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 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


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 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'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.


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."