Sunday, February 20, 2011

The CORE PRIME Applied - Feedback

My presentation for class went pretty well last week. I got some very useful feedback from last week's post, as well as the discussion in class.

First, from my Mom...there were some things in the post that she didn't quite get:
--"stand up of Surface Forces Logistic Command (SFLC)"  What do you mean by "stand up of..."?
SFLC is a department within the newly formed Deputy Commandant for Mission Support (DCMS) that provides support for surface forces (small boats and opposed to Aviation Logistics Command (ALC)). SFLC "stood up," or became operational, in fall of 2009, and changed the chain of command for how logistics support, including depot-level maintenance, engineering support (fixing stuff that's broke and making sure stuff doesn't break), parts supplies and technical support, works for small boat stations and cutters. There's a powerpoint presentation here, if you're interested in more details.

--CG-LIMS, AOPS/TMT, CMPLUS,  ALMIS   Acronyms drive me crazy--what do they stand for?
Well, in this particular case, they're all different IT programs that the CG is using, or plans to use for various logistics, operations, training and maintenance functions. But if you really want to know the specifics:
CG-LIMS: Coast Guard Logistics Information Management System
AOPS/TMT: Abstract of Operations/Training Management Tool
CMPLUS: Configuration Management Plus

ALMIS: Aviation Logistics Management Information System
I admit to sometimes overusing acronyms just because they sound so ridiculous all piled together like worms tangled up in a vermicomposting worm bin.

--The push/pull of the different parts.
This is straight from the STAKE PRIME: "Powerful STAKE conversations must have negative aspects (what to avoid or PUSH away from) and positive aspects (what people desire and want to PULL toward them). "

CAPT Dan Taylor (CG-9443, CG-LIMS Project Manager) very graciously shared with me the results from a survey his office conducted on ALMIS field users (since I don't have CG-Portal access). (And I have to say, that the CG-LIMS project is one of the most open and, dare I say it, transparent ventures I've seen in the Coast Guard (ya' know-in my vast and extensive experience :)); they actively seek out input and feedback from anybody and everybody that has something to say!) But it was interesting to see the range of responses to the training provided and use of the program itself. Some of the ones that spoke most to what I'm looking at include:
--"Make sure the benefits of changing to LIMS is addressed first.  Most people do not understand why we are changing ALMIS.  I understand, but only because of my past experience." This one is about the importance of the STAKE. And, I think, general resistance to change. If people understand *why* we're changing ALMIS, they have a better chance of buying into the new process...but one of the main points of this Information Policy & Technology class is that there's still a lot more that goes into the process of organizational acceptance.

--"Better suited program for WPB's. WPB Engineers are still required to maintain administrative systems as before, and are now required to maintain ALMIS. WPB's have not been released from maintaining all logs that were supposed to go away once "Modernized". In short, have the policy in place before "Modernizing" WPB's, so the instructor staff can correctly answer WPB questions, I am still waiting for a message releasing the WPB engineering requirements." I'm not entirely sure if this comment addresses two issues, or if it's all about the duplication of effort required by using ALMIS as a stop-gap until CG-LIMS comes online. The second issue could be about training--not sure. But it's definitely the fact that EPOs still have to maintain the same administrative system as before modernization that caught my eye on this one.

--"They are giving training on a program that is not built for cutters! The only good thing about ALMIS is that I now get my parts in a reasonable amount of time." Do we just want our own system to feel important/special? Just kidding :) But this one does bring up the possibility that  modernization could end up just being a new way to order/get parts, instead of the holistic logistics program it is intended to be. ("Holistic logistics"--smirk)

--"Avoid the change of acronyms. Small boat stations have different "language" than IT talk. A boat is B-0 (fully operational).. not FMC. A boat being in C (charlie, meaning that it is not operational)...not NMCM." OMG--right?! I hadn't ever thought about this one before, but helos are FMC (fully mission capable) or NMC (not mission capable) and small boats/cutters are A (underway), B (fully operational at the pier) or C (in a maintenance status).

