Sunday, February 28, 2010

Murphy Is A SonuvaBi..., Er, I Mean, Mr. Murphy, Sir

Very Important Note to begin with: my heart goes out to the people of Chile who are suffering through such devastation and fear after the earthquake yesterday. I have never been in such a natural disaster, so I have no idea what they're actually going through. I hope it gets better for them quickly.

Yesterday, I cussed about Murphy. You know, whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, and all that. We have a little problem with a busted bolt that wreaked all kinds of havoc. A Cat 4 CASREP is never a good thing, but it's really hard to deal with at 1300W (1 pm Hawaii Standard Time = 3 pm Pacific Daylight Savings = 6 pm Eastern Daylight Savings) on a FRIDAY! We were scheduled to get underway over the weekend to go do something that needed to be done. Well, hell...with overnight shipping meaning two days to Hawaii, getting underway when we were scheduled to wasn't going to happen.

I remember sitting in the office at about 3:30 pm Friday, in between making frantic phone calls to our operational commanders, while MKC was making frantic phone calls to the logistics folks, and XO was sending frantic emails to the supply people, saying something like, well, Murphy's a son of a bitch. And a few other things that are less publish-able.

Phone calls were made, schedules were changed, and parts were ordered (we thought). I went home.

Last night the phone rang about an earthquake in Chile, 8.8 magnitude, with the possibility of a tsunami being generated. We were under a tsunami advisory. Ok, no big deal, really. We've had tsunami advisories before that were quickly canceled because nothing was going to happen. That'll happen this time again.

Well, then the phone rang again at 1 am. The tsunami warning had been issued. Hawaii was in the path, with landfall expected around 11 am Saturday morning. I ordered the crew to be recalled, and be on the ship first thing Saturday morning. I still wasn't sure at this point if we were going to attempt to get underway or not. But I wanted all the crew to be there if we needed to go.

I laid there in bed,with the lights on, staring at the ceiling for a good 10 minutes, going through different scenarios about how we could possibly get underway from Radio Bay with only one engine. Crazy stuff, like using the line throwing gun to get a line over to the bollards at the end of the cut, and putting our small boat in the water to keep us off the rocks. I still wasn't sure at this point if we were going to attempt to get underway or not...maybe the surge wouldn't be all that bad.

At 3 am, I got a phone call from our operational commander, asking for an hourly phone call for updates. I called the ship to ask them to execute. I still wasn't sure at this point if we were going to attempt to get underway or not...I wanted more information.

At 4 am, I got a phone call from XO with the latest update on the tsunami warning...the predicted wave height was 12 feet. No question about it this time...we had to get out of Radio Bay before 11 am.

At 6 am (well, actually, 10 minutes before 6, because my alarm was set for 6), I got a call requesting to know what our plans were. By this time, I've decided definitively that we must get underway. My choice came down to doing nothing, which risks leaving the ship in the parking lot (not a good idea), or being proactive about getting out, which risks running the ship aground, or punching a hole in the hull by bouncing off rocks in the cut. I'd rather fail trying to do something than to fail by doing nothing.

I've said before, it's a tight mooring. Let me describe it a little better this time.

The pier lays at 000T, or due north. We moor up port-side-to. As we pull in to the pier, we have to drive through the "cut," which is an opening between the Hilo Harbor breakwall and the state pier. On the chart, the cut measures 100 yds wide; in reality, the cut is about half that, 150 feet wide. KISKA's beam (width) is 21 feet. That means we've got about 65 feet on either side of the ship before we HIT SOMETHING! Once we get through the cut, which is about 300 yds long, we've got to twist around to port, and then back down about 150 yds to come in port-side-to our pier. Shoal water (=bad) is very close aboard. The water in Radio Bay is usually very calm, but high winds and waves from the east can turn it into a churny mess.

Getting underway is a little easier. We heave around on line 1 with the capstan on the bow, swinging the stern away from the pier. Then we ease away from the pier, and make an 80 degree turn to port through the cut. Once we're through the cut, the transit opens up and becomes much less tense.

That's with both engines online and available for use, though. With only the port engine, turning to port becomes tricky, especially at slow speeds.

