Sunday, December 27, 2009

Belated Merry Christmas

I went back to the east coast for Christmas and had a very nice time visiting family and friends.

Here's a little video from an afternoon of ice skating...my favorite part is my friend's cackle. I never said I was *good* at it.


Now I'm back in Hawaii...without my luggage, but with the start of a nasty cold. That'll make this next week interesting.

Friday, December 18, 2009

My Mentors

I originally wrote this post about a year and a half ago, just when I took over MAUI in Bahrain and started blogging. It was probably my second post ever, but I think it's good enough to repost, especially since I've been talking about doing it for a while. Maybe it's solely an opportunity to brag about myself and my successes, but these five women, whether they know it or not, had a huge hand in my current situation.

The first and most influential is my very first boss ever. I was 14 when I started working at Larriland Farm for Lynn Moore. I was very impressionable. She was my boss on and off for seven years, as I finished high school and entered college. I didn't know much about myself, what I wanted to do, or where I was going with my life. She exuded confidence as she ran the family farm with her two brothers. She took care of the marketing, selling the fruits and vegetables produced on the farm at the on-site barn market, in the pick-your-own fields, at a satellite market, and at about half a dozen farmers' markets in the local region. Looking back on it now, I'm impressed all over again at how many moving parts she kept track of...I mean, for goodness sake, Lynn kept a crew of nearly 20 teenagers motivated during the sticky humid heat of East Coast summers to actually care about making sure all the strawberries/tomatoes/blueberries/peaches were completely picked from each row before moving on the next one.

But on to some of the lessons I learned from her, with their translations that I've figured out over the last (good gawd!!) twenty plus years:

1. Always put tools back where you found them. Translation: Be responsible about equipment. Even a stapler. Someone else depends on being able to find it when they need to use it. CG translation = configuration management

2. If someone asks you a question, and you don't know the answer, politely say, "I don't know, but let me find out for you." And follow through with an answer. Translation: Customer service is important in nearly every job anywhere. As a supervisor, my subordinates are my customers and I need to make sure they have what they need to get their jobs done. And following through ensures that something is done correctly.

3. Before you start an engine, check the oil. Translation: Take care of your stuff; don't abuse it. It'll last longer that way. CG translation = Preventative Maintenance Systems (yes, the acronym for that is PMS, which I've always thought was a little unfortunate)

4. Be knowledgeable about the details. Translation: Know your stuff. Bluster will only get you so far if you don't have any credibility.

5. From her brothers (who are both over 6 feet tall), push the seat all the way back when you get out of the truck. Translation: Be considerate of other people, embrace the diversity of perspectives working with others provides.

6. Product quality is singularly important. Translation: Uh, duh. But even with the simple stuff, make sure there're no typos, commas are in the right place, and use spell check. There's so much more credibility in appearing literate.

7. Presentation, presentation, presentation. Translation: People pay more attention when something is attractively presented. Use colors and be creative.

8. Always wear sunscreen (I wasn't ever so good at that one), a hat and sunglasses when you go out for field work, and take a jug of water.

Those are all basic job skills. One of the leadership skills I learned from Lynn was the importance of giving people the opportunity to learn and develop skills on their own. I remember being sent out to the blackberry field to prune the canes. It's not a particularly hard job, but in order to maximize production and make picking easier, there's a certain amount of skill required. Lynn took a group of about six of us out to the field, talked through what the goals of the project were, explained why each was important, then gave us a demonstration on a handfull of sections. And then she left us alone! She came back in about an hour to check on our progress, gave us a couple of pointers and then left again. It was brilliant.

I learned later, from LAMS (Leadership and Management School), that tactic works well with motivated, but unknowledgable subordinates. There's a whole matrix: unknowledgeable/unmotivated, unknowledgeable/motivated, knowledgeable/unmotivated, knowledgeable/motivated. Lynn's practice gave me a concrete example of the benefits of knowing and understanding your subordinates.

And somehow, despite 80+ hour work weeks around greasy tractors and farm equipment, dirt roads and rotten produce, she managed to have the most beautiful hands.

My next mentor was Dr. Carolyn Orr, the Agriculture Department Head at Berea College where I got my Bachelor's degree. She was the youngest of five professors, and the only woman in a heavily male-dominated field. All the others were old white men, very firmly entrenched in the agricultural practices developed during the Green Revolution in the 1970s.

Carolyn taught me the importance of presence. You knew when Carolyn walked into the room. Sometimes it was because she was loud and yelled at people to get her point across, but more than that I think it was her own self-confidence that did not allow her to be ignored. And god bless her patience with my best friend and me as we cracked jokes and snickered our way through the summer job program at the College Farms.

Dr. Nancy Creamer was my graduate advisor at North Carolina State University and taught me the necessity of being passionate about my job. From what I remember about working with Nancy, she truly believes in the importance of the work that she does. It's practical and easily applied to real-world situations that can almost immediately benefit her target audience. While she puts in long hours, travels extensively away from her family, and constantly fights the inanity of an institutional bureaucracy, her work has meaning and the goal of making the world a better place.

While I agree with the Coast Guard's goals, unfortunately, I can't say I have a deep, underlying commitment to our methods. I will support them to the best of my ability, because that's what I do. My command philosophy states that [a job worth doing is worth doing to the best of my ability, so that I can look back and be able to honestly tell myself that I've faced every task and challenge to the best of my ability. This is the only way the sacrifices I've made will have been worthwhile.] But that's selfishly for my own benefit.

I joke sometimes that I sold my soul by being a cutterman, instead of a duck-scrubber, which was my original interest on coming into the Coast Guard over ten years ago. I know I made the right choice for my personal sanity. But, the cutter's belching diesel exhaust, lack of thorough recycling program and practice of discharging sewage outside of three nautical miles from land still go against my own personal beliefs of environmental stewardship and simple living. I guess the lesson I have to take from Nancy is to enjoy at least something of what I do. And I do absolutely. I love driving the ship, working with the people, and seeing all the fantastical sights there are to see. I think part of what I like about it is that I'm pretty good at it.

I took a professional break after graduate school and worked as a receptionist at a massage therapy school. The director, Kathleen Grey, was a very kind woman, dedicated to making people feel better and ease their pain. My job at the school was by no means challenging, but Kathleen taught me a lesson that I think a large number of professional, driven women forget...Take care of yourself. She made her students take Tai Chi and yoga to strengthen themselves personally before she allowed them to practice bodywork on other people.

I'm still working on the fitness attitude for this one...I do my best to get three workouts in a week, when we're inport. Underway is a *whole* 'nother story, especially with this port and starboard nonsense we've got going on right now. But regular yoga, occasional massages and nightly face cream are all vestiges of working with Kathleen that I really enjoy.

CAPT Beverly Kelley (ret) is the last of this group of mentors. She joined the military the year I was born. She fought some historic gender battles to earn her commands, and was the first woman in command of many of the units at which she served. I could not have asked for a better introduction to being a female officer than to have worked for her. I remember getting frustrated with her frequently for her seemingly embittered stance when it came to women in the military. I knew she had had to fight to get where she was, but why was she still fighting those battles, when things were so normalized for women in the military now? Well, nine years and five units later, I think I understand better. It is far, far easier for women, but it's still not a totally comfortable environment for, well, at least me. I should know better by now than to make generalizations that put word into other people's mouths. But CAPT Kelley, thanks for all you did along your way to make my path that much smoother.

So those are my mentors. One last note on this topic of mentors, though. I experienced a complete perspective shift when I was OPS on a WHEC, where I was the senior female onboard a ship of 160 people, about 20 of whom were women. By default, I became a mentor for them. I still keep in touch with some of them, and it's amazing to hear about their successes and triumphs, and watch them struggle through the difficulties. I never set out to influence them, but through my position and experience I was able to offer them some perspective on how to persevere through and be happy with themselves along the way...or at least I hope that's what I did.

I wanted to honor and thank those women that influenced me professionally. So, ladies, thanks! I wish the best for you all and am so grateful for the opportunities that I've had because of what I've learned from each of you.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Plate of Spaghetti

I'm a food-nerd...self-ascribed and-admitted. So it's totally in character for me to use food metaphors. Here's my food metaphor for my job...it's a double helping of oil-slicked angel hair pasta ('cause that's my fave), slopped onto a tea saucer. Some days I fool myself into thinking that I can keep every strand of pasta perfectly balanced on the plate. But most days I'm more realistic and realize that there is no way humanly possible that I can keep every single carb from falling off. My responsibility is to not let the important stuff slide off, and to decide what is less important that can be slurped up later.

