Wednesday, March 31, 2010


It’s been a big few days for qualifications onboard KISKA. Huge congratulations go out to:

FN Nolan Rager (TAD to us from STEADFAST) earned his inport crewman qualification…not bad for having been on board for less than a month.

FN Larry Burns earned his underway Engineer of the Watch qualification this evening. He fought hard for it and finally passed his board.

And…drum roll, please…BM1 Eli North is KISKA’s newest qualified underway Officer of the Deck! This is not an easy qualification to earn. The u/w OOD is responsible for what goes on during his watch onboard the ship: making sure we get where we’re going without hitting anything, executing whatever operations are planned like boardings, search and rescue, flight operations, drills, casualty control…whatever. You have to have a lot of knowledge about a lot of things to be qualified as an OOD.

BM1 has been breaking-in under a qualified OOD for the past few months, learning the ropes. As he demonstrated at his board, he’s at the point now that he really needs to stand his own watch to continue his learning curve. It gets to a point with standing watch as a break-in that you really can’t learn any more without standing the watch by yourself. You know that there’s always a qualified person there on the bridge to back you up; it’s an “easy out.” Once you’re up on the bridge by yourself, somehow the level of responsibility is ratcheted up significantly, and things take on a different level of importance. I learned more during my first half-dozen qualified watches than I did during the previous month of standing watch as a break-in. That’s just the way it works.

So, during an arduous three-hour qual board this morning and this afternoon, BM1 proved to me, the XO and MKC that he was ready to stand watch on his own. He did a great job demonstrating his knowledge of the ship and more importantly, his ability to make good judgments, even if he didn’t necessarily have every bit of information he needed to make a 100% good decision.

BM1 North is the first person for whom I’ve signed an initial OOD qual letter. All my other OOD boards as CO have been for re-quals…still very important, but I kinda feel like I’m the “line in the sand” (ugh, did I really say that?!) for making sure he meets the “minimum necessary standard” for a qualification. Because qualification is a process. He’s made his first HUGE step to being a good OOD, but the learning doesn’t stop here. I learn something new about standing watch all the time. Sometimes it’s a subtlety about rules of the road, or another little engineering tidbit. But just because you’re qualified doesn’t mean the learning stops.

Usually at the conclusion of a qual board, the boardee is asked to leave the space so the boarders can talk about his performance. After a discussion about how the boardee did, the board comes to a consensus of whether or not he passed. And then the boardee is called back into the room.

I don’t have a standard speech yet. Regardless of whether the member passed the board, one of my previous COs used to ask, “Why do you think you failed your board?” I always thought that was pretty harshly unfair and mean. During my own initial OOD qualification on BOUTWELL, my XO, CDR Mike Kazek, had placed pictures of his little girls in front of my chair, so when I came back into the room and sat down, I was looking at the photos. He told me, “Those girls, and the children, family and friends of every other person on this ship are your responsibility while you’re on watch. You must take it seriously.” That made quite an impression on me (while nearly making me cry right in front of the board!), and I do take standing watch seriously.

Next for BM1 comes the traditional pipe over the 1MC for his first watch, “Now, all hands review their WQSB (Watch, Quarter, Station Bill) responsibilities for Abandon Ship and locate life jackets as BM1 North prepares to take his first qualified OOD watch.” Tee hee.

Oh yeah…and this also means that XO and I aren’t port and starboard anymore—yippeeee! The possibility of seven hours of sleep at a time, instead of barely five…sounds glorious!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Grad School News

I got into U of MD!!

Mom called me when she got back from the mainland today and checked the mail. There was a letter there from the school. I said, "Open it, open it!" And she read me the acceptance letter.

I was waiting for an email, like the one I got from GWU a few weeks ago. But, no, they sent a hard copy letter. The funny thing is, I had Mom scan and email me the letter so I got it electronically anyway. I didn't want to wait until next week sometime when I got to pick up my mail from Oahu to actually see proof.

Whoohooo! And thanks again, Sis, for the help with reformatting and improving the application essay. Oh, and my letter of recommendation know who you are!

It's nice to have some better level of certainty about where I'm going this summer.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


This is a recycled post, from my tour on MAUI in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.

Last night was the first night in probably 18 days that I got more than three hours of sleep at a time. I usually sleep about seven to eight hours a night, but never more than three hours at a time. I'm always on call, and my watchstanders have direct orders to call me for a myriad of circumstances. It just seems like the last three weeks, they've been competing to see who can call me the most during the night. I think OPS is winning. He averages one call every 30 minutes.