I got to the ship at about 6:20, riding my bike in so I could leave my car at the house on high ground. The lines at the gas stations were already about 5 cars deep. I've never seen Hilo so hyper, especially on a Saturday morning.

I went down to the cut to check out what we had available on the pier. There are no bollards for putting lines over in the cut (one of my crazy ideas) until the very end.

XO had been on the ship since 4 am, so he was prepared with a bunch of information to pass...plans for the families, injured personnel being left behind, status of assist teams, as well as thoughts on the unmooring and transit evolutions. He made my job so much easier by being thorough, thoughtful and "forward leaning." I think he may have been a little disappointed when I told him that I would drive out because, if anyone was going to run the ship aground, it was going to be me. But he saw the wisdom of it, and seemed a little relieved that I'd be driving.

To shorten the story, we got underway just before 9 am, and headed outbound. We did put the small boat in the water, and used them as a push tug to help move the bow around and straighten up in the cut. My guidance to the cox'n and crew during our pre-brief was that if it was a choice between messing up the small boat on the rocks, or messing up the ship, they needed to be prepared to save the ship and wreck the small boat. Thankfully, it didn't come to that.The planning, discussions, and contingencies considered turned a potentially harrowing transit into a calm, smooth and fast evolution. We were through the cut before I knew it. The rest of the trip out of the bay was uneventful, except that there were so many other vessels underway headed out of the danger zone. And whales were everywhere once outside the harbor! The small boat made approaches on a bunch of boats to let them know they needed to be outside the breakwall, in deeper water to be safe.

Our shoreside contingent did a great job of keeping us up-to-date with the happenings on land, sending text pages like, "the water is sucking out of the bay" and "water is surging back now." The families were all safe in housing; even the ones that didn't live there were made welcome and comfortable. We had a presence at the Civil Defense Agency's Emergency Operation Center.

It was a little eerie, though. The warning messages had said that the first waves could be expected no earlier than 11:05. I happened to look at the clock at 11:04, and thought, here goes...wonder what this is gonna be like. I looked again at 11:06 and absolutely nothing was different. The shoreline folks hadn't seen anything either. We didn't get the first reports until about 11:45. And we didn't feel anything different offshore.

Finally, at 1:45ish, we were given the all clear. There hadn't been any destructive waves come into Hilo. It was still very surgy in the bay, and beaches are still closed until tomorrow morning. But we, our families, our community were all safe. We sent the small boat in first to check that the harbor was clear of major debris and to check the depth, in case anything had been swirled around into the channel.

Mooring back up was a little less smooth than getting underway. But, again, we did it safely, if not prettily.

As we were wrapping up for the day, XO and I talked about the day. What went well, what we could have done better. Our conclusion was that everyone did an outstanding job responding to a bad situation. I've said it before, but KISKA's crew is a great bunch of people. Today was just another example of the crew's ability to persevere through unfortunate circumstances. But I definitely have a renewed respect for Murphy. I thought the Cat4 CASREP was bad; I had no *idea* that we'd get a tsunami warning on top of it!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

High Highs and Frustrating Annoyances

Another two weeks gone. We had the SEOPS (Special Emergency Operations) Team come out week before last to provide us some much needed focus on training. We got to devote the whole week to nuthin' but learnin'. The training team was accommodating and provided some valuable insights. Some people got to break-in at new positions and learn the ropes. We were working with a little bit of a disadvantage with the drills...our 1MC is broken right now, so we can't make pipes. It's like the PA system being out at the airport. We came up with a work-around, using hand held radios for "pipes" (we called it the 61MC, since we're using channel 61), but it's still a pain in the butt.

Then this last week we were underway. And busy. Three, no four, escorts, a towing exercise, flight ops, boardings, and whale patrols. There were some great!! experiences during the week. And some grindingly annoying frustrations.

The good parts: XO putting the ship right where she needed to go during a mooring (right off of SOPA (Senior Officer Present Afloat) and showing the JOs onboard How It Is DONE!) so that we didn't have to adjust lines at all...just "make up and double up all lines."

Me reading the wind the right way, anticipating a missed hook, and adjusting so that we made off to the Kona mooring ball on the first try with minimal fuss.