I think that most operational units are like this. I really don't know about shore /support jobs...I haven't had enough of those to really make a call on that. But with operational units, you've got personnel, operations, engineering, guns, awards, classified material, training, medical, schedules, message traffic, SORTS, community relations, port calls and morale, readiness standards, AOPS/TMT, surging lines that need adjusting, meetings, inspections, human relations, assist visits, CASREPS, parts, budgets, and that's just the stuff from the top of my head in about two minutes.

I do my best to prioritize what I keep on the saucer. My XO says that my metaphor lends itself to just constantly putting out fires, which is definitely a possibility. But if I can define what is important to me, as the ship's leader, I can help build little birds' nest pastas that keep critical stuff as a basic building block of the whole heap.

I afford my personnel a very high level of importance. If I take care of my crew, they'll take care of me. Or said another way, I can't do their jobs, but I can make sure they have the tools, training, time and environment with which to do their jobs. Operations are also important to me...that's what this gig is all about, why it's fun. I'm also finding that material condition, readiness and sustainability are important to me. If the equipment doesn't work, we can't do the mission, and we're wasting time, money and effort until it gets fixed, and fixed the right way.

Jeez, I just realized I'm parroting an ALCOAST from a while back where the Commandant talked about People, Mission and Stewardship. But it's really true, those are the basics of what makes this organization work and last.

Those three things cover a lot of what's on the plate, but of course it's more complicated than that. All junior officers learn from a very young CG age that there are some things that you just don't mess around with because they are career enders. This list includes money, guns/bullets and security issues. So those *must* stay on the plate. However, because they're so important, there are myriad ways for them to be messed up. Two small pieces of guns and security slipped from my plate today. Whooooop, just slithered away. I see the durn buggers on my lap making gross grease stains on my trousers, but they're slippy and small and round, and really, really hard to get back on the plate once they've fallen off. I can make sure no more of that particular flavor of pasta fall off the plate, but I can't go back into the past, and return to the plate the ones I let slip off.

And I've got to get over the fact that they're gone. Learn from my mistakes so I don't make the same ones over again, and then...move on. It's harder than it sounds.

Just for the record, I'm not eating pasta tonight...I just had a bowl of some awesome homemade beef and barley stew.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

"He's Going To Be OK, But..."

We got back from an almost week-long patrol this morning. It was a good trip, with lots of diverse operations. XO and I are port and starboard, so we stood six-on-six off for the week. That means I stood watch from 0600 to 1200, he stood watch from 1200 to 1800, then I stood watch again from 1800 to 2400 and then he had watch again from 0000 to 0600. It means neither one of us got much sleep. But it was easy to keep going, especially being surrounded by the perseverance and enthusiasm of the crew as we went from port, waterways and coastal security, to law enforcement, to maintenance, to law enforcement, to search and rescue. I think I'm the one that whined the most about standing soooo much watch, because I certainly didn't hear it from any of the crew!

When we left at the beginning of the week, we left behind one crew member. This is a usual practice for us, because we're overbilleted, which means we have more crew than we have racks to sleep them all. And I won't let people hot-rack, or share racks. Life underway is hectic enough without having your own personal space, even if it is only 6 ft by 3 ft by 3 ft.

The person that stays behind is usually busy enough anyway, getting mail, answering phones, running errands and doing stuff that needs to be done at the office. And handling lines for us when we get underway or pull in. So I was a little annoyed this morning when we pulled in and there was no one waiting on the pier for us to handle lines. It meant I had to maneuver close enough to the pier for long enough for one of the other crewmembers to jump over, and then continue my maneuvering the rest of the way into position. Weather conditions were good, so it wasn't overly difficult, but I was still peeved that we had to do it anyway.

Not being there as required was out of character for the young man that stayed behind this week, but everyone has slept through an alarm or something similarly irresponsible before. So a couple guys went to his apartment to roust him, but didn't find him or his car there. At this point, I started to worry. Before I had been thinking he had blown us off, but now...now I'm worried. XO went off to call the police and hospitals (after having been up since 10:30 pm last night, standing watch). It didn't take XO long to find him...there's only one hospital in Hilo.

So, he's going to be ok, but he's pretty smashed up after being in a car crash this morning. I don't really know any more details than that since the nurse on his floor hadn't talked to the police and he doesn't remember anything beyond sitting at a stoplight in the dark, and then waking up in the hospital with people sticking a bunch of needles in him. We'll follow up with the police on Monday to find out the whole story and get the accident details. But thank goodness he's going to be ok. A couple of broken bones and cuts. He won't be on the boat for a while, maybe at all again, since he had orders to his initial rate training (A school) starting in January...but he's going to be ok.

This was my first experience calling parents. I offered to call his Dad and let him know what happened. I started out with, "Your son is going to be ok, but he was in a car crash this morning." His Dad was calm and asked all the right questions. It sounds like he may come out here to see his son and help with recovery. I really, really, really hope I don't have to make any more calls like that one. And I'm so grateful that his Dad accepted the news so graciously. And that he's going to be ok.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Checklists

I'm coming to appreciate the importance of checklists...I mean truly appreciate them. We got recalled on Friday morning, and were underway in just over 2 hours. We gotta work on that time and get it a little faster, but even as the person initiating the recall, I didn't have all my stuff together. I forgot my watch, my knife and my cell phone chargers, all three pretty aggravating things not to have with me.

And never mind all the crap I forgot to do at the house. At least I fortuitously remembered to take out the trash. But, did I shut the windows? I hope so, 'cause the Big Island got some heavy storms since we've been gone. And all the stuff I forgot in the fridge? Don't know how those starfruit are going to look after sitting around for another 10 days.

I'm thinking I should have a recall checklist for myself to make sure I get done everything I need to before heading out for an undetermined amount of time. Then I think that might be going a little too far, even for me.

The cutters I've been on have had checklists for everything...entering port, leaving port, emergency scenarios, routine situations, oddball occurrences. The Command Center had Quick Response Cards, a fancy name for checklists. We live and breath checklists.

The benefit of using a checklist was hammered home on Monday morning when we tried to get underway. We were diligently using our "Getting Underway" Checklist...time tick, away all trash, removing chafing gear, testing the capstan, manning all stations, and all. We were getting down to the end of the list, having taken the slack out of all lines, and were set up for conducting shaft tests.

I learned a helpful little habit when I was temporarily on AQUIDNECK this past spring. When conducting shaft tests, the Conning Officer would have his thumb on the stop button for the engine, so that just in case something went wrong, he could quickly punch out the main (main = main diesel engine = MDE). Don't know exactly why I thought that was so cool, but I adopted the habit.

Anyway, I was driving out that morning, and was ready to do shaft tests. The Bridge had piped, "Stand clear of all mooring lines while the OOD rocks the shafts." Everybody, including the line handlers on the pier, had cleared away from the lines. So I clutched ahead on port, counted one-one thousand, two-one thousand after the neutral light went out, and got a small shot ahead on the port MDE. Port ahead sat. Port astern, one-one thousand, two-one thousand, declutch, small shot...that didn't stop. I kept going in reverse. Uuuhh, crap. Holy crap!

But my thumb was on the stop button and I punched out the main quickly enough to not do any permanent damage to our lines, deck fittings, or fittings on the pier, though the lines creaked pretty ominously. MKC did tell me he thought it was operator error initially...that I was just going a little heavy on the shots. He figured it out after the second time.

It was a pretty exciting couple of minutes. We tried restarting the engine again, and as soon as it was energized, it clutched in astern. When 110s clutch in, it's no joke either. They clutch in with enough power to go 9 knots.

Well, the engineers (or my new name for them...Ninjaneers -- Anne, that one's for you) troubleshot, and found some loose wires in the throttle system. They fixed it all up, we conducted shaft test a little nervously but fully satisfactorily, and safely got underway.

And I got a good reminder of why we follow checklists and do all the important little safety things that we do.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Unexpected

I got an unexpected phone call today. LCDR Camilla Bosanquet called me. She was CO of KISKA back in 2003-2004. She had sent me an email a while ago, after having seen our press release on our return to homeport post drydock, congratulating me on command and sharing some of her memories of being onboard. I don't think she remembered that we had met when we were both stationed out here. I finally responded to her by email yesterday, and she called me this evening.