But I got the most troubling/thought-provoking feedback from the discussion in class. I started my presentation with my understanding of the ENVIRONMENT, since that, to me, is the catalyst that started all this discussion of transformation/modernization. I talked about how the Coast Guard's assets are aging and how they had a couple of bad years with financial audits. And then went on to outline how modernization is supposed to help them deal with the dueling demands of Coast Guard's mission creep, aging assets and limited resources. 'Long about here, Chris stopped me to point out my use of pronouns. I was saying "the Coast Guard" and "they" a lot (which is interesting, because in my post, I seem to be much better about using "us" and "our"). But his point was that, without that instinctual buy-in to the change process from the end users, the change was likely to fail.

Feel the kick in the

When I talked about the differences in aviation and cutter culture, I made statements like: "Ships and aircraft are different" and "we don't think like they do." Chris stopped me again to ask the class if what I was saying was a FACT, STORY or BELIEF (referencing the PRIME). I readily admitted that they were BELIEFS. But what does that mean? The PRIME says, "When BELIEFS are discussed deliberately and openly, they lose their hold on the group. Once BELIEFS are revealed, the group will naturally engage in a more productive discussion about FACTS and STORIES." And I guess that's what all this mental yoga is about...exploring the BELIEFS, so that I can understand their relationship to the FACTS. STORIES...well, it's all just sea stories until I've got a positive contribution to make.

I went on to discuss the issue of control. How cuttermen are all *about* control; we like to control our parts because we don't trust the system to get our parts to us otherwise...that damn fuel injector bolt that I waited on for nearly five days while being bashed against the state pier in Hilo after the tsunami, came immediately to mind. We like our control because we are judged on our ability to do the mission; if we can't do the mission because we're broke, we're pretty much useless, and the more we're useless, the less we have to put in our OERs (among other reasons for why being broke sucks). While I hesitate to mention OER fodder because I run the risk of sounding like just another self-serving O, OERs are How We Are JUDGED. Our futures depend on them. Our careers depend on them. And while a good leader doesn't lead with thoughts of what to put in hir OER, s/he also doesn't disregard the reality of the OER's importance. Sorry, rant over. But the OER issue is another BELIEF that is pretty pivotal to the discussion.

But the mention of evaluations and rankings in class raised the discussion of competition between units (and COs). Once the system is fully transparent (all the parts that every unit has is visible through the system), why would one operational unit give up one of their parts to another operational unit that is broken and needs that part? Chris didn't like my answer, "that's what shipmates do"...he was a little more cynical, and said, no, they don't give it up, because they know they might need it before they can get a replacement. So they keep it, and develop a second set of books to track what parts they really do have on hand, as opposed to what CG-LIMS says they have.

Second kick in the Oof, what a dismal picture. It actually made me feel a little googly in the gut. Nervous and sweaty, a touch nauseous, with the beginnings of a tension headache.

So I had to ask...what can I do to help prevent this apocalyptic future of CG-LIMS? Chris's first recommendation was to change my language...from "they" and "their," to "us" and "ours."

I admit to having some trouble transforming that concept into an actual course of action. I recognize that CG-LIMS is the future, my Coast Guard's future. But it feels a little presumptuous to assume that I have the requisite experience or technical knowledge to really have much useful to contribute to the effort. I spent some time this morning reading over the CG-LIMS wiki, especially the REBOOT Final Report. Mom, if you thought I use too much technical jargon and acronyms, take a look at these, and see if you can get through, I don't know, the Executive Summary without feeling like a complete dolt. I couldn't. But I persevered, and kinda just skimmed over the parts that were tech-speak, or acquisition-speak.

Side note: I'm not sure that there's a more impenetrable language than the combination of IT systems and federal acquisition. Each separately is inscrutable enough...put them together and you've got something as opaque as mud. Thick, post-spring rainstorm mud. But, no rain, no rainbows...and thank goodness we've got people that understand both IT and acquisitions to work through the necessary details.

