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 there...so 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.

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

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

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

Friday, January 2, 2015

Intentions for 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Random Bits, December 2014

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

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

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

Oops. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BT

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

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

BT

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 30, 2014

DILIGENCE's 50th Anniversary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Initiative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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