She was LT Messing when she was on KISKA, and she was definitely someone I looked up to. She was always positive, cheerful, gracious, more than competent and her crew loved her. I knew I had monstrous shoes to fill, coming to KISKA as the next female CO after Camilla. Thinking of Camilla reminds me of an old post on mentors from last year...I'll probably repost it shortly. She had some good advice for me and some wonderful words of kindness.

The advice was to enjoy and savor every moment of my time onboard. The ship is a good ship, the crew is outstanding, the area of responsibility beautifully daunting, and the community welcoming and supportive. It really doesn't get any better than being a CO of a 110 in Hawaii. She said, she didn't remember many of the details of her own drydock on KISKA, she mostly remembered the people. I think I've been doing ok with this one. I know my time onboard is short; I'm only here for about 14 months, due to my own choice. Camilla didn't have the luxury of an easy choice, unfortunately. Her knees went bad on her, and if there's one body part that takes a true beating on a 110, it's the knees. It's a rough ride. So she had to leave early. I know she's right, though, and it does go fast.

The words of kindness were that I've done good things, and that I'm an amazing person for my accomplishments...I'm paraphrasing, because I'm horrible at remembering conversations, so this is what I took away from the exchange. I don't know about all that, really. It's everyday, common-place to me. It's just what I do. I forget that it is an exclusive group to which I belong, that most people view commanding a ship through the lens of news stories, tales of adventures, and movies. I think Camilla was also expressing some regret for her own loss, having to give up command, in a no-win situation. It got me thinking a little about what I would do if I couldn't do this anymore. I bitch about some of the more aggravating aspects of the job (middle of the night phone calls, holding members accountable for their actions, rough weather), but I love what I do. The camaraderie with such a professional and capable crew, the power and versatility of the platform, the wondrous blue ocean, the sense of destiny standing on the open bridge staring out at the horizon...I will sorely miss all of it when my tour is over.

Camilla, thanks for getting me thinking about and attempting to articulate what I get out of this.

Another unexpected thing: we rocked our ready for operations (RFO) inspection. The crew put a lot of hard work into getting ready for it, so it's not entirely unexpected. But the RFO team was very complimentary, saying the effort really showed.

And the other unexpected thing is the weather right now. I knew there was a storm on the way, but I guess I've been gone from Hawaii for long enough to have forgotten that winter storms here are no joke. There's a crazy northeast swell right now that has pretty much shut down the cut into Radio Bay. Translation: it's really dangerous to transit out of the harbor right now. There's white water breaking over the breakwall about every 30 seconds to a minute. I meant to get some pictures, but ran out of daylight. I'm hoping the swell shifts around to the east a little like it's supposed to by tomorrow. With all the rain associated with the storm, we may have snow on Mauna Kea tonight. I'll definitely get pictures of that.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Hilo Veteran's Day Parade

I have *no idea* why the text is underlined today.

KISKA participated in Hilo's Veteran's Day Parade yesterday. We didn't have a float really, just the small boat with two guys dressed in rescue swimmer gear and two in cox'n/boat crew gear. Many thanks to SN Brian "Monty" Montero for taking all the great pictures.

This first picture is, from left to right, EM1 Jamie Peltier, BM3 Brian Goracke, SN Mike McKinstry (in orange wet suit), ET2 Chris Konyha, MK2 Moises "Rev" Arevalo, GM2 JR Stenzel, FN Ryan O'Connor, and SN Ryan Andres (also in orange wet suit). We got to the staging area pretty early, and then had to hang around for a while as the parade got going. We were maybe about 2/3 of the way through.

Close up of SN McKinstry and SN Andres, dressed as rescue swimmers. They were a great hit with the crowds.
MK3 Allen Edwards (in the truck), and XO, LTJG Frank Reed threw shakas and smiles all morning long.
The crowds were friendly, waving and clapping.
FN O'Connor and MKC Greg Tarker stroll along on the starboard side.
EM1 Peltier and MK2 Arevalo enjoyed the ride in the small boat. While neither of them are cox'ns, they played pretty convincing roles during the parade.
The Kea'au Middle School group was right behind us. They chanted and whooped and hollered nice and loud for the whole two miles.
My cheeks hurt from smiling so big for the entire parade.

I like this shot of FN O'Connor with the big huge flag in the background. The City had big cherry-picker trucks on either side of the road, with a line strung between them, and the flag suspended over the parade route.
SN McKinstry, wishing he was surfing.


I think this was the VFW Float. They had lots and lots of American flags flying.More flags.

The parade was a lot of fun. It was nice to get out in town and see all the support we, the military in general, and veterans have from the community.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Grandpa's Ties


One of my personal goals, especially now that I have all my stuff in one place, is to restore my loom to functionality and start weaving again. I learned to weave when I was at Berea College, and was assigned to the college Weaving Studio as my first student job there. Bill Roberts was a great teacher, and I was soon given the privilege of weaving rag rugs. When I graduated from Berea, my Aunt Linda gave me a simple two pedal loom that she didn't use much to keep up my skills. I had it set up in my mobile home while I was in grad school and made about a dozen rugs before I graduated, and the loom went in to storage in my mother's basement.

That was, jeez, twelve years ago.

So it's long past time for me to get the loom going again. My cute little house in Hilo has a great underneath-space for the loom and I spent some of last night putting bits and pieces together. It's almost all set up...I've just got those one or two pieces that I can't quite figure out exactly where they go. Looking at the pictures I've got from when the loom was still set up, I'm realizing that the last piece should have been put in before it was all framed up and tightened down. Gotta tear it back down almost to the starting point to get the last piece in. Grrr.

Anyway, while I was organizing all the supplies, I came across my bags of goodies that I had planned to use in rugs. There's a tangle of wool strips that might make one or two rugs, that I still want to use up. And there was a box full of my Grandpa's ties.

Grandpa (my Dad's dad) passed away while I was in grad school at North Carolina State University in (and I'm gonna feel bad when I get the year wrong) 1996 or 1997. My sister flew in from Nebraska and rode with me to Virginia for his funeral. I had missed my Grandma's funeral a year or two before because I was in Guatemala for the month with a school trip, and I didn't want to make that drive by myself. I was so glad my sister was there. I remember thinking at the memorial service that the plots were in a beautiful spot, with a soul-restoring view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

My Dad and Aunt Nancy spent the next few days cleaning out 50+ years of accumulated goods from their parents' house. I asked for Grandpa's ties, thinking that I could weave something from them. My sister asked for the linens (really high quality, and amazingly soft after so many years of use and washing) and some of Grandma's mixing bowls. She also got Grandpa's marbles, which she gave to me for Christmas a few years back. She told me now I never have an excuse to lose my marbles.
Last night, I went through the ties. There must be about 50 or 60 of them. All kinds and colors. I remember Grandpa as being fairly dapper, but the breadth of his tie collection is really quite astounding. There's even about a dozen bow ties. The ties are from a variety of stores, including a who's who of good quality clothiers in Southwestern Virginia. Here are some of my favorites:

I'm not sure where this blue and brown paisley one came from, but it's hand stitched on the back, and looks from the wear on it that it was one of Grandpa's go-to ties.

This blue and yellow and white striped one is one of the bow-ties. I remember Grandpa wearing them on occasion, especially when he was being whimsical.










The green-striped and orange flowered tie is amazing...almost five inches wide at the widest point, it's lined on the inside with purple cloth. Love it!
I don't know which of his granddaughters (he had four) gave him this bit of pastel luminosity...I can't quite imagine him buying it for himself. But I am sure he wore it, full of pride and love.

The yellow, white and brown striped tie is 100% silk, or "All Silk" as the label says, from Pride of England. It too, is monstrously wide. It was "Made Expressly for Norman Stockton, Winston Salem, N.C."

And my favorite of all, are these two, dark plaid and striped. The labels on them say, "Hand Made by Nancy Buzby." She was quite the seamstress, that Nancy...first the pin cushion when she was four, then these beautiful hand-stitched ties.

I teared up a little last night as I was going through these ties. So many memories of good people who helped make me who I am today.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Uphill. Both Ways.

I've got to be quick. I'm on the library's computer, and someone has it reserved in less than 30 minutes. My laptop got a virus late last week, and I'm hesitant to use it very much until I get it cleaned up...hence the library's computer. Grrr.

I went to the dump to recycle a bunch of moving detritus yesterday. I got lost. It was raining. I jammed my finger...really hard. It still hurts today. Still have half a dozen trips to make to get rid of the rest of it. The mini doesn't hold much at any one time.

