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.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Good Kind of Problems

Yup, I got good problems...

First, I am so freaking full. Like belly-popping, sitting on the couch moaning kind of full. I'm staying in Waikiki tonight, and hadn't made any prior arrangements (read: no TV dinners in the freezer). So I went out to find some grinds. I stumbled on a teeny sushi bar, and gorged myself. For only $15.50!! In Waikiki!!! Too cool.

I got rained on walking back to my hotel. The remnants of Hurricane Felicia. But we need the rain, and it gives me a good excuse to take hot shower and wrap up in comfy pjs.

And my arm hurts. For the fifth day in a row. From my new tattoo :) It's gonna be so pretty when it's done. It's not so pretty right now, all peely and scabbed up. But it hurts from the skin being too tight, kinda like a bad Indian burn all around my bicep.

Like I said...the good kind of problems.

But while I was feasting on too much sushi (yummy shrimp tempura rolls, spicy hamachi, miso soup, spicy sesame salad, and edamame--it hurts just thinking about it all), I thought about how much my brain is going to ooze out of my brain when I go to a shoreside job. I got a phone call from a good friend today who is CO of another patrol boat in another location. We spent a delightful 45 minutes railing against poor support for our beleaguered crews and cutters. It was so cathartic.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Eeek

It's been a while since I posted. I went on a trip to Southern California to visit my sister and some friends. I had a really good time. It was refreshing to hang out with people that knew me before I gave up my social life for a professional one. I'm working on getting the social life back, with some limited success.

I added a new blog to my roll...Obama Foodorama is all about food and our President. I *love* the post about the President celebrating his birthday with Ms Helen Thomas, who turned 89 today. So cool!

While at a Very Important Meeting (well, not really, but it was a bad combination of taking itself too seriously and demeaning itself like clowns...kinda weird), I gave myself a series of deadlines for getting my graduate school stuff done. I'm giving the folks that I'm asking to write letters of recommendations nearly 90 days to get them in. All the schools I'm applying to (narrowed to U of MD, UC Berkeley and GWU) have online applications, which my SME (Subject Matter Expert=Bro-in-Law) has assured me is far easier than the old paper copies. And I've got a date to take the GRE (again...for a third time). And I've got a due date for my Statement of Purpose. Expect to see at least one draft of that here. My deadline for myself is 11 Sep...plenty of time to revise it a million times.