Wednesday, August 26, 2015

JO Pro Dev, aka Junior Officer Professional Development

On a previous ship I was on, our CO had JO Pro Dev on Sunday afternoons at 1400 for an hour. It was mandatory. If you had watch, you had to find a standby. Attendance was taken, and participation was *ahem* strongly encouraged. There was no getting out of it.

One patrol, the CO assigned one chapter of the book It's Your Ship, by Michael Abrashoff to discuss each week among the group. I have nothing against the book -- it's a good leadership primer. But at the time (I admit, I haven't gone back to read it again), I felt that the concepts he promoted, while novel in the US Navy, were part of the Coast Guard's fundamental culture. The sessions, in my opinion, were a colossal waste of time, which I had precious enough of, as I tried to get qualified, complete my departmental work, define my own leadership style, and generally survive being underway. I swore to myself that if I ever found myself responsible for a unit's JO pro dev, I would make it Useful. Relevant. Practical.

Fast forward mumble mumble mumble number of years, and I find that I am responsible for DILIGENCE's JO pro dev, and both CAPT Randall and CDR Carter (our new CO who took command in early July) have been extremely supportive in letting me run with the program.

I am a traditionalist at heart, so I stuck with having the sessions on Sunday afternoons, after Divine Services. JOs are required to attend -- the Boatswain's Mates and Engineers have been generous with standing by for them on the bridge and in the engine room so they can be there. But I hope that's where the similarities end.

My goal for the sessions is to at least expose the JOs to the language of the Coast Guard bureaucracy about topics they're expected to know, but no one ever really takes the time to explain. I remember being XO on WASHINGTON as a second tour JO, and being uncomfortably clueless about all the finance mumbo-jumbo, officer corps verbiage, or enlisted personnel minutiae. It wasn't until my tour at Headquarters that I really started to understand the Coast Guard's financial system including AFCs and different "pots of money." Or opportunities of selection, zone sizes or in-zone, above-zone or below-zone. Or Servicewide Exam (SWE) raw scores, advancement rates, or non-rated personnel shortages. A lot of the details come with experience, but my theory is that early and often exposure to the language will go a long way to helping these young leaders adapt and thrive in an environment with so many convoluted and seemingly impenetrable policies.

Our most recent session was officer career management -- just in time for e-resumes to be submitted for Assignment Year 2016 (AY16). I broke the topic into three basic questions to be asked by each of the JOs for themselves: What do I want to do? How do I fit it all in? How do I get what I want?

For "what do I want to do?" we talked about the Officer Specialty Management System (OSMS) and Officer Specialty Codes, primary and secondary specialties, and the anomalies to the rule that you should have dual specialties. "How do I fit it all in?" included a discussion of expected time in each paygrade, about how many tours to which that equates, grad school and Senior Service School. And "How do I get what I want?" was all about OERs -- the importance thereof, primarily. The full discussion of OER input is our next topic, scheduled to be useful to the brand new ENSs that are writing OER input for the very first time for an OER due 30 September.

Other topics I have planned are:
-- The aforementioned OER input; the read ahead an OER input email I sent with detailed requirements for what the input should include (5-part folder complete with qual letters, training certificates, BZs; number of bullets, how the bullets should be structured, what they should/shouldn't include; which form to use).
-- Effective writing; the read ahead is Chapter 10 of the Correspondence Manual, a surprisingly well-written treatise on military writing.
-- Reading the "message board;" the read ahead is a CG-7 memo titled "Operational Messaging Requirements." (Do we still call it a message board even though the routing clipboard is decades gone?)
-- CG Intel "Infrastructure;" CDR Carter's secondary specialty is Intel, which is a great resource I will capitalize on as much as possible.
-- Mishaps and Risk Analysis; read aheads are a selection of mishap messages and final action memos. I'm a little leery that this will be beating a dead horse, but I think it's an important enough topic that I'm going to do it anyway.
-- Strategic document discussion: read ahead is one of the "Key Documents" on the right column of -- we'll decide later if we want to pick one or have the JOs pick one. But this will start their brains thinking in Big Coast Guard terms, and clue them in of where we fit within the larger, national picture.

Previous topics include:
-- Coast Guard appropriations structure: it was **painfully** boring, but at least now the JOs have been exposed to the idea that there are more "pots of money" out there than just the funds from which the ship spends.
-- Enlisted workforce management: from boot camp to retirement, we discussed advancement requirements including the SWE, sea and award points, and preliminary and revised cuts, different "off-roads" to commissioning, and how the enlisted marks (evaluation) system fits in to the whole picture.
-- Effective counseling: I asked the Chief's Mess to lead this one, to help the JOs think about how to make performance counseling as useful as possible.
-- Headquarters structure: we talked about the numbering system, that has morphed back into a numbering and lettering system, the difference between DCO and DCMS, "above the line" staffs, and the importance of making sure that having the right people in the room for a policy discussion is important -- because if you forget a key player, you've essentially wasted everyone else's time in the room.
-- Leadership philosophy development: this isn't the CG Academy anymore, boys and girls. It's time to put into practice those leadership concepts that were drilled into them for four years (or four months at OCS). And there's a big difference between talking about leadership in a classroom setting, and seeing it put into effect with real people.

