Sunday, July 25, 2010

Change of Command

Yesterday was KISKA's Change of Command. I'll write more and post photos over the next few days. But for now, here are my remarks from the ceremony.

CAPT Compagnoni, CAPT Brown, fellow COs and OICs, Navy League members, community partners, compatriot Guardians and Auxiliarists, and most especially friends and family, welcome and thank you so much for attending today’s ceremony.


I’ll give the crew all the credit for the hard work that went into the achievements described in the award I just received. I couldn’t have done anything without their hard work, dedication, perseverance and understanding. It’s the foibles that I think I can take the credit for…here’s the real story behind the last year:


We had over forty CASREPs, including two Cat 4 CASREPs that kept the ship on the pier for a couple of weeks and one CASREP that has been open my entire time onboard, in one way or another.


We had ten mishaps, including two that were borderline Class Bravo mishaps. Guns, I hope you will forgive me for that trip to Kauai. And the Hilo Medical Center got enough business from KISKA that I’m surprised they didn’t create a KISKA attending wing.


We caught three fish; one mahi mahi and two aku. We don’t talk (much) about the one that got away last patrol…SN McKinstry…


We had an $880 thousand drydock planned that turned into a $2.56 million drydock; and a $450 thousand dockside that grew to $540 thousand. If you like numbers, that’s a growth of nearly 50% in total maintenance costs.


But those *are* just the numbers, and don’t tell the whole story. They don’t tell about the misery of four drydock extensions, the frustration of pestiferous gremlins, especially hard-to-pinpoint shaft vibration gremlins that can ruin your day…or week…or COMDT visit, or the glorious feeling of an 8-hour, 25 knot transit from Honolulu to Hilo after drydock on flat calm seas, wide open on both mains, and an Alenuihaha channel that welcomed us home instead of making us earn our passage like we’ve had to do every transit since.


And I apparently didn’t truly know the meaning of “bittersweet” until the last two weeks. But I’m finding out that it is tears streaming down my face over what I’m leaving, while a grin splits my face over where I’m going…and how I’m getting there. I’m very excited about heading off to grad school for 18 months of studious endeavors, but it also means that I have to leave Hilo and KISKA. The last 14 months, two weeks and three days (not that I’m counting) are one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to see come to an end. I wanted to be assigned to KISKA since 2001, as soon as I found out there was a patrol boat on the Big Island. Hilo is one of my favorite places on the entire planet, and I finally got to live here. It was an amazing tour.


What’s not to love? The operating area is stunningly gorgeous, though not always physically comfortable. Transiting through the Maui triangle during whale season, dodging curious humpback babies and having them breach fully out of the water 100 yards (or less) away is a stunning sight. Rainbows and Mauna Kea at sunrise, lava flows at sunset, and the poignant history of a transit through Pearl Harbor.


But then there was also the transit out to a SAR case about 50 nm off the Kona side. Seas were 12 to 15 feet and winds were gusting up to 40 knots. I think everybody got sick on that one.


The next great thing about this tour was working for Sector Honolulu. CAPT Compagnoni and CDR Cocanour, thank you so much for your inspirational leadership and outstanding understanding and guidance through some rough times onboard the ship. Who knew that KISKA’s drydock last year would turn into the five and a half month marathon with all its frustrating twists and complications? Three stunningly wearisome weeks to get the shafts aligned…if I didn’t like drydocks before (which I didn’t) I think last summer would have terminally soured my enthusiasm for them. But you were so sympathetic to what we were going through, while working your own exasperating situation with the other patrol boats’ maintenance requirements, as well as supporting the feedback we had for Surface Forces Logistic Command. That compassionate leadership helped to ease our struggle, knowing we had the backing of our command. And that support helped us to get our dockside in our homeport which was a huge bonus for us.


I know everyone says this at every change of command, but the absolute best part of this tour was the people I got to work with. There is no way to thank all the individuals that helped make this a successful tour for me. It was a team effort all the way.


But I would like to single out a few groups. If I forget someone or a group of someones, I apologize…it’s been a hectic few days.