I sent an email out yesterday, with some feedback (euphemism in this case for being a little whiny) to the folks that are responsible for responding to casualties for us. We're still trying to work out our leaky fuel tank. With all the reorganization that the CG is going through lately, I'm still trying to learn exactly who is who in the new zoo. I miscalculated, and sent the email one level higher than I really should have, since I was trying to keep my "feedback" low key. So I pissed one or two people off by being a squeaky wheel.

Sometimes it's uphill. Both ways. Barefoot. In the snow.

Monday, October 12, 2009

New Curtains

I'm not sure if I've got too much time on my hands, or if I'm keeping a family tradition alive.

The beautiful weather that we've had in Hilo disappeared under rain clouds today, which is much more typical weather for windward Hawaii. It gives me an excuse not to be outside, hiking, biking, snorkeling, swimming or not learning to surf. So this morning, I made new curtains.

Or sort of...I took an old sarong that had a hole or two, cut it in half, hemmed both sides, and then rolled it over for a tab for the curtain rod. Not very complicated. In fact, I think I probably did a much more involved project when I was in fourth grade.

But somehow, I took a great sense of satisfaction from making my curtains. Maybe it was that I can look at those curtains and know that I spent an hour (embarrassing that it took so long) and fashioned them. Or maybe it was working on my grandmother's 1929 Singer treadle sewing machine. It's been in storage for about a year and a half, and not used in probably five years before that. Still works like a champ, especially after my mom sent it for conditioning a few years ago.
The story I've been told about the sewing machine is that Grandma got it as a gift when she finished nursing school. It was always a source of curiosity and treasure-hunting when we visited as kids. So many cool buttons and snips of patching material to sort through. All that stuff is still in there now. I even found a hand-stitched pin cushion, carefully wrapped in plastic, with a note in my grandmother's writing labeling it, "pin cushion, made by Nancy Mundy (age 4)." My curtains show about the same level of sophistication.
Not sure if this is really bl0g-worthy material. But I think it's cool that (a) I made curtains and (b) I made them on this wonderfully useful antique that my grandmother used eighty years ago.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Return to Homeport

As a sometimes big boat sailor (BOUTWELL and HAMILTON), the words, "Return to Homeport," are usually spoken after three months of hard, monotonous days that are only occasionally interspersed with a few days of hectic madness when the ship gets a drug bust and gleeful port calls in tropical places. At least that's the way it was on my Eastern Pacific patrols.

On patrol boats in Hawaii, "Return to Homeport" usually means we've been out cruising for two or three days, and we get to pull in for a few hours or a few days.

This time, KISKA returned to homeport after 198 days. You've all heard me whine about the aggravations of our "extensive drydock," so I'm not going to do that again here. This post is all about how amazingly glorious yesterday was.

How come it is, that regardless of how much planning is done to take care of all the details, there's always a manic worklist right before something big? All this last week was ridiculously busy, capped off on Thursday, with a workday that ended around 5:30/6ish for most of the crew. We got a lot done, though. Including anther tsunami watch for about an hour due to the tremor near Vanuatu in the South Pacific.

Yesterday dawned clear and calm (photo from BSU Honolulu, looking towards downtown). I'd been watching the weather for days and was optimistic about the lack of trade winds and forecast for the channels. When the trades are strong, the channels can get pretty fetched up; it's not unusual for the Alenuihaha Channel (between Maui and the Big Island) to be 12 to 15 feet with swell and wind waves...which means we're beam-to (taking the waves on the side of the ship) for about 40 miles, or four hours. Yuck. I'm sure I'll have some pictures of that somewhere down the line. So I'd been watching the weather for days.

We went to Pearl Harbor first thing in the morning for an ammunition onload. The pier we had to get to was in a part of the harbor that I had never been to before. The sense of history in Pearl Harbor is inescapable, especially with hulks like this peeking out of the brush. The course in had a couple of sharp turns and it was really fun. XO said it was like a slalom course.

Makin the approach to the pier look easy, XO was set up for success with the lack of wind and current. Our linehandlers on the other hand...well, let's just say it's a little embarrassing for the guy who threw the heaving line, not realizing he was standing too close to the bow, to watch as the line got all caught up in the jackstaff (flag pole on the bow). I admit I laughed. It did take us an unfortunately long time to get that line to the pier. "Slow is smooth, smooth is fast," (thanks, Mr Brook), yeah, we've got to work on that.

The onload was over in 20 minutes...barely enough time for me to review the outbound trackline. We were out of Pearl Harbor by 9 am.

And it was Flat. Ass. Calm. when we got out. We rarely see days like this in Hawaii, maybe a dozen or so a year. This is the Kaiwi Channel between Oahu and Molokai. Glorious! And it was like for almost the entire transit. The Alenuihaha got a little choppier, maybe one to two foot wind waves, and a weird mixed northwest and southeast swell that made it a little googly. But if ever there was a day to have good weather, yesterday was a great day for it!

We transited the 212 miles between Honolulu and Hilo at 25 knots the whole way. It felt like we were only doing 15 knots.
Now, before someone accuses me of squandering resources going fast just for the sake of going fast, let me explain my rationale. First there's the weather. Trades were supposed to be back today. Hmm, a two-hour flat-calm channel crossing v. a four-hour get-your-cookies-tossed-all-around channel crossing...I know which one I'll go for every time.
And two of our watch stations (Officer of the Deck and Quartermaster of the Watch...the two positions onboard for making sure the ship doesn't hit another ship or bad things like rocks and shoal water and actually gets where it's going) are port and starboard, which means that there are only two people qualified in each position. XO and I are OODs, and I had to drop my BM1 down to the QMOW rotation so I had two people there. Port and starboard sucks because you stand six hours of watch on, and then have six hours of watch off...not nearly enough to ever get enough sleep. So, eight and half hours of transit v. longer transit, that's an easy choice.

And I had never transited into Radio Bay to our home pier. And it's tight. There's a rock wall about 30 yards off the trackline with a pole sticking out of it, so you can see where it is at high tide that MKC likes to call the "can opener." And we've got to back into the pier. That's all something I'd really rather not do after dark. My night vision and depth perception pretty much suck. So, daytime harbor transit v. barpatting offshore or anchoring 500 yards away from the pier overnight, while port and starboard...another easy choice.
Risk management, it's all about the risk management.
As we got around the northeast side of the Big Island, we were turning for 25 knots, but making more like 27. It didn't seem like we had a following sea, but the swells were still kinda mixed so it was hard to tell. We brought the engines all the way up to see how fast we would go. Here's proof that we got over 30 knots. Whoooppeee!!






We didn't stay going that fast very long. We were getting close to Hilo and had to make preparations to enter port, which included our navigation brief and the very important singing of Happy Birthday to MKC. I don't think he was very amused.

The transit through the harbor was beautiful. The sun was setting over Mauna Kea, and it was clear enough to see the top. And it wasn't raining...proof enough that we had some weird weather going on. It always rains in Hilo.

So that was the trip home, all eight and a half hours of it. Not even the newly discovered leak in the fuel tank (into the forward sound locker) or a hiccup with our communications equipment could dull the feeling of relief and triumph and homecoming.

Today...yoga, farmers' market, and snorkeling.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sea Trials

So sorry about the technical difficulties over the last couple of days. Hopefully I've got it sorted out now.

I’ve finally got the chance to write about sea trials. Well, actually, I’ve finally got the pictures from sea trials on my computer and can now show pictures instead of just blabbing about them.

But sea trials were fantasticawesomeamazingstupendous! The weather was beautiful, with barely a breeze out of the northeast and not much of a swell at all. We took our time, knowing that most every system had been touched and that there were lots of new people onboard. We got started out of Barbers Point Harbor at just a few minutes after 10 am, with a couple of riders from the shipyard onboard.

Here’s our Project Manager, Mike…big guy in a little itty bitty life jacket. Tee hee. He brought another guy with him that puked after about an hour underway. Tee hee…Actually I *know* better than to laugh at anybody who gets seasick.

We had some pretty significant discrepancies with our navigation systems because stuff had been down for so long. But both Barber’s Point and Honolulu Harbor are very easy harbors to transit, with solid visual ranges through the narrow choke points. I was concerned about our navigation systems, but I knew it wasn’t a deal breaker that would prevent us from getting underway. So away we went.