The second year JOs are getting a few repeats, like effective writing, OER writing and officer career management. But a) these topics are important enough to bear repeating and b) they have the benefit of nearly a year's worth of exposure to these concepts and can help ask the right questions to get the first year ENSs thinking about the topics more deeply.

I'll have to circle back to the JOs in about five to seven years to find out if these sessions actually lived up to my goals. I hope they find them useful now, even if they aren't always completely scintillating topics. I mean, what else do we have to do on a Sunday afternoon underway?

jk -- I totally know the answer to that!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

General Emergency

I read an article on NPR a few weeks ago about the power of writing -- how writing down goals and working through problems in writing can have all kinds of positive benefits. I have been on the fence lately about whether I wanted to continue putting effort into this blog (as sparse as it has been lately), and this article reminded me about why I write.

I think one thing I need to do to help myself write more and write more effectively is to define for myself what this blog is: is it to showcase the amazing efforts of this great crew? Is it a forum for me to Think Big Coast Guard Thoughts? Is it a means to work through leadership quandaries?

At different times, it is all of the above. I have to be ok with that, and not confine myself to thinking it's just This One Thing. And posts don't have to be long, or earth-shakingly insightful. They just have to be.

So all that to say it's been a while since I posted. Time slips away from me somehow; deadlines creep up, weeks pass in a blur, and before I know it, the patrol is over and we're substantially into our inport. I wrote the post below while we were on patrol, somewhere in the deep blue Caribbean. Just another day at the office...


There I was, sitting peacefully at my desk, waiting for the Boatswain's Mate of the Watch (BMOW, pronounced bee-mo) to come down and pick up the Plan of the Day (POD, pronounced pee-oh-dee...don't ask me why it's not "pod" -- just the way it is) so he could post it around the ship. I was reading the newly released 2015 Commandant's Strategic Intent (I swear I'm not making that up) and had just finished the Executive Summary.


Now set General Emergency. There has been a report of flooding in forward aux. All hands man your General Emergency billets for flooding. Traffic pattern is up and forward on starboard, down and aft on port. Now set General Emergency.


Now set General Emergency. There has been a report of flooding in forward aux. All hands man your General Emergency billets for flooding. Traffic pattern is up and forward on starboard, down and aft on port. Now set General Emergency.

*It was about this point that the thought flashed quickly through my mind, wait, I didn't plan a drill right now. Oh shit, this isn't a drill!

I went to rush up to the bridge, grabbing my red hat along the way, but quickly realized if I went up to the bridge with a red hat on, people might think I'm there as part of a training team, and this was a drill. But this wasn't a drill, so I paused for a moment to get my regular hat, and then went up to the bridge. I did, however, forget to change from my boat shoes to my steel toed boots which are required during emergency responses. Everybody has to be ready to combat a casualty during GE (General Emergency). I failed to be Semper P that night.

I encountered a stream of people on their way down from the bridge to their assigned billets, hollering "Down ladder" as they hurried by. I called "Up ladder" as I made my way up the ladder to the bridge.

SUPPO (Support Officer) had the watch and asked me to take over for the Quartermaster of the Watch (QMOW, pronounced kue-mo) so the QMOW could make it to his position as aft boundaryman faster. The QMOW, BM3 R**, was in the middle of repeating his first pipe, and as soon as he was finished I offered my relief. SUPPO reminded me to pull out the DC plates (DC = damage control, aka ship's drawings) so YN1 could plot the damage and we could keep track of what was going on on the bridge.

** I refuse to let evil win, or even gain any ground from me. However, crewmembers have expressed concern about the security risks of having their full names used online. I'll use titles and initials instead, so we know who I'm talking about, but the bad guys have to work harder to figure it out.

By this time, our Damage Control Assistant (DCA, pronounced dee-see-a) had taken over damage control efforts and piped forward and aft boundaries for forward aux, the space that was flooding; more formally known as the forward auxiliary space because it is forward of the engine room and contains auxiliary equipment like fuel transfer manifolds). Boundaries are meant to prevent damage from spreading throughout the ship, and for flooding consist of the watertight bulkheads and fittings that we use to move around the ship. The boundarymen are responsible for making sure the boundaries are set (i.e., doors, hatches, and scuttles are closed for flooding; doors, hatches, and scuttles closed, flammable material pulled at least 18" away from bulkheads, and fire curtains in place for fire/smoke) and holding (no bulkheads bulging or overheads sagging from collected water, or paint bubbling from fire -- and if there is, to provide cooling water from their faked out and energized fire hose).

