? What can I do in my small part of the system to improve the dialogue, and come up with creative solutions that support the individuals, enhance the mission and improve the flexibility of the organization?

I'm facing a quandary here. I welcome any input about how to approach the details of this next challenge. I talked briefly with the incumbent XO. He started to read me into some of the challenges the ship and crew are facing, and sounded a little beat down by all of it. He's been there for almost two years, and I know how he feels right about now. But from my view, if there are no challenges, if there are no problems, I don't have a job as XO...now where's the fun in that?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Total.Budget.Geekery.

On Friday, the Senate passed the FY 2014 Omnibus bill, and sent it to the President for signature. It's been all over the news, especially since this bill finalizes funding for FY 2014 which was a particularly contentious year, spawning the first government shutdown in nearly two decades.

I was on leave Tuesday when the House released the text of the bill and the explanatory statement (link under "Bill Text," explanatory statement is in "Divisions D-F"), flying back from four days of amazing skiing in Park City, UT. First sign of Total.Budget.Geekery: scrambling to download the bill to my tablet while still in the airport so I could read through it on the return flight...all 1,582 pages of it, not including the explanatory statement. Thank goodness for the "Search" function.

It's hard for me to tell what the bald numbers in the text of the bill actually mean. For example, the bill says, "$7,011,807,000" between two semi-colons, and that's our funding level for our Operations Expenses appropriation. Yup, not particularly helpful without the context of what went into making that number up. That's what the explanatory statement is for...but I wasn't ready to go there yet.

I persevered reading through the bill, and found a little *gem* of goodness. "...That without regard to the limitation as to time and condition of section 503(d) of this Act, after June 30, an additional $10,000,000 may be reprogrammed to or from Military Pay and Allowances in accordance with subsections (a), (b), and (c), of section 503." It tickled at my brain, making me think, oh my -- is it really possible?? I had to wait until Wednesday when I returned to the office to get clarification on what that provision actually meant. The FY 2016 Coordinator confirmed my inkling -- it means that the Coast Guard can transfer up to $15 million to or from PPA-1 (Military Pay and Allowances) without having to go to Congress for permission. Huge, fantastic, massive, incredible *win* for the CG!!

Second sign of Total.Budget.Geekery: having this little provision make me so excited it obliterated the hassle of coming back to work after 8 days out of the office. Seriously, I was giddy for days!!

Now, I'm guessing you are wondering what the heck I'm so excited about. You sure you really wanna know? It's Total.Budget.Geekery lameness, i.e., deadly boring. Here goes, but if you get two sentences into it and wanna poke yourself in the eye with a pen because it would suck less, don't say I didn't warn ya...
The Coast Guard is funded through five main discretionary appropriations (Operating Expenses (OE); Acquisitions, Construction and Improvements (AC&I); Reserve Training (RT); Environmental Compliance and Restorations (EC&R); and Research, Development, Testing and Evaluation (RDT&E)). There are others, mandatory and discretionary, like Retired Pay (RP), the Gift Fund, the Yard Fund, but the first five are the bulk of our funding.

OE is the largest appropriation, at $7 billion. That's a lot of money to manage all in one account, so it gets further broken down into PPA's (Program, Project or Activity). There are six:
PPA-1: Military Pay and Benefits
PPA-2: Civilian Pay and Benefits
PPA-3: Training and Recruiting
PPA-4: Operating Funds and Unit Level Maintenance
PPA-5: Centrally Management Accounts
PPA-6: Intermediate and Depot Level Maintenance
I won't get into AFCs, the next level below PPAs.

Still with me? So, by appropriations law, previously we could transfer $5 million between PPAs to end the fiscal year as close to a zero balance in each account as possible. If we needed to transfer more, we have to ask our Appropriations Committees for permission to reprogram funds (it's a reprogramming request if it is within a single appropriation (like OE), a transfer request if it is between appropriations (between AC&I and RDT&E, for example). I remember sitting in my Federal Budgeting class at UMD, and having the professor kind of gloss over this detail, like no big deal. Well, it *is* a big deal. Because first we have to clear the request through DHS, and then OMB, and then it gets to Congress. Any request gets heavy scrutiny all along the way (rightfully so), so we try to limit our reprogramming requests.

But it's *really* hard, especially within PPA-1, which is the largest portion of OE, at $3.4 billion, and particularly volatile because it has to do with people and their personal decisions. As the Military Pay Manager says, his predictors are all solid, but because the account is so large, his pencil width is $10 million. Increasing our below threshold reprogramming (BTR) level for even just PPA-1 will help the CG to spend its money more effectively, as well as  reduce the management burden for our financial folks...*huge* win!!

There are some numbers within the budget that I know from the top of my head, from having worked with them so closely. So when I saw the following in the AC&I section, "$113,395,000, to remain available until September 30, 2014, shall be available for personnel compensation and benefits and related costs," I kinda knew my first day back at the office was going to be hectic. Total.Budget.Geekery Indicator #3 -- knowing why $113 million is a significant number. I spend a lot of my time on AC&I Personnel. It is a challenging account to manage because of the appropriations structure. It is a sub-approp within AC&I, but all the other sub-approps within AC&I are multi- or no-year funds. AC&I Personnel funds are one-year money, and so funds can't be reprogrammed in or out. In OE's PPA-1, it's hard enough to hit zero in a $3.4 billion account with a $15 million BTR level...in AC&I Pers, we have to hit zero in a $113 million account with no ability to transfer money *at all* (I reread this sentence before posting, and it made *my* head hurt...sorry for the gory budget details). And it mixes military and civilian personnel compensation systems, which are very, very different. I saw this number and chuckled in frustration.

Once I got to the explanatory statement, there were definitely some details that took me by surprise, including decommissioning four WPB-110s and closing the AIRFACs in Charleston, SC and Newport, OR. I was very happy to see the $1 million for the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Program, and $28 million restored to training. The "$7,459,000 realigned from Acquisition, Construction,
and Improvements to address a personnel imbalance between the two accounts" made me giggle, especially when combined with the "$6,100,000 is provided in the Personnel and Related Support PPA" in the C27 section. $18 million in AC&I for CG Housing was good to see as well.

Sign number four of Total.Budget.Geekery: viewing the budget as a career planning tool. The AC&I section of the explanatory statement includes the following regarding National Security Cutters (NSCs), "A total of $629,000,000 is provided for the NSC program. Of this amount, $540,000,000 is for the production of NSC-7, $12,000,000 is for the second segment of long lead time materials for NSC-7, and $77,000,000 is to acquire long lead time materials for the production of NSC-8." This means that there will likely be four O-6 commands available per year when (IF!!!) I ever make CAPT. Those are better odds than presented by having just six NSCs, which would be three commands available per year. So, I might maybe consider staying in to try for an O-6 command, instead of getting out after my O-5 command.

Sign number five of Total.Budget.Geekery: the level of excitement and relief I feel for having clarity and definite answers about FY 2014, and the ability we gain to be able to move forward on FY 2015. I feel like the log-jam is finally starting to break free.