This is my XO and FS2 prepping to cast off lines. We did propulsion tests early in the morning, to make sure the main diesel engines (MDEs) were properly hooked up and would clutch in the way they were supposed to. They did, but it’s a nerve-wracking scenario, especially on a 110. Class A and B 110s clutch in with enough power to go nine knots…that’s a lot, especially when you’ve got four lines over to the pier. And there’s a delay on the clutches, which is individual to each ship. On my last ship, port ahead and astern and starboard ahead were all about three and a half seconds, but starboard astern was barely two and a half to three seconds. And KISKA’s throttles were changed out right before the ship went into drydock in April. So I wasn’t really sure what the delays would be.

Turned out the delays were a solid five and a half seconds all around. I’d count to five in my head, think we were going too long, and then wait another split second, get anxious and tell the XO to declutch. We did that about four times on each side before I took a deep breath and let XO go with it. Eventually, we got satisfactory shaft tests. But we did them again once we were ready to go, just to make sure and for the practice of doing them.

The transit out of Barber’s Point was easy. We passed a tug on its way in, and that was it. There was brief moment of WTF when XO tried to shift steering down from the open bridge and couldn’t get it. Turned out it was operator error, and we figured it out. We may have confused a tanker coming up from the south a little bit with what aspect we were showing, but he was far enough away not to really be an issue.

All the systems tested out okay…until we got to the Oily Water Separator (OWS), which is a particularly sensitive piece of equipment in the Coast Guard recently. We had to barpat (go back and forth) a couple of times while they tried out different things. So I took a nap. Beautiful day, clear skies, no traffic, yummy lunch…what else was I supposed to do? Except my wily crew got photographic evidence…yikes! :)












Once the engineers figured out there was more wrong with the OWS than they could fix right then, we stretched our legs a little, and came up in speed. When 110s go, they really go. It’s so much fun going fast. Here’s our rooster tail at 25 knots.

At this point, I had a canary-eating grin I couldn’t get off my face.







But we couldn’t go fast forever, and we were approaching Honolulu Harbor. I asked to make the call to Aloha Tower, WHX-528 who controls traffic in the harbor, to request permission to enter. I made the call dozens of time when I was on my last 110 as XO, but there was something particularly cool about getting to call as CO. We were granted permission (it was a little anti-climatic), and then shortly we were on our approach to the pier.

XO did a great job of mooring up. There was some debate about where exactly we needed to go on the pier, given the placement of a huge Yokohama fender. But we figured it out, and got there.

And we didn’t waste anytime getting the soft patch off to start the generator change out. This picture is taken from the open bridge, looking down into the engine room...which you normally can't do.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Settling In

I've had a busy couple of days even though I'm not at work. But I have a HOUSE!! It's a cute little 2 bedroom cottage just three blocks from downtown. Easy walking distance to restaurants, shops, the FARMERS MARKET!!, yoga studio and the library. And about three miles to the ship...definitely bikeable. It's an older house that has been reasonably well taken care of, but the paint is chipping and the kitchen show signs of 20 years of renters. But a good cleaning and plenty of new shelf liners make all that manageable.

My arms and legs are covered in bruises from moving all my furniture in. I have too damn much stuff! A lot of it is really beautiful stuff (my Persian rugs look *amazing* in the living room), but some of it is stuff I haven't seen in 10 years. I'll probably spend the next eight months that I'm here integrating the last decade of my life, with paperwork and books that have been scattered over four locations for quite some time. Waialua stuff meet Virginia stuff meet San Diego stuff meet Bahrain stuff. I'll be making some trips to Goodwill.

I've really enjoyed spending these last few days in my new home. But it is a little odd being away from the ship. The crew is still very busy getting stuff done. There's range dates, casreps to follow up on, a small boat to break in, generators to replace, a tsunami to prepare for, weigh ins, SGLI updates...wait a second...a TSUNAMI!!

You've probably heard of the earthquake that shook Samoa on Tuesday. My heart goes out to the people whose lives were devastated by the quake and the following waves. I'm so proud that the Coast Guard is participating in the relief efforts.

But here in Hawaii, we had to make preparations in case the tsunami came this far. The easy response for ships under a tsunami threat is to get underway. Out to sea, the waves are much less noticeable so it's safer for ships to be away from shore. So there's two difficulties that KISKA faced when we got word of the tsunami warning. The first was really just more *my* problem...I wasn't there, and there was really no way for me to get back quickly enough. My XO did a fantastic job of making preparations and talking to the right people. But the ship would have gotten underway without me. Kinda a squigjy (pronounced skwid-jee) feeling, especially not having the time to mentally prepare for it. It's one thing to provide a planned professional development opportunity for my XO to take the ship out on his own when there's a commitment that I must be ashore for (like a CO's conference), but it's another thing entirely to be enjoying a few days of househunting time, and get the call that the ship is getting underway without me.

It makes me feel superfluous.

The second problem we faced was that, well, we didn't have any generators, which means no power, which means not being able to get underway under our own power. So the plan was to use the Station small boats as tugs, and then pass the tow to another, larger ship once we were out of the harbor. Second problem solved.

Thankfully, the tsunami watch was downgraded to an advisory that kept the beaches closed until the next day, and we didn't have to get underway.

But it was a good mental exercise for me. Tsunamis can happen at any time, with very little warning...not like a hurricane, where we can see it coming from a week away. If I thought that I always had to be available to the ship every moment of every day for every emergency, I'd never get to take any time off. That's no good-for anybody. Which also means that while my position is very important, *I*, me, Charlotte, am less critical than the position itself. My XO is very capable at standing in as the crew's leader.

Of course it's always better to have the CO there, but it doesn't stop the world from turning if she's gone.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Band-Aid Sticker Remorse

This is kinda out of order, but I had to vet the post through a trusted friend before publishing it.
It’s 11 pm. I can’t sleep. I keep thinking about the band-aid sticker I had my guys put on today. I’ve mentioned it before…we had a hole in the engine room above the waterline, and our Maintenance Planner decided that we didn’t have the time or the money to crop out the bad metal and replace it, so they directed the contractor to patch it. The patch was about 8 inches tall and 40 inches long…just the right size and shape for a band-aid. The Maintenance Planner even called it a band-aid in an email.

So I figured I’d be a smart-ass and paint it like one. We got a sticker instead. Call it like I see it, and all that.

But now that it’s on the ship…on the side that’s alongside the pier, so nearly impossible to get off right now…I’m rethinking my attitude, especially in light of my revelation about positivity. There’s really no way for me to get it off until we get underway and switch which side we’re moored up to. And that won’t be until we arrive at the Coast Guard base, at which time, plenty of people will have the opportunity to see it. (We actually moored up starboard side to the pier, which is the same side the sticker is on...the only people who saw it were the CO of the ISC who met us on the pier to make sure we had everything we needed (Many thanks for the great customer service), some other folks that were there to look at our server, and the line-handler.).

Why the remorse? Because no matter which way I spin it (and I’m a damn good BS’er), I can’t make it out to myself to be anything other than me poking the system, the organization, our maintenance people in the eye. It’s placing blame when I’m really trying to get away from that game. Sure, it’s funny, but it’s also disrespectful.

What if there’s a camera crew for the local newspaper or TV station across the harbor at Aloha Tower and they get a shot of it? What would I say to them if they called me, as the Commanding Officer, for comment? “Yeah, I was pissed because the Coast Guard didn’t have the money or the depth of assets to fix every materiel discrepancy on our aging cutter, Right Now. So I made it graphically clear how I felt.”

While it might be true, there are much better ways to address my complaints…like going to grad school for a Masters in Public Administration, and then doing my damndest when I’m working at Headquarters on the Coast Guard’s budget to remember how frustrating it felt to take short-cuts and defer maintenance. And fight, Fight, FIGHT for the money that this organization needs to maintain the unique and dedicated service we provide to the public.

It’s been tough to remember what it’s like to be CO of a ship while we were in drydock. Ships and sailors rot inport…even the captain. But the closer we get to sea trials the more it’s building in me. I’ve wanted to be stationed on KISKA since I first heard about the 110 on the Big Island, eight years ago. I turned a couple of tough jobs into successes and volunteered to go to Bahrain for a year, just so I could position myself to take command of this ship. And while it sucks that a good chunk of my year onboard got eaten up with drydock away from homeport, I don’t want to squander my time as captain disrespecting my ship. I’m damn proud of her. And the Coast Guard.

