Friday, May 28, 2010

Two For Two...And A Bonus

I had a great trip! I just got word this morning that my offer was accepted on a house. It's a cute little house in Prince Georges County, not far from the Metro's Green Line. One of the best things about the house for me is that the yard is nice and sunny...lots of room for good garden beds. I've already started planting blueberries, strawberries, tomatoes, rhubarb, eggplant, figs and a ton of other yummy edibles in my head. Gotta look into the local ordinances on keeping backyard chickens.

And I bought a motorcycle. It's *exactly* what I wanted. A 2007 HD Nightster. Just over 9000 miles on it, still under warranty for another two years, some nice customizations including Vance & Hines pipes, skull covers, forward controls and smoked signals. Gonna get a couple saddlebags and a luggage rack on it and I'll be ready to go!

It was kinda kismet the day I went out looking at bikes. I was at my last dealer for the day, HD of Anaheim/Fullerton, and hadn't really seen anything I wanted. There were some nice bikes, but nothing that really grabbed me. I was a little bummed as I got in my rental and started to drive away. I was turning out of the parking lot, waiting for traffic to clear when Jim, the very nice salesman who had been helping me, whistled to get my attention. He waved me back, and when I got out of the car, told me that his manager had just told him about a bike that had come in late the night before. As soon as I sat on the bike, I knew. I told them I'd have to think about it overnight, just to make sure I wasn't being overly impulsive...but I called back about 10 minutes after they opened the next day to tell them, yes, I definitely wanted it. And I got it.

My sister went with me to settle the paperwork. She's standing very patiently in the background in the picture. She was very sweet about sharing my enthusiasm and delight when I realized the significance of buying my first Harley. She didn't even laugh at me when I danced a little dance in the parking lot.

The bonus was my visit to the School of Public Policy at University of Maryland. One of the graduate students, Evan Papp, showed me around, answered my questions and introduced me to a couple of people there. And I walked away so excited about starting school this fall. I think I've been a little nervous about my interest level in this program. Public Policy, especially the financial aspect of how government runs...really? Sounds dull, and maybe a bit intimidating. I'm just a simple sailor; what do I know about keeping up with smart, savvy policy discussions?

I've been meaning to post the Statement of Purpose I submitted as part of my application (the one my sister did such a wonderful job helping me to edit so I didn't sound like a dolt). I think this is as good as any a place to put it. I do fully admit it's a little overblown.

"From its beginning as the Lifesaving Service and the Revenue Cutter Service, the Coast Guard is the best known of the five military branches for humanitarian missions. We save lives through our search and rescue missions, we respond to environmental crises both man-made and natural, and we work to prevent catastrophic maritime accidents through regulation and inspections. We train on a daily basis to that we can safely assist people in distress in the worst environmental and weather conditions. I joined the Coast Guard because of the organization's dedication to helping people in need, protecting the environment, and keeping the water safe. I write this essay from a unique position: the fantail of my ship, the Cutter KISKA, on a beautiful Hawaiian New Year's Day. We are providing offshore security awareness and presence for the President of the United States as he and his family enjoy a holiday on the island of Oahu. I am very aware of my role in supporting today's greater organizational goals: ensuring the President's safety. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate the New Year underway than to contribute to the peace and prosperity of this nation.

I have been on active duty in the US Coast Guard for just over ten years, enlisting as a Seaman in August 1999. I have served on five ships and at two shore units, holding the responsibilities of Deck Watch Officer, Search and Rescue Coordinator, Operations Officer, Executive Officer, and since May 2008, Commanding Officer. In these assignments, I was and am an integral part of teams which were and are directly responsible for executing missions: performing surface searches during search and rescue cases, conducting boardings for fisheries and counter-narcotics law enforcement, and participating in coalition activities for security zone enforcement of critical national infrastructure in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Each position has given me both greater responsibility and a deeper understanding of how the Coast Guard executes and manages its mandated missions. As an Ensign and Deck Watch Officer, I learned the rudiments of shipdriving, collision avoidance, and managing a 10-person watch section. As Executive Officer, I directed the daily schedule for a crew of 18 and took part in planning and executing the responses of the crew to the mission at hand. As a Search and Rescue Coordinator, I analyzed incoming information and made recommendations that coordinated the response of multiple units over a 12.2 million square mile area of the Central Pacific Ocean. My responsibilities as Operations Officer required me to directly supervise nearly 40 people and consider larger goals, including international bilateral agreements and interagency Memoranda of Understanding. Finally, as Commanding Officer, I am completely and unquestionably responsible for what happens onboard my ship, for her crew of 20 and maintenance, and for planning, executing and reporting mission accomplishment.