I guess what I plan to do is to keep exploring these BELIEFS about cutter culture. I don't think that I'm being a LAGGARD (though it is entirely possible), but someone else shared some similar concern on the CG-LIMS wiki here, so there's probably still some room for discussion. There is definitely a good portion of having to TRUST THE UNIVERSE that's at work here for me. But, I'd rather get in trouble for doing something than get in trouble for not doing anything.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The CORE PRIME Applied - Take 1

I'm scheduled to give a brief presentation in my Information Policy & Technology class on Monday about my personal clarification of how the differences in cultures between the aviation and surface cultures will interact with the whole modernization/CG-LIMS implementation. I'm thinking this will utilize a very rudimentary picture of modernization for two reasons: first, my audience is my classmates, who have limited, if any, background in Coast Guard missions, acronyms, structure, etc.; second, modernization entails *a lot* of different functions, people and processes...i.e, I'm not sure I understand it entirely. Best to keep it basic to what I do understand.

One caveat to make myself feel better: this process is to help me understand the big picture. I'm pretty sure that people *way* smarter than me have already thought this stuff through and incorporated their concerns into the process development. I'm sharing it here because writing this blog helps me to keep a balanced perspective...not overeating at the Piss-in-Your-Cheerios Bar & Grill, or making too many purchases in the Rose-Colored Glasses Store.

The CORE PRIME has five elements: AS IS, TO BE, STAKE, STRATEGY, ENVIRONMENT. Chris told me to work through each one separately.

AS IS: This one is really hard, sort of because it's changing already, with the implementation of some of the modernization projects (stand up of Surface Forces Logistic Command (SFLC) being the most relevant, I think), but also because it's hard to really pin down what makes our current cutter culture what it is. And the more I've thought about it, I've come to the realization that the small boat and aviation communities have more in common than first glance would suggest (which is probably why small boat stations were modernized first...our leadership is pretty smart that way).

Boat crews and air crews are duty crews, assigned to the same unit, but not necessarily the same four, five or six people that always go out together. They don't always drive/fly the same boat/airframe; they "check out" whichever asset they're supposed to use for that day, and then turn it back into the unit inventory when they get done with the mission.The coxswain or mission commander is not typically the unit commanding officer/officer in charge. According to the CG Air Ops manual, the "[Pilot in Command] is responsible for the safe, orderly, efficient and effective performance of the aircraft and aircrew and passengers during the entire mission... " And the coxswain, from CG Regulations, "shall be responsible...for the safety and conduct of the passengers and crew; safe operation and navigation of the boat assigned; and the completion of the sortie or mission(s) assigned or undertaken pursuant to Coast Guard policy and regulations." Emphasis is mine.

Cutters are not that way. From CG Regs again, "the responsibility of the commanding officer [in general, not specific to cutters] for that command is absolute..." There's nothing about limiting the responsibility just for a particular mission, or only for safe execution of the mission; it is *all the time* and for *everything.* Sure, there's the mission execution part, but there's also the personnel and administrative stuff, the maintenance and repairs, public affairs, office upkeep (including paint locker you don't get ferns growing out of it, you know), port call and mission planning, stores and parts and logistics and spend-downs get the idea. I think this translates into a different level of intimacy (if that's the right word) that the CO of a cutter has, than the CO/OIC of an air station/small boat station. The CO of a cutter is there every time the cutter gets underway; if something breaks they're likely to know it. The CO/OIC has to rely more heavily on hir pilots/coxswains to report problems.

Also with cutters, it's always the same crew of 10, 20, 60 or 160 people that get underway on the same platform each and every time (well, with exceptions for the constant juggling that goes along with medical appointments, work-life issues, C-schools, etc.). I think this is one of the *greatest* strengths of the cutter community and is a large part of what being underway is all about...the camaraderie with your shipmates and the ownership of your ship. Ask anyone on MAUI, or who has been on's the best of the six ships in Bahrain...because it's *our* ship. There's a cycle: ownership breeds pride breeds ownership get the idea.

But ownership and pride can also lend themselves darkly to egotism and a superiority complex. "We get the MISSION done on *my* ship; we overcome casualties ourselves, no need to involve anyone else..." as the ship gets underway with a dozen pieces of broken equipment and less than 60 percent of preventative maintenance done. It's not so much an ostrich sticking its head in the sand, as, in a worst case scenario, a body-builder getting strung out on 'roids, but still looking buff...useful in the short-term, but devastating in the long run. I think it's that blindness caused by either not feeling like your ship needs help, or thinking that it somehow reflects badly on the ship and command to have stuff break. Maybe it was that way back in the day, that COs were judged inversely to how many CASREPs they had out (more CASREPS = bad captain), but I think those times are changing, thank goodness. The vestiges of it still linger though.