That sticker’s gonna come off as soon as I can figure out how to get under the pier.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My Boat Floats - Again


Somehow, though I'm absolutely exhausted, I wanted to get this post out tonight. We refloated the ship today. It was freaking HOT! with Kona winds and a three foot swell from the northwest. We were supposed to start at 2 pm. I think we finally got going around 3 pm...long story.






But before we went in, we took a picture. What a great! crew! This is a classic photo for ships that have been in drydock, to have the crew standing under the transom with the ship's name visible, and if you get lucky, the flag blowing in the breeze, too.



So the evolution itself was pretty tense. The weather had its way with us. The docking contractors weren't used to working with the wind from the southwest, and we stretched some of our lines scarily tight on the way out. But we made it safely.


This is the ship still on the cradle, just about to be lowered into the slip. The wind and swell was coming from the left side of the picture, pushing us onto the slip wall on the right. It was really, really tight.


Here we're going into the water. The tug just off the stern is there to keep us off the coral rocks that are less than 15 feet away from the side of the ship. It's like bumper boats.










And then we were in the water.













That's all the pictures of the shipyard I've got. I'll try to take some during sea trials. I might be a little busy/distracted to play photographer, though.

And here's a closing pic from our team building exercise earlier in the summer. I'm including it because I think it's funny. It was the last piece of an obstacle course. Just damn funny, though.

Email from a Friend, "Random Thoughts From People Our Age"

As the title says, I got this in an email from a friend. I think it's really, really funny. My comments are in italics.

-I wish Google Maps had an "Avoid Ghetto" routing option.

-Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you're wrong.

-Have you ever been walking down the street and realized that you're going in the complete opposite direction of where you are supposed to be going? But instead of just turning a 180 and walking back in the direction from which you came, you have to first do something like check your watch or phone or make a grand arm gesture and mutter to yourself to ensure that no one in the surrounding area thinks you're crazy by randomly switching directions on the sidewalk. Nope, never...well, maybe at least once a day.

-I totally take back all those times I didn't want to nap when I was younger.

-Is it just me, or are 80% of the people in the "people you may know" feature on Facebook or MySpace, people that I do know but I deliberately choose not to be friends with? Not on Facebook or MySpace, so I really don't know what this means.

-There is a great need for sarcasm font. AB-so-freakin'-lutely!

-Sometimes, I'll watch a movie that I watched when I was younger and suddenly realize I had no idea what the heck was going on when I first saw it.

-How the hell are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet?

-I would rather try to carry 10 plastic grocery bags in each hand than take 2 trips to bring my groceries in.

- I think part of a best friend's job should be to immediately clear your computer history if you die.

- Was learning cursive really necessary? All it really did was make my handwriting even more illegible.

- LOL has gone from meaning, "laugh out loud" to "I have nothing else to say".

- I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.

- Whenever someone says "I'm not book smart, but I'm street smart", all I hear is "I'm not real smart, but I'm imaginary smart".

- I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars teams up to prevent a jerk from cutting in at the front. Stay strong, brothers!

- Every time I have to spell a word over the phone using 'as in' examples, I will undoubtedly draw a blank and sound like a complete idiot. Today I had to spell my boss's last name to an attorney and said "Yes that's G as in...(10 second lapse)….uhmm.....Goonies" Sadly, I revert to the phonetic alphabet without even thinking about it. G as in Golf. I'm such a military nerd.

- MapQuest really needs to start their directions on #5. Pretty sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood.

- I find it hard to believe there are actually people who get in the shower first and THEN turn on the water.

-I can't remember the last time I wasn't at least kind of tired.

- Bad decisions make good stories. I don't even know where to *start* with this one.

-Why is it that during an ice-breaker, when the whole room has to go around and say their name and where they are from, I get so incredibly nervous? Like I know my name, I know where I'm from; this shouldn't be a problem……

-You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you've made up your mind that you just aren't doing anything productive for the rest of the day. Usually about 10 am for me lately.

-Can we all just agree to ignore whatever comes after DVDs? I don't want to have to restart my collection.

-There's no worse feeling than that millisecond you're sure you are going to die after leaning your chair back a little too far.

-I'm always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks me if I want to save any changes to my ten page research paper that I swear I did not make any changes to.

-I hate when I just miss a call by the last ring (Hello? Hello? Dammit!), but when I immediately call back, it rings nine times and goes to voicemail. What'd you do after I didn't answer? Drop the phone and run away?

- I hate leaving my house confident and looking good and then not seeing anyone of importance the entire day. What a waste.

-I like all of the music in my iTunes, except when it's on shuffle, then I like about one in every fifteen songs in my iTunes. So ridiculously true.

-Why is a school zone 20 mph? That seems like the optimal cruising speed for pedophiles…

-Sometimes I'll look down at my watch 3 consecutive times and still not know what time it is.

-I keep some people's phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to answer when they call. Guilty!

-Even if I knew your social security number, I wouldn't know what do to with it.

-Even under ideal conditions people have trouble locating their car keys in a pocket and Pinning the Tail on the Donkey - but I’d bet everyone can find and push the Snooze button from 3 feet away, in about 1.7 seconds, eyes closed, first time every time...

-My 4-year old son asked me in the car the other day "Dad what would happen if you ran over a ninja?" How do I respond to that? Not a Dad, and don't have a 4 year old son, but what a hell of a question!!

-It really ticks me off when I want to read a story on CNN.com and the link takes me to a video instead of text.

-I wonder if cops ever get ticked off at the fact that everyone they drive behind obeys the speed limit.

-I think the freezer deserves a light as well.

-I disagree with Kay Jewelers. I would bet on any given Friday or Saturday night more kisses begin with MillerLite than Kay.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Positivity

I like to think I'm a pretty positive person. When it comes down to it, though, I realize I'm a closet cynic. My instinctive reaction to many things is to look for someone to blame when something goes wrong, or wonder when the hammer is going to drop when something is going well.

In some ways, I think this helps me to be good at risk analysis. I'm an eternal worry-wart. I worry about bad things happening...ALL the time. During docking and undocking evolutions, is that line gonna part because the tug is pulling too fast/too hard? During boat launching detail, does everyone have their rings and watches off, so a finger or hand doesn't get ripped off by a running line? During boardings, is the boarding team gonna be able to get the initial safety inspection done before the boat sinks out from underneath them or some fuely water in the bilge flashes off into a fire? Are we following the checklist during a Machinery Space Fire drill to make sure we don't miss something important like a complete muster check before lighting off halon? Are watchstanders getting enough rest so they're sharp on duty or watch and able to respond swiftly and appropriately to an emergency?

I know where the worry-wart part comes from...my grandmother would break out the chicken soup and tissues at the first sneeze or sniffly nose. She was a nurse and she always told my sister and me not to swing too high on the backyard tree swing and not to eat too many sugar snap peas from the garden because we'd ruin our dinner. That one makes me laugh now.

So, I'll keep my worry-wart tendencies.

But I'd like to change my perspective about blame. The world is not out to get me, nor is it made up of incompetent fools who sole job is to waste my time and get in my way. And I don't have all the answers...not even a few of them. The drivers on Ala Wai Blvd don't intentionally take up two parking spaces by not being efficient with pulling up a little closer to the car in front of them, wasting enough spaces to park three Minis over the course of a block. There are bigger things at work with drydocks and contracts and lawyers and budgets than my little pea-brain can fathom from my limited perspective. Believing the worst of a situation should NOT be my default position.

The tab on my Yogi tea earlier on the week said, "An attitude of gratitude brings opportunities." It's my new mantra, "an attitude of gratitude." "Gratitude" is not quite the right sentiment; it's more like humility, awareness, acceptance, but that doesn't rhyme with attitude, so I'll stick with "gratitude. I said it in my head when our plan to refloat got delayed by a couple hours when a fishing boat (a FISHING BOAT!!--'cause they're under such a stringent time schedule...grrrr) bumped us from our original schedule. And it helped. It didn't entirely stop the nasty thoughts about the weinie-sizing competition going on between folks at the shipyard, but it definitely calmed me enough to be rational about considering alternatives. Obviously, I've still got a ways to go with shifting my perspective.

So here's to a better attitude, a brighter outlook, a little more positivity.

I do reserve the right to cuss when I can't find a parking space, though.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Odds and Ends

The O4 selection results came out yesterday. I'm number 200 on the list. Don't know when that means that I'll actually pin it on, but it's good to see my name on that message.