While I understand, champion, and cherish the Coast Guard’s goals and missions, my experiences have shown me that there are areas in which the Coast Guard can improve our effectiveness and efficiency. The KISKA recently spent six months in a drydock maintenance availability, four months longer than planned, with the majority of the time required to replace over 430 square feet of hull plating; this wasa significant portion of a 110-foot long ship. My crew spent this time away from home making an old ship new again. Before going into drydock, KISKA was considered to be in the best material condition of the four Coast Guard patrol boats in the Central and Western Pacific region. These ships were designed and built in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with an expected useful life of 15 years -- they have far exceeded this time. The urgency of the daily missions distracted from the need to plan for replacements or for extensive repairs to these, and other, critical Coast Guard assets. Beyond my personal experience on KISKA, I have seen that budget shortfalls, increased operational tempo, and mission creep (continually taking on new jobs without giving up old ones or getting increases in personnel and/or funding), have put the burden of continued Coast Guard operations squarely on the shoulders of the cutter, small boat, air station and support crews. The river construction tenders that maintain critical aids to navigation along major inland waterways are desperate for rehabilitative maintenance. Our shoreside facilities critically need attention to address structural issues to ensure that our cutters and small boats have safe places upon which to moor.

"Modernization," the Coast Guard's current reorganization process, is a critical effort designed to improve the organization’s responsiveness in our changing global environment. I completely support Modernization’s plan to reduce institutional inefficiencies and cultural short-sightedness that hamper the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard is exceptionally good at responding to urgent crises, but we cannot use constant crisis management for long term planning. We need to take a much longer view, considering mission sustainability, to continue our tradition of trusted public service.

I have the operational experiences to provide solid recommendations for making process improvements at the micro, or local, level. However, I need to broaden my understanding of how the Coast Guard "gets things done" on a macro, or national, level. With pursuit of a graduate degree in Public Administration, I hope to understand the organization in the broader context of the federal government and to educate myself in the bureaucratic and administrative processes by which decisions are made and change is wrought. I have come to realize that money is a primary catalyst, especially in an organization like the Coast Guard that is funded by the public and is therefore completely accountable to the public trust. By educating myself on how money is allocated and program effectiveness is analyzed, I will be able to build budgets that promote effective programs and encourage development of innovative solutions in our politically and globally dynamic operating environment.

Along with funds, and even more important than funds, people are the most necessary resource for the Coast Guard. If our workforce is not enthusiastic and dedicated to the organization, our effectiveness is decimated, regardless of the generosity of our budget. I am interested in studying leadership and management practices, learning how to encourage and motivate the individuals that perform the daily activities of the Coast Guard, supporting them to provide fresh insights and ideas that will continue to improve our organization as a whole. I would like to explore management techniques and reward systems that sustain a motivated workforce in the face of challenging circumstances like constant change and aging equipment that are the realities of today’s Coast Guard.

Your Public Management – Policy Track program is a superb fit for me. The school’s proximity to Washington, DC, provides unique opportunities and access to the federal system. The Leadership and Management specialty would permit me to focus on developing a knowledge base that can be universally applied in or out of the Coast Guard. My next job assignment after graduate school will be at Coast Guard Headquarters, so my graduate studies will be put immediately to use in a very practical manner. With my military and civilian backgrounds, I will bring a diverse viewpoint to the program. I have struggled through the difficulties of keeping people motivated when it feels like nothing is going right; I have celebrated personal and professional successes with my crews; I have had to communicate with families and other support functions when needs are not being met; and I have faced the challenges of being a female officer leading an all-male crew in a traditionally patriarchal organization.

I am frequently asked how I became a Coast Guard officer and shipdriver, since my educational background is in agriculture and horticulture. I came into the Coast Guard a little later than most entrants, having already earned Bachelor and Masters of Science degrees and worked for a couple of years before joining the service. I had wanted to farm since I was in high school, working on a fruit and vegetable farm to help pay for college. (I am excited by the resurgence of farmers’ markets and recent focus on local foods and sustainable food production, and I hope to be able to use my skills to strengthen our local communities’ food systems once I retire from the Coast Guard.) I did not have the money to enter farming, so I sought a means to support myself while saving. The Coast Guard offered stable income and benefits, lots of opportunities to do many things that I had never done before, and a strong humanitarian and environmental mission. Ten years ago, I planned to stay with the Coast Guard for just long enough to save money to buy land, and maybe store up a few good sea stories.