Pinning his temporary Cutterman's pin onto SN McKinstry, just a couple weeks after I got to give them out to MK2 Arevalo, BM3 Goracke and SN Andres. I *love* doing this...I got my permanent cutterman's pin while I was underway on HAMILTON, so I kinda feel like I'm passing it on to the next and upcoming generations.

A good friend getting her boat back in the water...sea trials and operations, here she comes!

Oh, and someone from the crew was recognized with being nominated for an award...I'll post more about this later. Need to make sure it's internet releasable. But it's super duper cool regardless!

The not so great parts...barely making it on time to two escorts because the escorted units changed their departure/arrival times by just enough to not make us miss them entirely, but leave us frantically scrambling to get into place while it was still worth while. Nothing like making all the preps to do something (including getting underway for *that* specific purpose) and having it fall apart through no fault of your own.

Breaking shit. I really didn't think it was that rough last night as we were transiting. Apparently I was wrong.

We've had a lot of stuff break recently (see 1MC bit above), and while none of it is critical, I start to wonder when the cumulative effect of all the broken equipment will degrade our effectiveness. Most of what is not working is either a redundant system or a last ditch measure to get out of an extremis situation. These items are designed to be a back up to prudent and attentive watchstanding. And while I absolutely trust my watchstanders, I know they're human and make mistakes (like dropping power to the ship while we're at special sea detail, getting ready to enter port...that was an adrenaline rush!), so the systems are there as a fail safe. And one of them going down at a time, I can live with...we can be a little more diligent with that work around; but to have multiple faults at the same time spreads us thin on where we need to pay attention. CASREPs are out on all of them...just waiting on parts and/or technical advice. The 160-240 day lead-time on parts is frustrating too.

That's enough frustrating stuff. We're in for a little bit, so we should have time to regroup and get some things fixed.

Happy Valentines Day!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Playing Nice With Others

In the OER (Officer Evaluation Report) world, this is known as "Teamwork," and it is defined as, "Ability to manage, lead and participate in teams, encourage cooperation and develop esprit de corps." A good mark is, "Insightful use of teams raised unit productivity beyond expectations. Inspired high level of esprit de corps even in difficult situations. Major contributor to team effort. Established relationships and networks across a broad range of people and groups, raising accomplishments of mutual goals to a remarkable level."

I strive for that, but still think I don't play nice with others sometimes. I try to...but I have a tendency to be blunt and sometimes strident in pursuit of making my point.

Without going into revealing details about what brought this up in my thoughts because a) the details are not really germane to the question, and b) it can be applied to more than one unit and interaction, I'm trying to work out an issue with a supporting unit (term used loosely in this case, not like the Navy's Supported and Supporting Unit). Of course I think I'm right...but I know that they've also got valid arguments/opinions/justifications for what happened on their end. I can't straight call them out without inserting myself where I have no right to be, but I also can't let the issue drop without comment because it had a direct impact on my ability to fulfill my responsibilities as CO.

My question is: how do I play nice with others when we don't always share a common understanding of critical issues, have the same gauge for determining priorities or have a commensurate level of ownership in the operation? When we don't have the same "give a shit" factor? Is it incumbent upon me, as the requestor, to thoroughly educate, explain and justify, or should I be able to rely on another entity's pursuit of professional excellence to provide the right answer?

I know the answer is somewhere in the middle of the two. And I know I have to pick my battles wisely.

I also know that most supporting units have more than one unit that requires attention...they've usually got six, or ten, or twenty, or forty or more. So my one little issue is sometimes barely a footnote in their daily calendar, but it's a major impact on my unit, my crew, and me. And I can only nag so much before I feel like I'm either just a pesky mosquito whining incessantly in someone's ear waiting to get slapped flat or maybe worse, hollering into an empty cavern with just my own echo answering back at me because no one else thinks it's important.

My new email signature contains a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." I added it as a reminder to myself that I need to focus my time and attention on making processes work, rather than just complaining when they're broken. I acknowledge that it is a little self-promoting and self-righteous, but I still like it. Putting it out there on my signature means that other people are free to point out when I'm not living up to that standard.