We got a response back from Headquarters about the additional subsistence allowance request for the enlisted crew (post from 24 Aug 09). It was a conditional "yes." The payments start on 1 Jun (I asked for 1 Apr), and they're going to change the manual so that it specifically addresses that this allowance does not apply to drydocks. I guess they're gonna close that loophole.

The shipyard is actually working three shifts to get the shaft fixed. Maybe we'll be back in the water by Monday.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Power of Food

I just saw Food, Inc. It was heartbreaking. But I recommend you all see it.

Food is important to me. I think it's by necessity. My last Chief used to brag about having to keep an emergency granola bar ready at hand for when I hadn't eaten in a while. I think he also had a pair of trash pickers so that he could give it to me without getting too close. Needless to say, I get grow-horns bitchy when I don't eat about every four hours. So food is important to me. And I'm enough of an elitist snob to like good food.

When I'm underway, I put those tendencies on hold and eat what's put in front of me. I really don't have much of a choice if I want to keep food in my gut on that regular four-hour schedule. The cooks onboard ships out to sea have a pretty captive audience. And usually, they do a good job. Though there is a reason that the abbreviation for High Endurance Cutters (WHECs) is also known as "We Hafta Eat Chicken."

But when I'm at home...or at least not underway, since I still really don't have a home yet, I make different choices about what I eat. I'm not a vegetarian, but I'm trying really, really hard to be a locavore. Or if not a locavore, an organicavore? Organic-ian? Anyway, I try to eat organic as much as possible. And I'm not perfect. I definitely eat conveniently sometimes. But, as much as I can, I try to eat locally and/or organically.

One of the most important points that Food, Inc makes is about the power of our dollars...using our purchasing power to influence what happens with our food system.

I make those choices with how I eat. For myself.

But right now, I have the influence over an approximately $9000 monthly food budget that feeds 18 people for three meals a day for about a week and a half a month. That's a lot of power.

So I have two questions: How can I use this opportunity to influence my food system? and Should I?

The "should I?" one will definitively impact the other one, so I'll start there. Good food is my own personal little crusade. It's important to me, but not necessarily important to the other 19 people on my crew. They know food is important to me: I've made food an important part of each shipboard function we've had; I've spent a lot of time recognizing their sacrifices with food while we've been in drydock, and finding a way to compensate them a little for what they've had to put up with; I brought fresh fruits from my own yard into the shipyard office for them to enjoy.

Prosteletysing about food to my crew feels a little bit like having the chaplain come over to my last ship uninvited. I know it's for their own good, but I don't know how much they really care. And it's their money. The enlisted guys don't get a subsistence allowance while they're assigned to a ship. That money goes to the galley instead to pay for their three free meals a day. Officers are different. We do get an allowance, but we have to pay for each meal. So in my mind, any categorical decisions I make about how the galley is run has to have buy-in from the crew because it's their money I'm messing with.

Coasties are odd birds when it comes to food. And cooks have one of the hardest job in the entire organization. Especially cooks on ships. Food is morale. Good food means good morale; bad food can destroy morale faster that a busted bust. And they're trying to please 18 different palates with the same meal. That's a tall order. And far be it for me to dictate what they should eat.

So with all those constraints, how can I use this power I have to influence my food system? Here are some ideas I've come up with so far:
--Fish calls as often as possible!! Yay!! I just learned from my cook a week or so ago that it's up to the CO to allow "game" food onboard, including the bounty from fish calls. I'm thinking about encouraging hunting trips when we get back to the Big Island too...this is the only way I can get local pork as far as I can tell :)
--Vegetarian meals one day a week. I figure this is more palatable to the crew than one vegetarian meal a day.
--Encourage my cook to purchase local stuff as much as possible. Hilo has an amazing Farmer's Market every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Unfortunately I don't think my cook can purchase much there, since he can only go to places that accept credit cards. But about half a dozen of my guys have mentioned the Farmer's Market as one of the many, many, many, many reasons they're looking forward to getting back home.
--Bring Food, Inc onboard and watch it on the messdeck.

And I think I'm going to start filling the suggestion boxes at my local commissaries with requests for labels about where produce is coming from, local milk and meat selections, and more organic staples.

Oh, and just for an update on the ship, we're getting hauled back out of the water this week. It's gonna be a while before we're fixed, but at least we'll get a ship back that doesn't have any shaft vibrations. 80 days more away from homeport than we're allowed for FY09. Almost three months. This is me, trying to think positive.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Slight Setback

We've learned a little more about what's wrong with the alignment of the starboard shaft. In totally technical terms...it's bad out of whack. Our SMEs have provided their recommendation, which is to redock the ship and start adjusting the alignment at the strut bearings. Ideally, this will take about two weeks. I'm more of a realist, though, so I'm gonna guess more like three or four.

WWAAAAAANNNNNHHHHH!!!!

Over the weekend, there wasn't much drydock work going on onboard. Lots of stuff behind the scenes, with phone calls and emails back and forth about how the work should go, but not many hands on wrenches.

Now on Monday, there wasn't much drydock work going on onboard. Lots of stuff behind the scenes, with phone calls, emails and memos back and forth about who is responsible and who is going to pay for the repairs, but not many hands on wrenches.

I don't know what Tuesday is gonna bring, but I have my doubts about the hands on wrenches part...or even preparations for redocking like pumping off the liquid load or preparing the blocks, because we'll still be working out the contracting details. Ugh, I'm starting to sound cynical.

It's the worst kind of Groundhog Day, because right now, we don't know when it's going to end. We're in Groundhog Limbo. Everything else is on hold.

And in the meantime, we're racking up some other expenses that I hope are taken into account when the final cost analysis of this little adventure is done even though they may be from different pots of money. Like the berthing costs (over $200K), the rental car costs ($100/day), FSA ($250/married member/month), unit funded fuel purchases for the rental vehicles ($700/month), wear and tear on GSA vehicles traveling no less than 70 miles/day from the hotel to shipyard and back (GSA contacted us a couple of weeks ago to ask about the mileage, figuring there was a mistake after so many years of 5 miles/day travel-to the local post office to get our mail), the roundtrip flights back to the Big Island for married members once every 60 days to see their families (every 60 days?!?!?! Hell, am I supposed to say, "at least they got to go home at all"?), and hopefully, with the grace of HQ, the enlisted BAS-II to defer the expense of living for nearly six months without kitchen facilities ($324/enlisted person (18 onboard)/month).

I'm not quite sure how to quantify some of the other costs like: nearly two months more (my math was bad earlier...I shouldn't try to add numbers in my head) the days away from homeport than we're allowed by the Commandant for this fiscal year; the member's wife who lived alone in CG housing without her husband, or any of their furniture because he was on another island and their house-hold goods delivery was delayed for 20 days; or the wallet, ID and backpack stolen from a crewmember's hotel room while he was sleeping in his bed, 15 feet away. Don't know how to add those up into money exactly.

As the Kinks would say, "Here's wishing you the bluest sky,/And hoping something better comes tomorrow./Hoping all the verses rhyme/And all the shafts align (just kidding--that wasn't the Kinks, that was me...apologies Kinks),/And the very best of choruses to/Follow all the drudge and sadness.I know that better things are on the way.

I know you've got a lot of good things happening up ahead./The past is gone it's all been said./So here's to what the future brings, I know tomorrow you'll find better things./I hope tomorrow you'll find better things."

Friday, August 28, 2009

Struggling Next to Sisyphus

We've been calling this drydock "Groundhog Day" for a while now, but now there's a new desperation to each day. Tomorrow is day 147 of being in the shipyard, and while we're back in the water, we're not out of the woods yet. Ugh I hate mixing metaphors and platitudes. Here are a few more platitudes, though: Everything happens for a reason. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Tomorrow will be a better day. Things could be worse.

So what brought all this cynicism about, especially after my exuberance of a few days ago? Well, since the boat has gone back into the water, we've been overcoming about an obstacle a day. And hell, who am I fooling? It's not "we," since I really haven't done much of anything except stand around and ask questions, it's all my guys.

The first day, we couldn't get a cap off one of the fuel tank sounding tubes, delaying fueling by about four hours and causing some contentious debates with the contractor about who tightened the fool thing so tight that we had to drill it out.