BM3 S had relieved me as QMOW by now, and was working through the bridge checklist to make sure we hadn't missed any critical steps. SUPPO had split the Deck and the Conn with our new 1LT (First Lieutenant and Deck Department Head), so SUPPO was still driving the ship and safely navigating it as the Conn, while 1LT had the Deck and was tracking all the other details of combating the damage. SN RM (lookout for GE) and SN WB (helmsmen for GE) were all on the bridge too, relieving their watchstations so SA SR could leave the open bridge as lookout and SA AB could leave the helm. CO and OPS were also on the bridge by that point and were handing out flash gear to everyone. Flash gear consists of a cotton, long sleeved red shirt, a flame retardant hood and cotton gloves, and a Kevlar helmet and is meant to protect skin from burns and noggins from flying debris.

While all this was happening on the bridge, people below decks were also manning the Repair Locker to maximize our readiness to combat the casualty. Repair lockers are lead by Repair Locker Leaders who coordinate Repair Locker response, and direct the response of the On Scene Leader. The On Scene Leader provides reports back to the repair locker from the Attack Team Leader about what actions the Attack Team is taking. An attack team enters the space where the casualty is to patch pipes or plug holes, fight fires, repair toxic gas leaks or desmoke a space. If they enter a space with compromised air quality, they don and energize SCBAs for clean air.

Investigators continually make rounds looking for additional damage that might not be readily apparent. P-100 teams rig the gas-driven pumps that serve as a back-up for our installed fire main system in case the fire main is either the cause of the casualty and/or damaged by the casualty (i.e., it has a hole in the piping and is flooding the space with sea water). And the Rapid Response Team rushes immediately to the cause of the casualty to see if they can combat it quickly before it gets too big and out of control.

That was the case tonight. The Rapid Response Team secured the source of flooding in forward aux. A potable water filter housing had come lose and was spraying fresh water. We initially had 2" of water on the deck, but the installed system quickly reduced that to 1". EO, acting in his capacity as Damage Control Officer, asked the Conn to make some "S" turns to move the water from side to side to suck more of it out with the installed pump. Watchstanders sucked the rest of it out with shop vacs.

Our OODs and Engineers of the Watch (EOWs) are trained to call away for help and set GE even when casualties might be manageable for the watch. It's a lot easier to stand down and send people back to bed than scramble to get Attack Teams ready when flooding or a fire has gotten out of control because someone took too long to act.

The first few times I read my first CO's standing orders, I didn't quite understand the emphasis she placed on proactiveness. It took me a while to get that if I didn't do *something,* no one else might either and that could cost us the ship and lots of lives.Or at the very least, a lot of damaged equipment and plenty of lost sleep. I don't think proactiveness is the natural state of very many people, but generally, the CG does a great job of making it a naturalized state for cuttermen.

We stood down from GE after about seven minutes from the first pipe for General Emergency. And *that's* why we train incessantly.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Keeping Busy

It's been a slow operational start to the patrol. The weather isn't really great, and I think that has hampered action that would otherwise be keeping us busy.

So what do you do when you have 75 people out to sea for a couple of weeks at a time with not much going on? We spent a lot of time last patrol working on proficiency in preparation for transfer season. This patrol, we're continuing the focus on proficiency, especially since we're starting to get some turnover of people. Four of our non-rated personnel stayed ashore when we left homeport a few weeks ago. Their average time onboard was just over 22 months. SN Mike Patti is headed off to IS A school, after a 3-year wait. The look on his face when he got his orders was *priceless!* He couldn't stop grinning all day long. SN Vincent Deegan and SN Phil Cook were in the same boot camp company, came to the DILI on the same day, and left to go to the same ME A school class. And FN Jeremy Hunt is going to brave AST A school. My best wishes for all of them on the next step of their careers!

But we'll miss them. Among them, they had a ton of experience. We got a few new guys in before we left, and are getting more to fill the empty billets throughout the patrol. It's definitely the start of a busy transfer season, and we need to make the most of the time we have underway to qualify people as quickly as possible so we don't see any operational impacts of losing so many qualified and well-trained people in the span of three months.

In order to help with this, my goal is to have one Integrated Training Team (ITT) drill and one unannounced drill per week. The ITT works to design and implement drills that span across training specialties to impose realistic and cascading casualties. What happens if you lose an engine due to a unusual metallic noise (Engineering Casualty Training Team (ETT)) while trying to recover a man overboard (Navigation and Seamanship Training Team (NSTT)) who has a compound fracture of the leg because of a shark bite (Medical Training Team (MTT))? Do people know how to respond to bad things that happen because of other bad things?

In order to keep from getting bored, the training teams have to be creative about what kind of casualties they impose. We can't do a Main Space Fire drill Every. Single. Time. and expect people to maintain enthusiasm and energy when attacking the casualty.


So I got a little distracted by the patrol and paused this post for a while. SN Deegan is headed back to the ship after getting selected for an Officer Candidate School (OCS) class later this summer. So excited for him!