Just as an aside: I wonder if this is the main difference between the surface and aviation cultures. Aviators definitely have their own version of egotism, but I think it resides more internally to them as individuals, rather than being wrapped up in their ship, like it is for cuttermen. As the saying goes, "there are more helicopters in the ocean, than boats in the sky." Maybe aviators realize that the risks that they face flying over the ocean, which their aircraft really don't "land" on very well, obviate the need for sentimentality for their equipment.

TO BE: From the Acquisition Directorate's website, CG-LIMS is supposed to "to improve lifecycle management and standardize practices," " improve the transparency and accountability of logistics functions throughout the Coast Guard. CG-LIMS will provide a system-wide management capability for configuration, maintenance, supply chain and technical data." It's a small piece of the larger modernization effort. It will consolidate a lot of disparate programs that are currently in use: AOPS/TMT, CMPLUS,  ALMIS, daily boat checks and boat mission records. At least that's what the current system (currently being implemented at small boat stations) does, according to this video on Logistics Transformation.

In my own words, the IT portion of logistics transformation is to provide a single access point for maintaining real-time operational and maintenance requirements and records for the entire chain of command. It will provide operational commanders visibility of asset status and estimated times for repair for vessels that are non-operational. Transparency, transparency, transparency. Everybody with the same information at the same time.

My vision of the TO BE also includes a structure that plays to the strengths of the cutter community: ownership and the dedication and team-effect of cutter crews...positive and negative accountability. We all know what the enforcement arm of accountability looks like (relief for cause, substandard OERs, weak endorsements), but there also needs to be positive reinforcement for proactively pursuing an aggressive maintenance program. I tried to put my crew in for a Meritorious Unit Commendation (MUC) for the six and a half months surrounding KISKA's drydock (since Team Awards now require more than one OPFAC, a MUC seemed the most appropriate). I mean, more than six months of sustained 12 to 15 hour days, usually six days a week, but sometimes seven, in crappy, hot, dusty, smelly conditions, standing more than 2500 hours of fire watch, through numerous extensions of the contract, away from homeport, and then going immediately into a two-week generator change out, where they worked through the weekend to get it done in ten days. Oh, and then smoking!! a Ready For Operations (RFO) evaluation less than six weeks later. Is that really just "doing their job?" The MUC got turned down by the first level review. I'm not whining (too much), just noting what I see as concrete evidence of a cultural obstacle.

What's at STAKE? Push/pull of head, heart and wallet.This one is actually pretty easy for me. Analytically (head), we can not keep doing all of our required missions with our current system and the aging assets we're using (push); modernization will improve the information available for risk-based analysis of mission priorities (pull). Emotionally (heart), we're unnecessarily beating the shit out of our people, making them meet the unrestrained requirements of both operations and maintenance without some good way of balancing the two needs (push); improved analysis of mission priorities will lift some of the weight of tough choices (maintenance v. operations) from the shoulders of overworked people so that they can, I don't know, sleep, spend time with families, pursue educational goals, improve their proficiencies, improve their health...pick one (pull). And financially (wallet), aging assets cost more and more to maintain and operate (push), so that we must be more efficient with allocating scarce budgetary resources to prolong service life (pull).

ENVIRONMENT: There are a couple of external issues that are prompting this discussion within the Coast Guard. First, plain and simple, is the age of our fleet. WHECs (378 foot ships) and 210s (210 foot ships) have been around for more than 40 years; the WPB 110s have been around for 20+ years, when they were designed for a 20 year service life. Let's not talk about the river/construction tender fleet, or the icebreakers. For goodness sakes, even some of the earliest 87 foot patrol boats are closing in on 13 years old.

And, AND our mission set has expanded significantly since 2001. Homeland security missions take a *lot* of time and resources. We're doing way more now than we were ten years ago, with equipment that is now ten years further along.

Second is the federal requirement to improve our accounting system. The Coast Guard suffered through a couple of bad years with financial audits that required some restructuring of how we tracked parts and equipment. I don't know too much about the details of this whole part of the story, so I won't spend much time on it, but we were unable to account for a lot of valuable parts, so there was some reorganization that had to take place to pacify federal bean counters.