Our support functions: I know it wasn’t always easy working with us. Outer island, in the hinterlands of the Big Island, not frequently in Honolulu, and far away from the conveniences found there. Working with NESU, ESU, BSU, CEU, PSSU, HSWL FO, SFLC all made this year worthwhile, to be able to partner with true professionals.


The Hilo community, including Neal and Marilyn Herbert, Dee and Dan Coates, and the Hilo Navy League, and our partners in Civil Defense, the Fire Department and throughout the local area. I enjoyed my interactions with each of you and hope you’ll continue working with KISKA in the future.


Friends and family: Linda and Adam, Steve and Jan, thank you for making the trek out here to join my party. For the crews’ families that are here: thank you for letting me sail with your husbands, sons, brothers and fathers; I know that you are what keeps these guys going when things get rough.


Mom, thank you for the middle of the night transmission fluid deliveries, the short-notice and random mail drops and the general enthusiasm for what I do. And for your love that gave you the inspiration to surprise me with Amy and Ally’s visit.


Amy, Anne (in abstentia) and Vicki, though not necessarily in that order, and each in very different ways, you guys kept my head on straight, provided valuable advice and sympathetic ears to numerous vent sessions. And V, in case you didn’t know, you are why I blog. The blog you kept inspired me to start my own when I went to Bahrain, and I’ve learned so much and gained so much from writing my own. I’ve thought once or twice about stopping, wondering if I really have anything contributory to say, but the thought of having to explain my pathetic reasons for quitting to you has kept me going through just one more blog post.


Now about this blog thing…I never intended for it to get this out of hand and be so well-received. But I am so grateful for all the positive feedback that I’ve gotten from it and even though it might not be quite so interesting once I leave KISKA, I mean how could it be? I’m going to try to keep up with it and continue to write about my Coast Guard experiences. Though, Rev, I hope one day, you will be able to live down the picture from the ropes course.


On to the hardest part of all of this, saying farewell to KISKA’s crew. I don’t think you guys will miss my impeccable timing for walking onto the messdeck right at the most embarrassing moment possible, or my whining about being port and starboard on watch for eight months, or badgering you during PT runs to keep breathing; but know that I will miss you, each and every one. You made this year more than I could have hoped for with your collective and individual senses of humor, your overwhelming dedication to mission excellence, your professionalism and your enthusiasm.


XO, thank you for your hard work over the last six weeks. I know you’ve been drinking from the fire hose, but you’ve chugged it with the best of them. Good luck with the rest of your tour onboard.


Chief Wong and EM1 Sammy, you and your ninjaneers have your work cut out for you. Hunting gremlins onboard KISKA will keep you busy, but I know you guys are the ones for the job.


Mr Gookin, I know you were only onboard for a short time, but your hard work really paid off in the quality of this ceremony. Thank you very much for taking care of the details for me and XO.


BM2 Bueno, thanks for all the Insanity workouts. ET2 Konyha, you’ve still got someone to talk NAG stories with. GM2 Stenzel, be careful with the aloe juice, and thanks for the inspiration for the cross-country motorcycle ride. What a great idea! FN Burns, good luck at A school. SN McKinstry and SN Andres, you guys will be great rescue swimmers…and at least that way SN McKinstry can get away from throwing heaving lines into HF antennas or flagstaffs.


And I know that these two guys aren’t here anymore, but I cannot not mention LT Frank Reed and MKC Greg Tarker. They were my XO and MKC respectively for most of my time onboard KISKA. I got emails from both of them yesterday, wishing me well today; the support and friendship they offered truly made this tour special. And they laughed at my jokes.


And Craig, I wish you the best of luck in your tour. I can say without hesitation or any bias at all, that you’re taking over the best boat in the Coast Guard. But you already know that. As I said to you earlier this week, one of the only good things about having to relinquish command of KISKA is who I’m being relieved by. You understand the beauty of the Big Island, the charm of Hilo and the special power of a 110 and her crew. You *want* to be here and that makes all the difference. Enjoy your time onboard; it goes by far too quickly.