But the pace of the patrol hasn't picked up much. We're still doing lots of training. We conducted a gun shoot last week, where we shot rounds from our .50 caliber machine guns and 25 mm machine gun. At the same time, we simulated taking rounds and damage to different parts of the ship. YN1 Linton Holmes suffered a (simulated) sucking chest wound on the bridge, and was able-y relieved as phone talker and damage control plotter by BM1 Al Albert and the two First Class cadets we have onboard. 1/C Maggie Hine and 1/C Victoria Sutherland took turns talking to DC Central about how they were combating the shipboard casualties. There was a lot of "request you say again"s as they got used to listening to the sound-powered phone over the noise of the .50 cals going off less than 10 feet behind them. When they weren't talking on the phone, they were conning the ship to keep the target in range. But our ship was saved, despite taking two "hits" from an aggressive target. The aggressive target -- well, let's just say our orange pumpkin target has a few more holes taken out of it than it did before.

We also have four Third Class cadets onboard. 3/Cs Choi, Chambers, Campbell and Furry have already qualified as Helm and Lookouts, and are progressing well on their basic damage control qualification. We'll be sending them back to the Academy with some great sea stories!

And we found a great fishing spot. Not gonna tell you all where it is. But over the course of two days, we caught about half a dozen tuna and rainbow runners, and three wahoos. The biggest wahoo was 36 pounds. I'm looking forward to a sashimi platter here soon.

And lastly, I've been meaning to post this link for a while, but here's a video put together by (then) SN Andrew Davern, BM3 Jake Rorabeck, and BM3 Anthony Sanabria, with help from the entire crew. This is footage from my first patrol onboard last September/October...right before our 50th Anniversary celebration. Enjoy!!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Time Management

This is a series of time management failures in short vignettes:

I finally made it down to the beach for sunrise this morning. It's something I've been meaning to do nearly every morning since I moved in almost 8 months ago, but there's always some excuse -- I have to go to work, my bed is too comfortable, it's too cold/windy/rainy outside. On my scrambling way out the door, I was able to drop two scoops of food in the Black and Whites' (my two cats, Lucy and Harry), because I had forgotten to feed them last night and they were circling like sharks as I walked through the kitchen. And it's not like the sunrise was completely earth shaking -- just a subtle-y gorgeous beginning to a new day. I even missed the moment when the sun actually broke the surface of the water. I glanced away and when I looked back, there it was, about a sixteenth already above the horizon.

When I got back to the house, I took advantage of the delightfully luxurious expresso machine Uncle Heathen gave me for Christmas (it was actually a little moment of serendipity -- I had decided before visiting him and my aunt for New Year's that I wanted to get a frother. When I mentioned it to him, he remembered he had one in the garage he had purchased a while back off the clearance shelf at Lowe's for $20 because it seemed like a good deal, but he had no intention of using. He was happy to pass it on, and I was thrilled to receive it. I love it when that happens!). While I was standing there holding the mug of milk up to the steam spout, I reached into the cabinet to see if I could find something to use as a platform so I wouldn't have to hold the mug and could go do something else while it worked its magic. Nothing fit, so there I stood, begrudging myself the three minutes it took to make myself a treat.

My dad reminded me about two weeks ago that it had been a while since I had written a new post, and he was bored with reading about the PATSUM. He's out on a Disney World trip, visiting Universal Studios today, and looking for places to relocate away from the harsh New England winters. Dad, I hope you and Sandee are having a wonderful trip! Say "hi" to Harry Potter for me :) And there I go again -- multitasking by using my blog to communicate with family instead of sending them an email.

Speaking of multi-tasking, and despite the fact that I suck at it, I still do it. I *want* to be the supervisor that when someone comes into my stateroom, I stop what I'm doing and actually focus on what they're saying. What ends up happening is that I invite them in to sit down, glance at them to get the conversation started, and then turn back to my computer and say, "Go on, I'm still listening," and sometimes only half hear what they're saying.

Yesterday, I went to the ship to take care of a bunch of stuff that's been lingering for far too long. I got there at about 0900, and walked right into an unexpected equipment casualty that involved hotel services (think water, electricity, sewage, etc), pier connections, contractors, last minute purchases, and Frankenstein fixes, where the highly effective solution was cobbled together from about three different pieces by the ingenuity of MK1 Bobby Messick and the MPA (Main Propulsion Assistant) ENG4 Andy Molnar. Needless to say, the Change of Command update meeting with ENS John Benedict, the Project Officer for CDR Randall's upcoming Change of Command on 9 Jul, ended up being delayed for half an hour (ENS Benedict was so patient), and I didn't actually start effectively working on my worklist until about 1500. SQUIRREL!!