So, needless to say, I was suffering from lack of sleep. I talked to my sister last night, and after describing the situation, she not only recommended the subject of this post, but was also concerned enough to suggest (strongly) that I see a doctor to make sure I wasn't doing permanent damage to myself.

The awkward thing about sleep in my chosen profession is that everyone in my immediate surrounding suffers from severe lack of it. I heard about a study at Command and Operations school done by the Coast Guard a few years ago about fatigue. I may not have all the details exactly right, but it went something like this. Some sleep specialists went out underway with a ship on patrol and did some tests on the personnel at the unit. The test was given at the start of the workday, and each individual followed his/her normal morning routine (coffee, breakfast, smokes, whatever). Then they sat down in a regular office chair with nothing to do and were told not to fall asleep. According to the specialists, people getting sufficient sleep should be able to not fall asleep under those circumstances for at least 20 minutes. Fatigued people tend to start nodding off at 15 minutes. About 80% of personnel at the unit the specialists studied were zonked out in under 5 minutes, indicating, of course, severe sleep deprivation.

And we're expected to function safely in an inherently hazardous environment like this. Hmm. But somehow we manage to do it.

There is a certain amount of bravado associated with being able to manage such arduous hours (note from the present: you can bet that, while I whine about being port and starboard, I will tell *that* sea-story with salty pride for the rest of my life!). I can tell you nearly to the minute how long I've gone without sleep due to operations during my career. The longest was 30 hours followed by four hours of sleep followed by another 18 hours awake and "functional." We were in the middle of a crazy go-fast chase in the Eastern Pacific, and I was an integral part of the process as OPS. I wasn't the only one pushing on through lack of the end of it we all looked like zombies. I slept for 15 hours straight one it was all done.

The kicker is that during that 52-hour period, the stress level was out of control. I've never been so nervous that people under my tactical control had the possibility of dying as I had that night. I'm sure I'll pay the price, healthwise, of constantly living with high stress and no sleep. But that's a lot of what this job is all about. Pushing yourself to the limits, and coming out safely on the other side.

So, here's to a good night's sleep. In a comfortable bed. With no phone calls. Or banging doors. Or loud equipment kicking on. Or off. With no bad weather outside.

Back to the present on KISKA: I've thought a lot about sleep lately. When I wrote this post, I think we were standing gloriously rich one-in-four, three-hour watches. But we were underway for five to six days at a time. Now, the port/starboard watches are only for two to three days at a time at the most. I'm not sure which is more difficult.

I've been planning how to keep myself busy during an upcoming maintenance and repair period. Almost two months of being in homeport, living in my own house, shaping some sort of standard routine; I haven't done something like that since I was XO on WASHINGTON during our drydock, nearly seven years ago. It's gonna be a test period for adjusting to grad school. What I'm looking forward to most--sleeping in my own bed on a regular basis...

Friday, March 19, 2010


The photo has nothing to do with the title of the post at all. But yesterday being St. Patrick's Day, we authorized green t-shirts for the crew. MKC Tarker is looking forward, rising above all the silliness; Green Man is SN Ryan Andres; next is Bobby Light, I mean MK3 Tony Collado; then FS2 Ed Stickel; then XO, LTJG Frank Reed; and then SN Aaron Pasoquen. XO was sporting his green tee under the uniform blouse...classy.

Andres did change into a regular t-shirt (green) for Special Sea Detail and mooring stations. But the shock value of coming up onto the bridge and seeing Green Man was great. XO only had about three hours of sleep when he came face-to-face with Green Man on entering the bridge; the look on his face was priceless.

So about this balance thing...I guess I used to think that work was balanced by personal life, and vice versa. You know, one could be good and one bad, but as long as they weren't both bad at the same time, you'd be ok. I used to love chemical equations and algebra equations in high school; they made so much sense...if something happened on one side of the equation, there were effects on the other that were predictable and definable. But I'm coming to find out that balance comes in all different shapes and sizes, and the sides don't always add up. Last week gave me some good lessons in balance.