I’ve got to wrap this up, but I’m a little reluctant to do so, because I know what is coming up next. I won’t be CO of KISKA much beyond this next sentence, and I want to drag it out as long as possible. But I think I’ve talked long enough, and it’s someone else’s turn now. KISKA crew, aloha.

And then I forgot to read my orders. CAPT Compagnoni had to remind me to head back up to the podium...whoops! My sister just said she thought that was a rather Freudian slip.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sea Time

It's my last night underway on KISKA. It's my last night underway on anything for a long time, at least four years. I got a little sentimental making my last radio call to Aloha Tower requesting permission to depart Honolulu Harbor, but I maintained until I went out to watch the last rays of the sun set while a sliver of the moon twinkled over Oahu.

I leaked a tear or two. I know I'll be back...or I hope I'll be back anyway. One thing I've learned from my time underway in the Coast Guard is that nothing is certain until it actually happens. Who knows where the next four years will take me...I can only hope I maintain a steady course to find my way back to sea.

I'll leave KISKA with seven years, five months and one day of sea time. I was trying to figure what that actually meant for time at sea: a very rough guess puts it somewhere around 800 days, or just over two years. The rest of the time I was stationed on a ship, but we were moored up somewhere. Just over two years. It seems much, much longer, and not quite near enough.

One question I'd like to answer for myself while I'm at grad school and have the time and opportunity to ponder such things is what I get out of being underway?...why do I do it?

I mean, describing what we do, it seems insane that anyone would willingly subject themselves to being underway...away from family and loved ones, stuck together with a bunch of people you may not even always like (though that is *definitely* not the case with KISKA's crew), stuffed into small living quarters with little choice in how you live, what you eat, when you wake up, even down to how you stand (on the bridge, always facing forward unless you're actively working at the chart table). In rough weather, getting the snot knocked out of you, feeling queasy and sometimes scared shitless because it feels like the boat is going to break up around you (BOUTWELL ALPAT, Spring 2001...70 kt sustained winds, gusting to 80 kts and 48 foot waves with the occasional 55-60 footer). Breathing diesel exhaust, getting whiffs of grey water and sewage, battered, bruised and always, always tired. Sleeping on a rock of a mattress, with weird noises waking you up throughout the night...good gawd, why on earth do I do this?!

But even with all that, I love it. I can't imagine not having done it, and not being able to do it again. When did the salt water get in my veins? I'm Just a Farm Girl, for heaven's sake!

My initial thoughts on why I love to be underway include ridiculously poetic combinations of words: sailing on the currents of destiny, being caught in the wake of history, riding the crest of possibility and the sinking into the trough of reality.

Maybe they're just ridiculous combinations of words.

I doubt I'll sleep much tonight. I'll be taking phone calls all night long...we've already passed four tugs with barges and we're not even past Molokai yet. I don't guess the phone calls are really why I won't sleep; I won't sleep because I might miss some time underway.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Double Whammy

I am frustrated. Frustrated and annoyed. Frustrated, annoyed and feeling helpless. There are two projects/issues/things that we’re dealing with today that have just about sent me over the edge. We’ve tried to do the right thing with both issues, asked for help, submitted emails, made phone calls, and I still feel like we got totally punked on both of them. And neither one alone would have gotten to me so badly, but the two of them together, one on top of the other have left me feeling like beating my head against a brick wall might just be less painful.

In order to gain compliance with federal regulations on spending taxpayer money, the Coast Guard and DHS have taken very aggressive steps to ensure every cent is accounted for and not misused. With the new regulations, we have two weeks to verify and certify credit card purchases made by the ship’s card holders in a process online before our accounts are disabled. And if even one card is not verified/certified within the given timeframe, all cards for that unit are disabled. Normally, this is totally do-able, even for an underway or otherwise operational unit. Ships that don’t have internet connectivity underway usually pull in and have a shoretie connection at some point during the two-week period, and there’s a tprocess in place to verify/certify hard copies as well.