Ok, that's enough failure stories. Usually by the end of a post, I have some insightful conclusion that wraps up my thoughts on the subject. I don't have one today. I'm happy to have written something, even if it's not my usual upbeat soliloquy. My delightfully delicious froofy coffee is almost gone. And my day started with a wonderful sunrise. Now, off to tackle today's worklist :)

Monday, March 16, 2015

PATSUM, aka Patrol Summary

We got back from our patrol nearly two weeks ago. If two weeks has gone by that quickly, we're gonna be back underway before I realize it! And I have to offer an excuse up front -- I don't have any good photos from the patrol. Something about keeping my camera in an a/c'd space and then taking it out into the Caribbean humidity just doesn't work too well. I thought about keeping it up on the bridge, but they really don't need extra clutter up no pictures. I'll see if I  can figure out how to post the patrol video from the previous patrol. They showed a bunch of clips from it at the 2015 CO's Conference. Videos from that are on You Tube, but I couldn't find them easily.

This patrol we were working for Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-S, pronounced gee-a-tif south) doing counternarcotic detection and monitoring off the Caribbean coast of Central America, mostly Panama, Honduras and Nicaragua. We had a Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON) helicopter deploy with us from Jacksonville, FL so they could use Airborne Use of Force (AUF). From HITRON's website:

In support of our counter narcotics mission, armed helicopters will intercept suspect targets, use appropriate force to interdict vessels, and vector Over the Horizon Cutter Boats (OTH-CB) and cutters to the scene for apprehension.

It is a mission set that takes lots of coordination among at least five different units and sub-units, and sometimes can include six or more units depending on the situation. Closely following standard operating procedures and maintaining clear and concise communications are key factors in being successful with the AUF mission -- but when it works, it works really, really well at stopping go-fast vessels that are used by transnational criminal organizations to traffic narcotics, mostly cocaine, between South America and Central America on its way to the US and Europe.

Our HITRON crew included: CDR Walter Horne, LCDR Jess Davila, LT Ryan Hawn (Aircraft Commander), AMT1 Travis Francisco, AMT1 Ryan Theobald, AMT2 Mark Trice, AND AET2 Cameron Jones. When they weren't flying, they pitched in with talking to a good number of our non-rated personnel about the aviation community to prepare them for aviation A schools, maintaining their helicopter, walking through pre-inspections for our upcoming Security and Independent Duty Health Services (IDHS) inspections, helping out with clean-ups and field day, and even cooked us pizza one Saturday night for dinner.

But they weren't able to fly as much as anyone wanted. The weather was really crappy for a lot of the patrol. For about two weeks solid at the beginning of the patrol, we had 20-25 knots of wind from the east or northeast, which kicked up the seas to a solid 6-8 feet and sometimes built to 8-10 feet. It's really hard to give the helo a stable enough platform from which to launch when it's that bumpy and roll-y out there. And then we broke the helo. Thankfully no one was hurt, but the maintenance that was required was extensive, including getting extra parts from stateside, and we couldn't fly in the meantime. Wouldn't you know it, the week the helo was broken was when the weather was best -- only 2-4 foot swells and light winds. Once the helo was fixed, the weather went back to snotty and we couldn't launch them again. It was pretty much beyond frustrating, and almost insult to injury. But that's the shit that just sometimes happens on patrol.

We did have a few moments of excitement here and there. My last post described one of the most useful things we did on patrol by rescuing the German-flagged sailing vessel with four Italians onboard off the coast of Panama. True story, I swear! Even though it sounds like the start of a bad joke.

We also did lots of training and got lots of people qualified. Here's the list:
From  1LT, ENS JD Decastra:
Helm/Lookout: SA Nate Emborski, SA Sean Roten, SA Avery Trombley
Aft Steering: SN William Ball (who also made E3 a few days ago), SA Tyler Fields
Master Helm: SN Chris Kingsley
Boatswains Mate of the Watch (BMOW): IT2 Jason Mansfield
Landing Signals Officer (LSO): SK1 Bismarck Miranda
Helicopter Control Officer (HCO): ME1 Jason Pratt
Boat Engineer: MK3 Charles Murray, MK3 Christopher Carpenter, MK2 Andrew Fraizer
Boat Coxswain: BM3 Anthony Sanabria

From SUPPO, LTJG Joe Smith:
Quartermaster of the Watch: SK1 Bismarck Miranda
Lee Helm: HS2 Todd Wilson

From OPS, LCDR Jim Pafford:
Underway Officer of the Deck (OOD): LCDR Todd DeVries, ENS Aaron Corn*, ENS John Benedict*, LTJG John Sapundjieff*, BMC Robert Vanlandingham*
* These are all initial qualifications -- a huge professional accomplishment for each of them!
Navigation Plotter: BM2 Christopher Jozan, SN Rick McCabe
Bridge recorder: BM2 Christopher Jozan, SN Rick McCabe
Inport Officer of the Deck: ME1 Jason Pratt, SK1 Bismark Miranda
NCV Pursuit Crewman: BMC Robert Vanlandingham, BM2 Christopher Jozan, BM3 Jake Rorabeck, MK3 Charles Murray
Boarding Team Member (BTM): MK3 Charles Murray