STRATEGY: This is the part it's all about, right? I don't have any answers. I still think we're on the right track with modernization...That combined with ADM Papp's commitment to "Steady the Service," I think will move us along tremendously towards our TO BE.

My only recommendation goes back to that part of my own TO BE vision, about positive reinforcement. Is it appropriate to recognize an operational unit's maintenance savvy? Without the mission, there's no need for maintenance; but without maintenance, there's no mission that can be completed. The mission/operations will always take precedence, but I do believe there must be some institutional parity for the hard work that is being done by cutter crews to maintain old ships beyond the current line of "that's your job." I'm a little passionate about this :)

I think that's all for the first stab at this. It was harder than I thought it was going to be. The convoluted nature of the subject definitely contributed to that, but I think the PRIMES process is also supposed to be a collaborative's meant to be a dialogue, not one person's pea-brainstorm.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Deep Blue Sea, Baby, Deep Blue Sea*

I've started looking at this CORE PRIME thing, which is broken into five essential agreements. The first agreement (at least in the book) is AS IS - what is the current situation? What is our current surface culture? And I guess I gotta really limit this to the cutter culture, because I have no understanding or experience with the small boat community. So current cutter culture (CCC, because everything we do has to have an acronym)? What defines it? What are the good things about it? The bad, the ugly? How do we raise our young in it? Do we revere our heroes and respect our oldsters? What does success mean to us, and what is failure?

For me this speaks directly to an underlying question, one that I've said before I wanted to write about. Why do I do this? I remember when I enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1999, I had the goal of getting stationed at MSO Charleston in West Virginia. I joined to work in marine safety, clean up oil spills and scrub some ducks. Ships? Umm, yeah, I think I knew the Coast Guard had those too. But I wasn't interested. Then I went off to OCS (because being a gate guard and handling lines for 110s and getting yelled at by their Captains for not doing it right (DIP the eye of that, No, NO--not THAT bollard...faster, damn it, the wind's gonna take us) just wasn't cutting it for me). And I still don't know if it's intentional, but at OCS, they had us fill out our dream sheet (it was still a dream sheet in those days) while we were doing the section of instruction on Navigation and Charting.

I hadn't ever done anything like plotting or chart work before, but I've always liked maps...the possibilities they present, the new and different places, the distances in between. So, I got kinda a wild hair, and put a couple of ships on my list of places I'd like to be stationed after OCS. They were very specific ships, in very specific locations (210s in the Pacific Northwest and Texas), that I thought that I might like to see, but all the rest of the jobs were marine safety jobs, quietly ashore. Hahahahaha...that's not quite how the detailer saw it. He saw that I asked for ships. And he gave me a ship...a 378 out of Alameda, CA. I remember billet night very well. I ended the evening crying in the bathroom, wondering what the hell I had just done. And how the hell I could get out of it.

But I didn't get out of it, and made my way, with a certain sense of ragged hopelessness, to BOUTWELL. I hated it. HATED it! I reported in November, on the first day of TSTA (Tailored Ships Training Availability) in San Diego. TSTA is frantic, lots of training packed into a short period of time. I had *no idea* what was going on, no one had time to explain it to me, and I was just taking up space, trying really, really hard not to get in the way. I was overwhelmed with three different, thick qualification packages to work on, and I was assigned as the XO's Assistant to an XO who had the personality of a...ugh, I can't think of a good analogy, but I didn't care for him, and my primary responsibility was the ship's office, which was run by a particularly difficult YNC. I was 3000 miles away from home, no family and few friends around, surrounded by things I didn't understand and overwhelmed by the entire damn situation. It sucked.