But somehow, through what I can only call a conflagration of events, we were not able to verify and certify all our credit card purchases for June. Some of those events include: XO’s computer profile too more than three weeks to get moved from his previous ship, which was underway, to our ship, which was also underway for some of that time; XO went to PCO/PXO school after his report date (not so much a “pipeline” school) and was physically gone from the unit for two weeks; card holders’ PCA (Purchase Card Application) accounts were disabled and despite numerous emails to the helpdesk, were unable to be reactivated in time; and oh yeah, we were underway for more than 270 hours during the critical two-week period.

We didn’t find out our credit cards were disabled until yesterday evening. We sent FS2 Greg Loya (newly reported from CGC POLAR SEA) and ET2 Konyha in by small boat to do some grocery shopping while the stores were still open and we were finishing up some night-time training. They were going to meet us on the pier with stores so we’d be all full up on food in case we got recalled. So there they were, at the NEX with $800 worth of groceries on the counter and the card didn’t work.

Start pulling hair out…now.

Thankfully the folks at the NEX were very understanding (apparently, not the first time this has happened to them) and just put our stuff to the side so we could pick it up in the morning once we figured out how to pay for it. And the first thing this morning, XO and BM1 North went over to BSU Supply to figure out how to fix the mess with the credit cards. SCKS Lindsay was very helpful in getting a few ancillary issues straightened out, and tried to get our cards reactivated. Unfortunately, the only way to get the cards reactivated is to go through and make sure the previous purchases were verified and certified. There was about a five minute period while we were all in SKCS’s office when FINCEN’s website was down and we couldn’t even access the program for verifying and certifying. I felt like we were in a black-hole of hopelessness for those five minutes…we couldn’t use our cards until they were verified/certified, but we couldn’t verify/certify the cards because the website was down.

Keep pulling out hair until completely bald.

The website was only down for a few minutes, and XO and BM1 North are down below busily verifying and certifying as I type. Unfortunately some of the receipts are back at the office…and we are not. We’ll get there.

The other happenstance that has me frustrated today has to do with an Inspection we went through in December. My understanding of the process of Inspections is as follows:
--Inspection is scheduled, usually with a pretty good lead time, about 6-8 weeks.
--Unit reviews checklist associated with Inspection prior to arrival of Inspection Team, so that the command has some idea of how the Inspection is going to go.
--Inspection Team arrives and conducts Inspection using checklists (the same ones that have already been reviewed by the unit, usually with some minor updates, but basically the same).
--Inspection Team sends a formal report back to the unit detailing the discrepancies and dictating a timeframe for reporting back actions taken to correct.
--Unit corrects discrepancies and sends report back to Inspection Team saying what they’ve done.

It’s pretty much the same for all Inspections (FSAT, RFO, OTI, LEAF, KSE and V—don’t worry what they stand for…I’m kinda just showing off acronyms a little); really the only thing that changes is the particulars of what is being inspected and who runs the Inspection Team. It’s not a mystery and the whole point of Inspections anyway is to improve the process for the unit. I’m all *about* process improvement…if you hadn’t gotten a feel for that yet ;). And I don’t take Inspections personally. The Inspection Teams have a job to do, which is to make us better.

So we had this Inspection back in December. The Inspection Team had left us a rough draft of his checklists so we could start working to fix things, with a promise of getting us the official version “shortly.”

Long about March, I sent an email asking where the report was. I mean, 90 days is pretty reasonable for expecting a response back.

Long about April, I called asking where the report was.

Long about May, I got a call from the Inspection Team letting us know that we had failed the inspection, the report was forthcoming and we should expect a re-inspection within a few months. Roger…I knew there were problems from the rough copy of the checklists he left us; most of it was administrative in nature, and most of it had already been corrected. So, no freak-out from me. Just a little bit of annoyance that it was nearly six months later and we were just now to this point.

Long about today, I received the hard-copy, official report back, via the hands of my Sector Commander, with big, bold letters “UNSATISFACTORY” the most prominent word on the page. And even though I knew that was coming, it still stung a little, especially when I had to answer directly and immediately to the Sector Commander about why we were coming across as dirt-bags.