When last we left KISKA on the blogosphere last Thursday, she was plagued by an evil gremlin vibrating the bejeezus out of the starboard shaft. Theories abounded about the genealogy and motivation of the gremlin. Had we hit something that damaged the propeller? Had the ship settled into herself after all the metal/structural work during drydock last summer and then been aggravated into a little tweak with all the slamming against the state pier? Did we just have basic alignment problems? We knew it had something to do with the bearing, because there were little bits of shredded rubber in the cooling water around the bearing. But how badly damaged was the bearing?

The big question was, is the vibration causing the bearing to go bad, or is the bearing causing the vibration? Chicken, meet Egg; Egg, meet Chicken...but who got here first? Measurements were taken to check the shaft alignment. They weren't conclusive, nor were they repeatable. The lack of repeatability and rubber shavings in the cooling water convinced me (in all my engineering expertise and knowledge--please note dripping sarcasm) that the bearing had to be bad...destroyed beyond repair and usability. I was certain we were gonna have to go back into ugh, don't say it, don't even *think* it, drydock.

But thank goodness there's people out there with way more engineering acumen than me, and the Product Line had us to send divers down to check a few other things. The divers started to dive on Friday afternoon (we were kinda busy on Friday morning with DVs...oh my god, he reads my blog!!! Eeek!), but we had to stop them because they didn't have all the people they needed to do the dive safely. So they came back on Monday.

Skip ahead to Monday (because even though lots of great stuff happened over the weekend and it's another part of the balance equation, it ruins the lines of the story to tell about it here). The divers went down, installed a coffer dam, allowing us to break free the shaft seal and move the bearing around to actually get a look at it (Any engineers reading, please forgive me if I don't have all the parts in quite the right place). Once it was all torn apart, we could see rubber shavings all over the shaft and around the bearing. But the bearing was still within clearances, and all alignment measurements were reasonable. So, it wasn't likely alignment, which is really good. And the bearing wasn't shot, which is really good. Both of those add up to no need for an emergency drydock.

The prevailing theory is that there was some schmegma (technical term used by MKC Tarker, so I know it's real...I just hope I spelled it right) in the line that supplies cooling water to the bearing, possibly new rust since the line had been renewed during last summer's drydock. Once the cooling water line got a little plugged up and restricted the flow of cooling water, the rubber on the bearing heated up and started sticking to the shaft as it spun. Since all this is right next to a structural frame on the ship, the reverberations transmitted throughout the ship. And once the bearing started to shred, the shreddings exacerbated the problem and completely closed off the cooling water from reaching the shaft.

Ninjaneers staked that bastard gremlin *right* through his evil little heart!

We hope...we monitored it during the 200-plus mile transit back to homeport with no recurrences of the vibration or any extra heating of the cooling water around the bearing. We'll continue to monitor over the next few underway periods just to make sure.

So what does all this have to do with balance? Well, while this particular part of my professional experience was providing plenty of frustration, anger, discontent and general mayhem, other parts of my professional experience have been amazingly rewarding. The feedback I've gotten about this blog lately has been overwhelming. I'm really not used to being so highly praised. Sure, I do a good job and all, but my readers have been stunningly and vocally supportive recently (for which I am inexpressibly grateful! Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!).

Slightly tangential aside: You may have heard that KISKA did a speed mentoring session recently. One of the questions that was posed to my group was, "How do you define success?" I was stumped. You'd think this was an easy question. I know how I define success in my personal life, and I'm kinda on a delayed gratification course of action with it...I know one day I'll have my farm and I'll be able to live comfortably on it because of the hard work I'm putting in now. But professionally, I haven't taken the time to define success. I've set goals and realized them, sure. But does that mean I'm successful? I don't feel like it; I'm just a girl, doing my job. Doesn't mean I'm unsuccessful, I just don't think I've done what I need to do to label myself successful yet. Maybe it's partially that I don't think I'm old enough for Success, with a Capital S, yet :)

On the personal side of things, my family is going through kinda a tough time right now. We got some not so good news recently and are still processing how to deal with it, how it's going to affect our lives, and what it means for the future. It's stressful and uncertain and uncomfortable and sad.

But I've made great, huge strides towards accomplishing a personal goal, and I'm having blazing fun doing it. So, balance.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

My Week and a Half

Here’s a run-down of what’s been going on since my last post. This is a ridiculously long post…but it’s been a busy couple of days.

