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.


Azulao said...

You ROCK. You totally ROCK! (A musical analogy, rather than a cooking analogy.)

Kudos to you for caring so much about your guys, following through, sticking your neck out, trying again and again, networking, doing your homework and then some, being able to see from another point of view, and essentially being a terrific CO.

Can you come work here? I LOVE you.

Anonymous said...

I heartily agree with Azulao! Way to go!!

Just a Girl said...

Thanks y'all. I sent out the first draft of the request for review today. Hopefully I'll get some good feedback tomorrow.

My Chief told me that if the request gets approved, the guys will love me for it, and even if it doesn't, the attempt will mean a lot to them.

I don't care if they think better of me for my attempts to do my job...I just want them to recognize that I'll do everything I can for them. It's my job to make sure they've got what they need to do theirs.

Sassenach said...

Here's what's frustrating -- and yet a life lesson: do you think this is the first time a cutter drydocked in Hawaii has had this problem? Do you think you're the first skipper who ever spent a gazillion hours to get it fixed?

My personal moment of revelation came when I was an LT at Group (Sector) LALB. I'd worked an issue regarding our WPB's and was pretty proud of my solution. A couple of months later, I was going through an old filing cabinet and found a series of letters from five years earlier addressing exactly the same issue, using nearly the same justifications I raised, with exactly the same solution. I'm convinced that if you were to go to the state archives, you would find letters from Captain Cook about the state of messing for his crew. (OK, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but not much of one.)

My take-away: left on its own, the bureaucratic machine will take the easy way out and grind people up in the process. Nobody will ever care about your people as much as you do; no one else will make the effort to care FOR your people as well as you. That's the special trust and responsibility part of being a CO.