I think what annoys me the most about this scenario is that I have been asking, and asking, and asking for this report, willing and able to rectify the problems. But I hadn’t gotten anything back from the Inspection Team for seven, nearly eight months! And the report I did get today was signed 2 Jun 10. What on earth took it another month to get to me after it was signed? It wasn’t even a scanned copy…just a printed out, electronic //s// signature. The letter was “TO” KISKA, but I got it via Sector? A month later? I just don’t get it.

It’s tough to work hard at doing something well, at trying constantly to make sure you’re on top of things and then have that hard work completely undercut by circumstances. I know we did all we could to make these two things right. And that’s the bit of encouragement I offer to the guys who spent the day trying to fix this stuff…we did all we could do. The fact that sometimes it’s not enough…well, that happens too.

And then I think about all the people who are working so hard down in the Gulf of Mexico at what seems like such a heart-breaking situation, and the friends and families of CG6017, who will never see their loved ones again…and I tell myself to quit whining, and get back to work.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

My Process

A disclaimer before I start this post: I don't know anything more about OERs than the next O...never had any special training, no inside knowledge, nada. This is just my opinion and some insights I've picked up along the way. Anyone out there from OPM, selection panels, promotion boards, whatever, is welcome to chime in if I get it wrong. Or even if I only get it partly right.

Now with that out of the way...one of the *BEST* things about making O3 is that the evaluation period goes from every six months as a LTJG to every year as a LT. It's great!! only having to write input for an Officer Evaluation Report (OER) once a year. Like amazing great. But it still comes around, and because I'm departing soon, my OER input was recently due, which was the inspiration for this post. Since it was only a couple months from the end of the regular marking period (end of May for O3s) to my departure, and since my next unit is grad school (where my OER is my report card!! Reason #84 why grad school is gonna be awesome!), I was able to delay my OER to align with my departure.

The one downfall to annual reviews is that you've got to remember what you did 12 months (or in this case 14 months) ago in order to include it. Do you remember what you did a year ago? I vaguely remember being on Oahu, whining about drydock, not knowing that we were going to get extended another three times and have fits with the alignment. And there's a lot that's happened since then.

But I've been an O3 since 2004, so I've got my process for remembering. I've got a process for the entire...process (hmmm, gotta work on those synonyms; the "Thesaurus" function on Word is definitely my friend when writing input). My process for approaching my OER starts with three pages of scrap paper, old emails from the deleted file and sent file, and my calendar. On the scrap paper, I write the titles of the performance dimensions (Using Resources, Teamwork, Professional Presence, etc) and then go through all the old emails and calendar information and scribble any significant events or projects in the relevant performance dimension. I'm able to count numbers of events this way...KISKA transited restricted waters more than 140 times since Oct 2009 by my count.

It is tough sometimes to decide where something goes. Are those 140 transits Professional Competence (good shipdriving), Directing Others (giving commands to focs'le and fantail) or Teamwork (getting all the parts working together)? Or is the request for additional messing funds for the crew Initiative or Looking Out for Others? If something doubles up, I'll usually write it in both spots, and then work out later which element needs more beefing up especially if it's a particularly important tidbit.

So that's Day 1...or how I spent Wednesday this past week. It was actually kinda multi-tasking this time around. I found a lot of good stuff to include in the Change of Command binder that 1/C Gookin is putting together.

Day 2 was actually writing the input. I usually like to take two days for this part, but I procrastinated (something about being underway makes it tough to focus on writing OER input, go figure), so I only had Thursday. But three bullets per performance dimension, as impactful as possible (huh, I guess "impactful" isn't a word...it's got a squiggly red line under it as I'm drafting this post). Now ever since I wrote my first OER input, I was always told, "Don't just say what you did, tell what was so important about what you did; what was the impact?" I never really got what that meant until I tried to write an OER for someone else. You can put all kinds of data into an OER, lots of numbers and describe lots of effort, but if all that effort was just effort, with no results, it was just hot air. Writing OERs for the JOs on HAMILTON helped to make my own OER input so much better.