Coming back in from the tsunami evacuation, we moored up at the Hilo state pier. Radio Bay was still overly surgy from the tsunami; it was too dangerous to try to figure out the currents with just one engine just to risk parting lines to the pier as the surges settled down. The Harbormaster in Hilo, Elton Suganuma was gracious enough to give us some pier space where the cruise ships normally moor up. But if we were going to be there past Monday, we would have to shift piers, because a cruise ship was due in very early on Tuesday morning. We’d already done one single engine unmooring/mooring, so I was pretty confident about being able to make it safely over to the next pier.

That was Saturday.

Sunday progressed fairly normally, until about 6 pm, when the winds picked up. We started getting gusts up to 30 kts in the harbor. And the surge got ugly. The OOD (Officer of the Deck = 24-hr live watch onboard ship) called me at about 11 pm, saying that we were starting to part lines. We were chafing through the chafe gear (thick canvas and padding designed to protect the lines from wearing on the deck fittings) and then working through the lines themselves. We had parted three lines when the OOD called.

I went into the ship at that point, figuring I wasn’t going to sleep at all at home, so if I wasn’t going to sleep, it might as well be on the ship. It was mostly to make myself feel better…there was nothing I could really contribute by being there. Not like I was gonna be able to single-handedly stop the surge.

By Monday morning, we had parted five lines. We were starting to run out of lines, so the Boatswains’ Mate Department started making more as quickly as they could. At this point, we had 13 lines over to the pier. Normally, we keep eight lines over: two breast lines, one fore and one aft each doubled up, and two spring lines, one leading forward and one leading aft each doubled up. The extra lines were two extra breast lines each fore and aft and one storm line leading far aft.

The weather didn’t let up at all on Monday, so when we went to shift piers at about 5:30pm once the barge had cleared out from the pier we were going to, the winds were at about 20 kts sustained, quartering us on the dock at the pier we were already on, and directly onto the beam to the pier we were going to. I hope that makes sense to readers…simplify it to say that 20 kts of wind during any mooring adds trickiness. Thankfully, there was a tug boat underway that had been assisting with helping the barge away from the pier, and BM1 O’Brien suggested that we contact the tug to have them stand by if we needed assistance. Great recommendation!

Getting underway from the pier went well. We were able to get the stern away from the pier fairly easily, giving small shots ahead on the port-side engine (the only one that works, don’t forget) while heaving around on line 1 with the capstan. The theory was that, if we could get enough of an angle off the pier to swing our stern through the wind, it would catch us and assist us getting set up for the approach on the new pier, which was at a 90-ish degree angle from the original pier. It was a good theory…putting it into practice wasn’t quite so easy. We alllllmosssst got our stern through the wind, but it was stubborn, so it didn’t quite make it. So, we asked the tug to come alongside, and make off to our port side to help push us into the new pier. Worked wonderfully. And then we were safely made off to the new pier.

But safely is a relative term. The surge at the new pier was just as bad as at the previous pier. We had discussed different options before shifting piers: getting back to our mooring in Radio Bay was discarded because the cut was so windblown that I wasn’t willing to try it on one engine with all forces pushing us forward (reduces effectiveness of rudders/steering); anchoring in the bay was ruled out because of the possibility of dragging anchor in the sea conditions, and getting underway was ruled out, because what if something happened to our remaining engine and then we were stuck out to sea in really crappy weather conditions without any propulsion…ugh…no good choices at all. So surging at the pier sounded like the best option.

We sat there the rest of Monday night, all day Tuesday, and through about half of Wednesday, waiting for our part. We didn’t part any more lines…we had 13 lines over again, including three of the barge hawsers that were on the pier that reduced the movement of the ship, sometimes more abruptly than felt normal. But we did pop six fenders.

The part finally arrived at 2 pm on Wednesday; we were underway by 4 pm. Thank goodness!


Just in case any CG-readers hadn’t seen it already.

The response I got back was via email: “It is not good practice to be throwing units that give assistance under the bus. If you felt this strong about the service you received you should have kept it in house and dealt with it through me. The [Supply Unit] does outstanding work in regards to support to the units. You would have waited much longer to receive this part through the stock system or through the vendor. The vendor quoted us two days minimum to Houston and another day to Hilo which would have the part arriving sometime Thursday at best.
I understand this was frustrating for you and the crew. It was frustrating for everyone involved in getting the part to the cutter, but we all make mistakes and this message post was unprofessional.”