From EO, LCDR Todd DeVries:
Underway and inport Engineer of the Watch (EOW): DC1 Jeremy Salinas*, MK2 Michael Peets (only about three weeks after making Petty Officer Second Class!)
Auxiliary Watchstander (AUX): EM3 Jabari Nelson, FA Alex Howard, FA David Yobp (who also became a new dad to a beautiful daughter just before we sailed on patrol -- Congratulations Yobp family!)
Security and Sounding Watchstander (SSW): SA Sean Roten, SA Avery Trombley
Fuel Oil and Water King (FOWK): MK2 Andrew Frazier, MK3 Christopher Carpenter
Basic Damage Control (DC) Watch Qualification Standard (WQS): SA Sean Roten, SA Nate Emborski, SA Robert Morse, SN William Ball, SA Avery Trombley, FA David Yobp, FA Alex Howard
Advanced DC WQS: BMC Robert Vanlandingham

Pretty darn good list this far from transfer season! Congrats to you all!!

We moved from Training mode to Evaluation mode for many of our planned, full Training Team drills. And to keep things from getting boring, I added in some unannounced drills that could happen anytime between the beginning of Personal Development Time (PDT) and one hour before Evening Reports. I couldn't be more specific with the times because we did a lot of shifting the workday around to make sure we were ready and awake enough to launch the helo in the middle of the night in case a suspected bad guy came our way. I didn't realize I was as sneaky as I was either. I put the note in the POD early in the patrol, just to let people know to be ready. But I didn't actually get to getting a drill done until nearly two weeks later -- just about at the point where people had forgotten about me saying we were going to do some unannounced drills. The crew's response to the man overboard (MOB) pipe for the EO falling overboard pipe was phenomenal. The man (we used Oscar, our man overboard dummy -- the EO didn't really fall over) was recovered in less than five minutes with a shipboard pickup. And we got some good training in with the rescue swimmer going to pick up all four of the life rings that were thrown over to help the man. BM3 Jake Rorabeck was the rescue swimmer, and he swam off into the pitch black, to attach his tending line to one life ring while he swam out another 200 yards to get the next one. The deckies got good hands-on training for working the davit used to deploy the swimmer.

A few days later, EO rigged a smoke machine in his stateroom just after lunch. Once again the response was great. ENS JD Decastra took initial action to put out the fire with a nearby CO2 extinguisher, and was ably assisted by the other junior officers that live in staterooms nearby the EO. In order to get the full training value, we didn't let them "win" with initial actions, but I'm sure they would have been effective in a real situation. We manned up Repair III and Fire Team 1 was able to put the fire out, set the reflash watch and overhaul the space, ensuring there were no burning embers. EO took a little bit of hassle for smoking in his stateroom and "lighting" the fire in the first place.

And the last impromptu drill was just after the helo took off on a patrol flight. We threw Oscar overboard again to simulate MKC Jason Newby falling overboard after refueling the helo. We always lower a small boat to the rail (secure it over the side, so people can step from the boat deck into the boat) for flight ops for just the eventuality of a MOB during flight ops or a crash on deck, so this was determined to be a small boat pick up. In a real situation, the helo would have stayed on scene to help make sure we recovered the man, but they went ahead on their patrol. We did have some trouble vectoring the small boat to the man and with all the turning actually lost sight of Oscar for a few seconds (this is where having the helo overhead in a real emergency would have been critical), but we were in the training environment, and this was definitely a case where we learned a lot from our failures.

We also made port calls in Key West, FL and Bocas del Toro, Panama. And we made a couple brief stops for logistics (BSLs) in Colon, Panama. There were exciting moments for each one. We got underway from the first Key West stop with a 25-knot on the dock wind in the dark. We had to use a lot of power to get away from the pier and not get blown back on to it with the wind. On our second Colon BSL, the pilots weren't quite ready for us even though they told us they were, and we had to turn around about 600 yards from the breakwall and wait. Getting underway from that BSL, we had a 25 knot wind that we had to twist the stern into and through, with shoal water about 150 yards off our stern. There was *lots* of power used to get oriented the right way in the channel to head outbound. We entered Bocas del Drago enroute Bocas del Toro with a strong set of waves quartering us off the stern as we were turning and almost ended up perpendicular to the trackline before the helmsman got control of the rudder again. A few minutes later, visibility reduced from a passing squall to about 500 yards just about the point in Bahia de Almirante where water taxis start transiting between Bocas del Toro and Almirante or Chirique Grande. We had to come to all stop once to let one pass in front of us at about 300 yards. The second port call in Key West got delayed a few times due to a fuel barge casualty where we were meant to moor. And then when we did make it in, visibility fluctuated between 200 to 1000 yards for most of the transit. Thankfully it opened up as we were making our approach on the pier.

But the port calls were all tons of fun and relaxing. We were in Bocas del Toro for the start of Carnivale which entails a huge street fair and party there. Guys enjoyed surfing, ATV rides on the beach, zip-lining, and generally relaxing away from the ship. I forgot how many people I know in Key West until I was there for a few days. I visited CDR Adam Morrison and LCDR Justin Nadolny on the MOHAWK, had lunch with LT Ginny Nadolny, CO of the soon to be commissioned ISAAC MAYO, and dinner with CDR Kathy Felger from THETIS. It was great to get to see them all, hear their stories, commiserate on the challenges and celebrate the successes.