But I have found that I truly enjoy the Coast Guard. I work with amazing people, in an incredible environment, performing a humanitarian mission to which I am fully committed. I have developed technical shipdriving skills that test my understanding of multiple forces working on the ship, and leadership skills that push me to continually evaluate the impact of my interactions with superiors, peers and subordinates. As for sea stories -- there is nothing quite like the feeling of approaching a vessel at dawn, on flat calm seas, 1500 nautical miles west of the Galapagos Islands, and realizing that the blocks stacked to the gun'les are 200 bales of uncut cocaine, totaling five tons that will never make it to the US. One day, I will buy my farm knowing that the money was well earned through perseverance, sacrifice, hard work, and service. After nearly a decade of a fast-paced, chaotic operational execution, I am looking forward to the opportunity that a graduate program in Public Management will afford me to reflect on my experiences, put my mistakes and successes into context, and become a better Guardian, leader, and citizen."

I guess I realized during my visit to the school, that maybe, just maybe I really do have something to offer.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Change She Is A-Comin'

I'm in the Maui airport right now, headed to the mainland for a few days. First to DC to look for a place to live and visit the U of MD campus, then to outside of LA to see my sister and brother-in-law and buy a motorcycle for my cross-country trip later this summer.

When I get back, things are gonna be different, and they're not gonna stop being different until I get settled into my new place on the East Coast. At the end of August. It kinda hit me yesterday that change is coming, and coming soon.

The last time I felt something close to this was 13 January 2006. Yes, I remember the date. It was kinda the last time things were even close to settled and normal for me. I had just moved into a great new house in a wonderful neighborhood in Waialua on the North Shore of Oahu. I was enjoying my job at the D14 Command Center as a SAR Controller. And then the phone rang.

It was my mom with some scary news about a health issue she was having. Within the week, I was in Virginia helping her to recover from surgery. Two days after I got back from that trip, I got a mid-morning call from the Afloat Detailer congratulating me on my orders to HAMILTON as OPS (whole 'nother story about why I got *that* call). I was off to POPS school two weeks later, then another month or so of work, some leave, and away to San Diego I went.

The in-between three years have been a blur. With good and happy memories, rough times and tough challenges. But a blur of schedules and trips and patrols and schools and training and flights and coming and going.

If there ever is one constant in the Coast Guard, it's change. That and the fact that nothing is really certain in life in the Coast Guard until it actually happens.

When I get back to Hawaii after this trip, it'll be the beginning of transfer season. It already sort of started this morning, with XO's promotion to LT. MKC Tarker and EMC Peltier stapled Frank's LT bars on, while I fumbled with the pin on his cover. Congratulations, XO!
I know he's excited to send out the CO's leave message with, "LT Frank M. Reed III, Acting."
About transfer season: EMC Peltier is the first to leave...the day I get back. The next day, the new XO shows up, and the day after, the new MKC. Which means that Frank and Greg will be headed out. By the time BM1 O'Brien and MK3 Collado leave in mid-June, I'll have just over a month left onboard...I've been underway straight for more days than that.
So, ready or not, change she is a-coming.

Friday, May 7, 2010

CG Cuttermen's Association

I almost forgot...posts don't have to be convoluted and long-winded.

I got forwarded a link a few days ago for the newly established Coast Guard Cuttermen's Organization, and wanted to help get the word out. I'll be sending in my membership dues shortly, though I am disappointed to miss the Cuttermen's Call by just a few days. I'll be in DC for a while...I should be able to make one or two others.

If I was more tech-savvy, I'll put a picture of a cutterman's pin in the post too.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Daily Lessons in Thankful Humility

I wasn't sure what I was going to write about next.

Dockside is going along fairly well; I think there may be mention of the "E" word this week (=extension), which isn't really happy news, but also isn't totally unexpected. The status of the family stuff hasn't really changed. I've got my class schedule for fall all figured out. I'm looking at houses online, waiting for my trip to the mainland later this month to actually put eyes on some places. The work-out is going well, though I can't get the stupid flat tire on my bike fixed; I'll probably take the rim and tire to the bike shop later this week to have them fix it for me.

Maybe something about upcoming transfer seasons; maybe another photo essay, this one on the collective crew's tattoos; maybe...oh, who knows. I just didn't know what to write about next.