Ouch. And whoops! But I can take, as well as receive feedback. Upon thoughtful consideration of the email, I realized that he was right…we did go a little overboard with our frustration. I think my MKC said at one point that it was the process that was important…our frustration, if we mentioned it, was just whining sea stories. And I agree; every part to every unit is important. It shouldn’t matter to the support system that we’re getting thrashed against the pier as we wait for a part; it’s more relevant just that we’re broken and they need to get the part to us as quickly as possible. However, our lack of professionalism got some high-level attention and there was a corrective action taken.


In retrospect, we should have given the Support Unit a heads-up that we were about to throw somebody under the bus, and given them the opportunity to correct the problem before broadcasting it to the entire cutter fleet. I need to light candles, not lob Molotov cocktails.

That takes us through Wednesday. Thursday, we had some Homeland Security tasking that went off smoothly, and set us up timing-wise to do some fishing vessel boardings. Just as we were securing from our tasking, there was a good boarding candidate right in front of us. I love it when the plan comes together. So we got the boarding team together and over to the boat. The seas were a little bumpy, and I was doing long figure eights next to the fishing boat, as they continued their transit to Honolulu with the boarding team onboard.

And then this horrible noise started. Grinding, grumbling, loud, teeth-rattling vibration coming from the engine room, but transmitting all through the ship. The Ninjaneers sprang into action, followed their initial actions and had us come to all stop. We did some more troubleshooting and ended up locking the starboard shaft in accordance with our Casualty Control Manual. Needless to say, our operations were over for the day. It was something of a challenge to get our small boat back with a locked shaft. We had to go down swell, which reduced our maneuverability to the point that I could not keep a steady course, but continually turned a slow right arc.

I had never moored with a locked shaft. It was a good ship-handling evolution, though very tense. We had Station Honolulu’s 47’ Motor Life Boat assist us. One thing about KISKA’s crew that continues to inspire me is their ability to work as a team; during this evolution, our ability to work together expanded to include the true professionals from the Station. I stopped shaking from the adrenaline about 15 minutes after we got all lines over.
So, out goes the next CAT4 CASREP, the second in less than a week. We got divers to check underneath the boat for anything entangled in the shaft or any damage to underwater appendages. Neg res (negative results). That would have been an easy answer. We got underway the next day, Friday, to see if we could recreate the problem.

Now, let me say a few words about gremlins. They’re little bastards. They get into systems, and only show themselves at the most annoying times; but then when you go looking for them, they sneakily hide themselves away and there’s no getting at them. I’ve thought about getting a gremlin tattoo, but I can’t quite decide what the little f’ers look like, and I don’t know where to put it…maybe on the bottom of my foot, so I can crush them every day. Gremlins are a fact of life on ships, though, and you learn to live with, if not respect them.

Needless to say, when we got underway on Friday, we couldn’t recreate the vibration. I could see the little bastard gremlin, snickering away in his hidey hole, plotting his next evil appearance. So, we went back into an operational status, pending the reoccurrence of the vibration.

Saturday was a quiet day inport. We needed it.

Sunday we got underway; there were five fishing vessels returning to port, and the day lined up perfectly to board four of them. We think we caught a bad guy, a vessel that said they had a US Master, but may have just used him as a poseur. Case package should be submitted soon, and we’ll see if the lawyers agree.

Monday we stayed inport, getting a lot of good logistical stuff taken care of.

I’d been watching the weather all weekend long. We were due to head back to Hilo mid-week, and the trades have been up and strong which makes for snotty channel crossings. Not much to be done about it, ‘cause you can’t change the weather, but it’s good to know what we’re in for.

Tuesday we got underway to help out a CG LT with his graduate research, calibrating an HF radar that will help to monitor and predict currents. Good to improve search and rescue drift models. The weather was not good; winds were gusting to 30 kts. Our original intention was to depart for Hilo just after finishing the calibration, but the weather was bad enough that I decided to wait until Wednesday morning to see if the weather calmed down any.

Wednesday morning was still ridiculously windy, but I was anxious to get home, so we set out. The gremlin got bored and decided to come out to play. Gnarly, bad, ugly vibration started up again when we were about half-way through the Kaiwi Channel between Oahu and Molokai.

So here we are, back in Honolulu, investigating the vibration. The support guys are all over it and we hope to know more by the end of today. I’m not going to speculate yet on what this means. But here’s hoping for the best.