The day before we returned to homeport (RTHP), we had Quarters on the flight deck to present temporary cutterman pins to LTJG Jon Sapundjieff, ENS John Benedict, ENS Aaron Corn, BM2 Christopher Jozan, FS3 Billy Shuck, FN Christian Sekula, and a permanent cutterman pin to EM2 Tony Bennett. CDR Randall gathered everybody close in (it's loud out there on the flight deck underway, and it was damn cold), and talked to us about the patrol. We all know we didn't get any drug busts, we all know we were frustrated and sick of the weather. He said he had been asking himself what he could say to the crew was the point of a relatively unproductive patrol. He had talked to other COs and people with JIATF-South experience, and they all said it's all about luck down there. Either you've got good luck and you get busts, or you have crappy luck and you don't.

CDR Randall went on to ponder, what makes luck? Luck is the combination of readiness and opportunity. We were ready! for that patrol. We *rocked* the AUF work ups. Our non-compliant vessel (NCV) teams are well-trained, motivated and enthusiastic. Our watchstanders are well-versed in policy and practice good watchstanding techniques. What we lacked this patrol was the opportunity of a bust either because the drug runners simply weren't there, the weather was too snotty, or we weren't positioned where they were -- which are all things that are out of our control. And while yes, it does kinda suck to be away from home for 45 days and have nothing definitive to show for it, we did what we did safely, with integrity geared towards proficiency and moving the ship forward, and we lived to fight another day. May the opportunities next patrol be many and fruitful!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Day in the Life

SK1 Bismarck Miranda, MK2 Matthew Bowman and ME2 Craig Miller on the disabled vessel.
BM2 Cody Paschal, MK2 Andrew Frazier and MK2 Aaron Curtis in the OTH
Disabled vessel in tow, in the squall
I'm going to try this, see how it works. Starting tomorrow, Friday, I'm going to try to give an in-depth accounting of my day. We have a full day of training and flight ops planned, but I should be able to steal a few moments here and there to jot down what's going on.


It's well before reveille, which we don't pipe but I couldn't sleep any more since we're completely in the trough. We're rolling gracefully from side to side, sometimes more deeply than others. And there's something metal outboard of my rack that randomly clangs against something else metal, not every roll, but frequently enough to be an effective alarm clock. I spent a few moments once I got up picking all the stuff that had slid off my desk onto the deck during the night. It's weird what held on and what came off. Papers, gone. Pens stayed.

I planned to make good use of my time by making a call back to shoreside about a delicate personnel matter, but we don't have internet right now so voice over internet protocol (VOIP) isn't working. I'll call later. Maybe I should spend 30 minutes on the elliptical instead.


It is humid out there! And grey. The ocean is a deep slate grey, reflecting the clouded sky overhead. Off the stern are some low-hanging dark grey storm clouds while off to port the sky lightens to a silver grey. Now I get why we're rolling so much though...we're taking 6 to 8 footers off the quarter, with the occasional set of 8 to 10 footers barreling through. While I was on the elliptical, sometimes I looked out at the horizon, sometimes we rolled and I looked at the sky, and sometimes we rolled and I looked at nothing but the unfathomable deep grey sea.

I wasn't alone out on the fantail. We have a group of hard core fitness hounds onboard. SN Phil Cook was cranking out reps with dumbbells when I first got out there. He was quickly joined by BM3 Jake Rorabeck, BM3 Anthony Sanabria and SN Mike McCabe. BM3 Rorabeck had to be creative (and powerful) with his squat jumps as we took some nice rolls; he pivoted during his jumps to make sure when he landed there was still a deck underneath him.

And as I passed through the messdeck on my way to the fantail this morning, I heard BM1 Al Albert talking to one of the engineers who I soon saw had a thick wad of rag and duct tape wrapped around one of his fingers. He reluctantly let me call the bridge to have the BMOW (Boatswain's Mate of the Watch), YN1 Linton Holmes go wake up Doc, HS2 Todd Wilson to have it checked out. When I asked what happened he said he was going through a quick-acting watertight door (QAWTD), took a roll and scraped off a bit of skin. Doc came out about 15 minutes later and said he was ok, just needed it cleaned out and bandaged up.


Breakfast is in full swing now. And my POD (plan of the day) is completely wrecked as of about 0130 this morning. We got diverted from where we patrolling for a SAR (search and rescue) case for a disabled vessel about 150 miles away. We should be there by early afternoon. But there goes the carefully scripted day of drills, flight ops, meetings and other training. Ppoofff -- out the window. I figure it's pure karma for all the times I wrecked XO's schedule with "hot intel" when I was OPS.