I'll never forget my first OER-writing experience. I had been onboard HAMILTON as OPS for about two months. I was off at Tactical Action Officer (TAO) school, and had to write 6 regular ENS and 1 departing LTJG OERs. Oh. my. gawd. What a horrible experience. When I left the ship for TAO school I forgot to take my own OER folder with me, and had to write them all from scratch. It was painful. Thankfully TAO school wasn't all that challenging, and I had plenty of time to dedicate while I was there to churn out the OERs. I remember a lot of emails back and forth to the JOs asking piddly little questions, details about such and such an operation to help me find just the right words to use to properly capture their performance. By the second round of OERs I had to write, it was a lot easier (and I had my own OER folder as well as the first set from which to plagiarize). I wrote more than 25 OERs while I was onboard the HAM-bone.

I like to think big picture...like really big picture when I write my input. Sometimes it sounds over-blown and seems kinda silly and almost painful to brag about myself so ridiculously.

From last year's input for Results/Effectiveness: "Completed eight NAG (Northern Arabian Gulf) patrols and one TSC (Theatre Support Cooperation) event, totaling >XXXX hrs underway, >120,000 nm transited, 80 moorings/unmoorings, 32 security sweeps, 8 querries, 8 special operations, 7 training exercises; supported coalition goals of regional stability, transition to Iraqi control, intelligence collection against international terrorism organizations (ITO) and destabilizing forces in the region."

See, all the nice descriptive numbers at the beginning, and then the save the world stuff that puts the numbers into context. I think of it as a suspension of reality...the reality is that I'm Just a Girl Doing My Job, the suspension is that I'm doing a Really Important Job that Makes a Difference.

I forgot to mention a very important step before I start Day 2. I read the relevant Promotion Year's Commandant's Guidance to Boards and Panels. Not that I expect to have my OER write itself by reading this document, but it helps me find some good, powerful verbiage. This year I found myself relating a lot more of what I did to being innovative and adaptable, able to consider different solutions to problems, based on what was in the Guidance. It helps to frame the discussion.

I admit to liking to show off my vocabulary in my input. Using big words and finding nearly poetic turns of phrase helps me find something enjoyable about writing it...I mean, how can I not like writing something like: "Spearheaded CO/OIC ownership of WPB schedule." Mercurial, heuristic, systemic, debilitating, contentious, imbued all make me smile.

Day 2 is a grind-stone kind of day. But if it's done well, the OER writer should just be able to cut and paste some of the bullets into the comments blocks. Which is what I found myself doing on Day 3.

I learned something really important on Day 3 this year. I had planned to cut and paste a lot of what I put in XO's OER straight into mine. I figured, sure he did most of the grunt work, but I'm the one who told him to do it, so I get credit for it. But then I realized the difference between the CO's and XO's jobs. What I did this year was long-term, strategic type stuff; XO did the more tactical execution of it. I don't know why that was such a revelation, but it was. And it made it so that I couldn't cut and paste on Day 3.

Day 3 is the writing of the comments. Seven blocks (yes, I'm including Description of Duties), all very tightly proscribed by length. It's almost a game to get the stuff to fit...rearranging lists to make sure there's no white space at the end of the line, using abbreviations that still make sense ("ID’d & implemented long term sol’ns for reducing units' environmental footprint & save CG $$"), strategically spaced hyphenated words, deciding what is important enough from the input to include in limited space. I think that's why I actually prefer to provide a recommended version of the actual OER to my supervisor...it allows me to tell them what I did that I thought was important.

I got my input in on time last week. Or well, almost...I didn't account for an early weekend on Friday afternoon in anticipation of the holiday, so I had to call my Supervisor to let him know that it wouldn't be there by 1100. But he'd be sure to have it by 1500. I think I emailed it off at 1445. So, almost on time. And then I realized just yesterday that I forgot to put a couple of important incidents in...like that guest post I wrote for the COMDT's blog, and that whole debacle about that gunshoot we did. Oh well, there's a bunch of other good stuff in there. Maybe no one will notice. And thank goodness it's done for this year!