The second day (after the engineers got done fueling the night before at 7:22pm--they started their day with the rest of us at 7am) my Chief found a fuel leak in one of the fuel tanks, into the engine room. A fuel leak is never a good thing, but it's even worse going into the engine room. This one really pisses me off...some joker somewhere back in the history of the ship, don't know how long ago, put this patch of caulk into this god-awful hard to see spot up underneath a joiner and DIDN'T DOCUMENT IT!! I have some nasty cuss words for this particular individual. So no one knew this patch was even there until we put fuel into the tanks, they leaked, we went investigating, and pulled out a chunk of rusty caulk...and now we're left with another patch job when we've tried so hard to do all the repairs the right way during this drydock. No one but no one, not even me on my most meticulous day, wanted us to stick around for another two weeks while we fixed this pisser of an oversight. Needless to say, we will be documenting it for inclusion into the next maintenance availability. But that was a day delay that takes us to today.

Today's rock to be pushed up the hill is our shafts. Or one of our shafts. It's out of whack. If it doesn't go into whack, and we try to use it, it'll "wobble like a wet noodle," as my Chief says. We'll find out more about it tomorrow, but this was definitely one rock that I really would have rather kept at the top of the molehill (more mixing of metaphors). We were so close to being out of the drydock...only .016" is keeping us there.

I'm just whining. I have no solutions to offer, other than to keep going.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ready to go Prime Time?

I got an email today from the publisher/owner of CGBlog.org. To quote him, "I wanted to write you before I wrote anything on my own site-but I love your blog. It's strait to the point of problems, and offers reasonable solutions ta-boot. However, as you noted in your own words you've asked not to be outed, and I respect that. That is why I wanted to ask if I can profile your site on my own (CGBlog.org)-I ask because it's on a daily check list for PA's [Public Affairs Specialists] and IT types looking for me (or others) to either do wrong, or good...take you pick. Please let me know-either way keep up the great work. I wish I could be so frank at times...Ryan"

Uh...ummm...aahhh....eeeekk! My first thought is that "frank" does not always equate to professional success. And he's right, it's easy to be frank when my audience is made up mostly of my friends and family who know my heart is in the right place, even when my head might sometimes be up my ass.

I haven't specifically asked to be anonymous; in fact, many of my posts give details about what ship I'm on and where I am. It's really not that hard to figure out...Ryan got it right on the first try. So it's really just an exposure issue. Am I ready for Prime Time?

As I try to refind my personal life, after a couple years of being wrapped up in my professional experience, I realize that I have to be wholly myself, for the good or the bad of it. I can't separate out the pieces of me of which the CG generally approves from the parts that are less easily integrated into a military, socially conservative, male-dominated, hierarchical structure. The cussing, environmental-mindedness, tattoos, foodie tendencies, snarky sense of humor, girly perfume and make-up, shyness and unconventional ideas about urban farming and local food systems all have a place right next to the empathetic leadership, technical knowledge, operational acumen, and command presence. Part and parcel of me. As the quintessential sailor once said, "I yam what I yam." Hey, I like spinach too.

I've made some baby steps towards this integration...being vocal about how the lack of messing options has affected the crew, the new 1/2 sleeve tattoo, the band-aid sticker, and make-up on a more regular basis (HUGH risk, I know!). This blog is a good outlet for me to share some of my successes and ruminate upon my failures. But I don't like to do things half-assed. In for a penny, in for a pound. Might as well go Prime Time. I do admit to editing some of my previous posts tonight, just to make sure I'm not going to shoot myself point blank in the foot; I still might catch the big toe with some shrapnel, though. Kinda nervous about that, but here goes...

Ryan, I'd be honored to be profiled on your blog. And thanks so much for your kind words. How on *earth* did you find my blog?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What Floats My Boat?

My boat floating floats my boat!!

It took me most of dinner to come up with that little witticism.

But my boat floats! We're in the water, refueled, just waiting to do some more tests before getting underway to test things at sea. Four days short of five months, nearly 450 square feet of hull metal replaced, over 100 linear feet of interior stiffeners and metal framework replaced, and well over 3600 man hours of firewatch stood...and we're 48 hours away from being back at sea.

My Boat Floats :)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Stirring the Pot

So I thought I was just tilting at windmills. But it turns out that I was stirring the pot...vigorously.

This drydock has been difficult for the crew. While I acknowledge that staying in a hotel in Waikiki for a few days sounds relaxing and enjoyable, living here for five months, without personal and dedicated transportation, no kitchen, and a nearly 2 hour round-trip commute has turned arduous. They're spending a ton of money on food, eating out nearly every meal in one of the most tourist-plagued, over-priced spots in the country. Some of them are trying to economize by buying frozen dinners or convenience meals at the commissary. But the hotel rooms only have a mini fridge and small microwave.

I feel for them, but haven't really had to deal with the frustrations of such uncomfortable circumstances. I've taken some time off, gotten to stay at my Mom's house, and have my own set of wheels (the cutest little yellow Mini Cooper!!). And I make a bunch more money than they do...like probably a couple four of them put together.

So, instead of just sitting around whining about what a short-sighted non-solution I walked into, I decided to do some research and find out if I could get these guys some compensation for their suffering. I looked at some websites, read some manuals, read some other manuals, checked back with emails sent when the drydock first started, talked with my XO and read some more manuals.

The sticking point with all the initial discussions was the abundance of military dining facilities available on the island of Oahu. There are four galleys within close proximity to the route between our hotel and the shipyard, so the crew should have been able to find their way to any one of them for a decent meal at a reasonable price. Oh, for a perfect world.

The reality is that our working hours at the shipyard preclude the use of the galleys for all intents and purposes. We start too early, have too short a lunch and work too late to get dinner.
And the guys get thoroughly grimy at the shipyard during the day, which necessitates a pretty extensive clean-up before they head to a military-run facility, if they expect entry through the door. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock...there's just not enough minutes in the day.

I discarded the idea of per diem pretty quickly. Drydocks are different than regular temporary duty because a member is still with their permanently assigned unit, so that was a non-starter. In fact, I think the manual specifically addresses that per diem is not applicable for drydock availabilities.

But as I was researching per diem, I came across an additional subsistence allowance that seemed like it was just the ticket. The manual said to submit a request to Headquarters with an explanation of the situation. So, in the time-honored tradition of working smarter, not harder, I emailed the HQ office with a very general description of our situation and asked if they had a "template" request I could use to plagiarize from...oh, I mean, use as a model. I kinda thought I'd get an example memo back, and it would be pretty straight forward.

Instead I got back more questions...why didn't you think about this before? What about galleys in the local area? Why wasn't there discussion of a messing contract at the beginning? Why is the hotel so far away from the shipyard?

So, I calmed myself, took a deep breath, and settled in to write a very, very long, descriptive email. I tried to be professional with my response, though I do remember saying something like, "it only took a short time for the crew to get heartily sick of white bread sandwiches, a mealy apple and a packet of oreos," in my description of the box lunches we were getting. I spent about a full day on the email, and then sent it on it's way.

In the meantime, my XO has mentioned to his friend in high places that we're pursuing some alternate compensation possibilities for messing. Thank god for my XO, because I think without this critical step, my goose would have been cooked (sorry for the food-related pun).

The next day, I get an email back, not from the guy I sent the original email to, but from his boss. He recommended that I start to draft the request while they continue to discuss the issue within his office. That way, it would already be in process and shorten the response time in case it was approved.

WHOOOPPEEE!! It's not a "no!" So I start to draft the response. I took most of the second email and made it sound more professional and rational. But I had a question about who it needed to be see it along it's way to the HQ office. I sent another email back, asking that, and pretty much expected to hear something back this morning. No email in the queue this morning...so I called. Not so much my style, but I'm kinda in a time crunch because I want some resolution to the question while it still has some relevance to the guys.

What I found out from the phone call was that I needed alot more specifics about the situation, which was really helpful, and will make my request all that much stronger. But I also found out that my situation had been briefed to their office's O6, and that said O6 had called my boss to chat about the request. Things happen when O6s talk to other O6s, so I'm really hopeful that this will have a positive outcome.

But my O6 is a big picture kinda guy, looking for how to make the situation better in future similar circumstances. So he started asking how we got into the pickle (tee hee) we're in, who approved the initial plan, what other options could have been. And then, thump bumpthump thud, the bus rolled over the folks that had set up our original arrangements.

I didn't mean to set them up but I don't have any sympathy for them...they really did screw us over by not caring about the impact of their decision on my crew. They took the easy road rather than putting their critical thinking skills to work and coming up with a better answer.

And so the pot was stirred.