And passing MPA, ENG4 Andy Molnar in the passageway on my way to the galley for a second bit of breakfast on a break for admin/computer time, he says, "So much for the ATF 2000 -- we really got that f'er dialed in now," as we took a 15 degree roll to port.

(ATF = Automatic Trough Finder; not a real thing, just something to hassle the bridge about when the ship is on a course that gives a crappy ride)


We picked up the boat in tow. Their engine was completed blown, salt water intrusion, crankshaft freewheeling. ME2 Craig Miller, MK2 Matt Bowman, MK2 Andrew Frazier and SK1 Bismarck Miranda (our translator) quickly made the assessment that there was not anything we could do for them mechanically. Luckily we're not that far from a safe haven for them, but it will still end up being a probably 12-15 hour evolution from start to finish. We had to make two approaches for getting the tow line rigged up because the winds were coming from the opposite direction as the current. We were being moved mostly by the current but the disabled vessel was being moved mostly by the wind, which we didn't fully realize until we already made the first pass. The deckies on the fantail, including BMC Rob Vanlandingham, BM1 Al Albert, BM3 Jake Rorabeck, SN Mike Patti, SN Chris Kingsley, SN Vince Deegan, SN Josh Shawler, SA Tyler Fields, SA Ronnie Liles, SA Rob Morse, SA Avery Trombley and SA Nate Emborski (pretty much all of Deck Force) had to fake out 450 feet of line twice. They made quick work of it. The small boat with cox'n BM2 Cody Paschal and engineer MK2 Aaron Curtis helped with getting the tow bridle over, ferrying the line and chafing gear from the fantail to the vessel.

We finally did get them in tow, 450 feet of towline at the taffrail, and came up to our towing speed. It's been kinda tough to get in step because the swells and the seas are pretty confused right now. We can get in step with the seas ok, but then these big ground rollers come sweeping through and cause them to surf forward, releasing tension on the towline until they're on the backside of the swell, when the line then gets pulled taut. We're keeping an eye on it, adjusting our speed to keep it from being dangerous. SN Mike Patti has the first tow watch.

With a touch of Murphyism, we drove through a decent squall as we were recovering the small boat. Everyone in the small boat, likely everyone on the boat deck, and about three people on the bridge got completely soaked through.

Lunch was Halibut Olympia, garlic chicken strips, mac & cheese and peas. Dessert was chocolate chip oreo cookies, which absolutely are as decadent as they sound. I did partake of most of one, but did not eat the actual oreo in the center. CO and I have a, not really a bet, more of a challenge to see who caves first on eating an oreo this patrol. It's only about oreos, no other dessert (thank goodness!). They're a staple at Evening Reports, where we all (CO, XO, Dept Heads, Command Chief and MAA (Master at Arms)) usually sit down and have been known to devour about half a box in one sitting. This patrol, though, I *will* stay strong and not eat one until the CO does first! Even if it damn near kills me each night. At lunch today, I cut the chocolate chip cookie goodness off of every edge of the oreo, making carefully sure that I didn't get one crumb of oreo, and then gave the oreo to ENS John Benedict who was looking at the oreo with such longing there was no way I could just throw it away.


Time on deck is 0112. We've just wrapped up the Navigation and Anchor Detail from dropping the disabled vessel off at its safe haven. We used the CB-L (cutter boat-large) to tow the boat the last few miles to the pier, and put the OTH (over-the-horizon boat) in the water just in case the CB-L needed help getting the boat actually moored to the pier. We had a little bit of a kerfuffle trying to get the boat safely moored. The local constabulary didn't want to let us moor it where we originally took it because we were taking it to the deep draft pier, and there was an inbound deep draft coming in. We finally made a deal with them to put the boat at anchor and take the people off for customs and immigration processing.

When the CO asked the CB-L cox'n, BM2 Christopher Jozan how the boat towed, he said, like a dream. The OTH never even touched the disabled vessel, except to put ME2 Miller, SK1 Miranda and ENS Benedict onboard to help release the tow bridle from the boat's foc'sle so we could recover our tow line.

There was also lots of junior officer (JO) training happening on the bridge. We covered driving with a tow, casting off a tow, discussions on aspect changes of other vessels and bearing drift, weight capacities and how they are diminished if the line is bent -- a straight line pull provides the most strength, radio comms with passing traffic, pilot vessels and the locals, watch personnel management for trying to get them all fed in shifts, and depth sounder alarm adjustment.

Somewhere in there we had dinner. The cooks made a game meat sampler, including ostrich meatballs, alligator bites, rattlesnake chili and a couple kinds of venison sausage. And fresh donuts. I need to find out whose idea it was, because it was a wonderfully creative meal. The crew was mostly game (haha) for trying the new stuff, but apparently blueberries and venison do not go together well in sausage.

Bad puns probably mean I'm tired. But it's been a good day, even if my POD got blown up before it even started. There's always tomorrow to fit in flight ops, a field day, evening reports, and more great meals.

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.

Deck Department also built a new paint float this inport. We had a grand launching event (ok, maybe not so 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.