But I've taken up a new hobby recently. I learned to ride a motorcycle. I bought a 1997 Honda Shadow 600. And oh. my. god. is it fun! I can't believe I didn't do it 10 years ago.

The guys on the boat have been so kind with listening to me maunder on about riding and bikes and gear and oh yeah, the cross country trip I've got planned for this summer's transfer to DC. They've given me tips, helped teach me about some of the maintenance and even went with me to check out the used motorcycle before buying it. Oh yeah and did a couple iterations of loading and unloading the bike from the fantail for the trip back to the Big Island from Oahu during the last few battles with the shaft vibration gremlin. "Now set the bike loading detail." And they didn't even laugh at me when I wrapped the thing in two rolls of saran wrap to protect it from the inevitable channel-crossing salt spray (well, maybe they did, but they didn't let me see them laugh).

So I've been enjoying the heck out of my new toy. Side note: Mom, now that you've picked your jaw up off the ground from when I told you about the motorcycle and trip plans this weekend, let me reassure you that I have taken all possible precautions to stay safe when riding. I took a riding safety course (the "traffic safety" course at Schofield in February...sorry, I wasn't ready to tell you yet); I wear a full face helmet, heavy leather jacket, gloves, over the ankle boots and long pants in accordance with CG safety standards; I do my best to not ride above my skill level; and I can't ride after dark or carry passengers yet because I'm still on my learner's permit. I know I can't control what other drivers do out there, and they are who I am most concerned about, but I have to cross the street while walking sometimes too.

Not gonna lie: I kinda feel like a bad-ass on the bike (XO: no comments from the peanut gallery about pink tassels!! None!). But I know there are mistakes to be made on the motorcycle that have the potential to damage my pride more than anything else. I've already dropped the bike once. A few weeks ago, I was trying to turn it around in my driveway which has a slight slope downhill, and got unbalanced, and whooop, there she went, down hard on the port side. Luckily I had watched a video about how to pick a bike up by yourself, and it worked, though it probably wasn't very graceful. Only the neighbor kid saw me, so a little pride bruised.Then last weekend, I went for a great ride down to Punalu'u, the black sand beach a few miles past Pahala. It's about a 60 mile ride. Just out for a Sunday afternoon ride.I got there and parked, and was standing on the port side of the motorcycle taking off my gear getting ready to enjoy some quiet time on the beach with my book. My keys slid off the seat to the other side of the bike. I leaned over to pick them up and let my forearm rest lightly on the HOLY SHIT REALLY F***ING HOT EXHAUST PIPE!!!

Note to self...don't do that again.

So for the last week, I've been babying a silver dollar-sized burn on my right arm. It's not pretty, but doesn't really hurt too badly, unless I hit it on something. Which seems to happen...a lot. Still, nothing seriously hurt other than my pride.

This afternoon was what got me thinking about all these lessons learned though. I was driving home from work, after a nearly hour-long Insanity workout. A little tired, wondering what on earth I was gonna have for dinner. Doing the same thing I'd done a bunch of times before.

I got home and was getting ready to take my backpack off the sissy bar when my mp3 player fell out of the pocket. Umm, that shouldn't have happened if the pocket was zipped. Which it wasn't. The only other thing missing was my wallet. Damn and blast. Hustled into the house, picked up the car keys (safer to be looking at the street around me in the car than on the bike) and retraced my route. I got less than two blocks from the house when I saw a woman on the sidewalk paused with something in her hands. Maybe? I flipped around in the nearest parking lot and drove back.

It was my wallet. She was looking through it trying to find a phone number. The cash was gone. She said she had seen a man take the cash and drop the wallet.

Now, I'm a flaming idiot for riding around on my motorcycle with my bag undone...kinda like driving off from the gas station with my wallet on the roof of the car (done that too). And I'm damn lucky to have found the wallet so easily, never mind *at all.*

Whoever picked up the cash, I hope it brings you some comfort. And thank you, thank you, thank you for leaving the rest of it. Good heavens, thank you that I don't have to figure out how to get a new: military ID card, driver's license, motorcycle learner's permit, TWIC card, or cancel the four credit cards that were still in the wallet. Thank you.

Lesson to me: be thankful. Thankful that the outcomes of all of these foibles were mostly harmless. And be humble. I might be a bad-ass motorcycle rider, CO of a great ship and crew, and prospective graduate student with full expenses covered, but I can still forget to zip up my bag. Or I can drop my bike in the driveway. Or I can singe my arm on a hot pipe.