My first actual patrol on BOUTWELL was an Alpat (Alaskan patrol), and towards the end, we pulled into Kodiak for a few days. I think I had conned (driven the ship) into or out of port once or twice before during TSTA, but was essentially just parroting what my coach told me to say. I didn't really get what I was saying, what the helm and engine commands meant. But this mooring into Kodiak...something clicked and the light went on. I was still parroting what WEPS (LTJG Blake Stockwell at the time) was saying, but I understood what he was saying, and the orders he was giving to the helm and engine room were making sense in terms of how they controlled the ship's movement. We swung around the south end of Nyman Peninsula, starting to slow our speed, watching the wind and waiting for it to come whipping down the sheer face of Old Womens Mountain and set us too fast down onto the wrong pier. I'm pretty sure we were going to the fuel pier, and Blake guided me through getting the momentum just right to be able to give a short counter-twist of the engines at the very end so that we could give the order "put over all lines." It was AMAZING! OMG, I got it! Now, granted, I had an *excellent* coach, and some of the best environmental conditions possible for Womens Bay. But it was a transformational moment for me, realizing that shiphandling could make sense. It wasn't all candlelight and roses after that; I still had some rough times, but the sea's seduction had definitely begun.

In retrospect, and with the benefit of a couple hundred more moorings under my belt, I've come to realize that shiphandling is about control. Understanding of the effects of the helm and engines gives control over the ship, which can overcome and dominate environmental and situational conditions. Knowing that it's a tight spot, being able to read the wind (with both arms in the air like a touchdown provides much better insights into the subtleties...just saying), accounting for the engine delay with precision to get just as much power as you need *right* then, visualizing the water rushing over the rudders to create a force differential to turn the bow, and then just doing it! Being able to put a couple hundred tons of steel exactly where you want it to go...that's a control freak's dream! Or at least, it works for me. I love being able to drive a ship. I could go on with this part of the story for a while, describing the particulars of some of the significant shiphandling experiences I've had. One engine ops, high winds and surges, steering casualties, sand storms and other low-vis fun, fires and/or alarms...but I know they get boring for most people after a while.

BOUTWELL taking a light beating
And as much as I love the feeling of control that I get from driving a ship, there is a striking irony that much of being underway entails walking the edge of losing control, or having it wrested away by the sea. I've only been to the Bering Sea that first patrol on BOUTWELL, but even then, in the infancy of my introduction to the ocean, I remember noting how the water could go from flat-ass, silver-glassy calm to a towering, raging fury in a very, very short period of time. The only control you get underway is that little bit that you are able to preserve through complete trust in your ship and fellow shipmates.

Mighty MAUI
First about the ship: My ships have always taken on more significance to me than just being a sum of their parts. They are more than all the spaces, the pieces of equipment, the amenities for comfortable living and all the other miscellaneous bits. I remember walking through HAMILTON's main passageway, after having been away from 378s for four years. It smelled the same as BOUTWELL, some odd, distinctive bouquet of Simple Green and diesel exhaust, with hints of JP5, sweat, metal, paint and salt. Never mind those weird, eerie noises in the bos'n hole and paint locker that give new OODs the heebie-jeebies. And I've always found it a little unsettling that the bridge, which is the center of the universe underway, is usually deserted and lonely inport. The engines and generators, the fuel transfer system, the idiosyncrasies of every ship, the awards on the bulkheads, that tear in the mess deck bench cushion, the dent I put in my rack drawer from kicking it too hard once when I was really pissed off, that damn ladder step that I *always* crack my knee on when I'm racing up to the bridge too fast, the scullery deep sink on morale pizza nights...they all make up the greater SHIP that is more than just the ship. Maybe that's why we capitalize a ship's name. It's more than just its letters.

The engineering, the construction, the fact that it all works and stays afloat awes me. 

And then there are the people. I won't spend too much time on this one, since I've said a lot about my crews before. But it comes down to it that I like Coasties; they are, on the whole, good, dedicated, smart, funny people. I recently watched a video from USCGC FORWARD that was posted on Coast Guard Digest. Never mind that it's a *great* song for their ship, the pictures of the crew made me smile. OMG, the guy running across the flight deck with Speedos on during steel beach... classically hilarious! Followed by Batman! How do they come up with that stuff?! The guy's attitude at minute 1:41 -- I just get the sense that he loves his job, or at least loves being a .50 cal gunner. The grapes, the blueberries, the baked potato. And whoever came up with the idea to take the inflatable pool underway was a genius. I think the institutionally supported resurgence of the term "shipmate" is a great thing.

Kwar Al Amaya Oil Terminal at sunset
But in the end, it all comes back to the ocean. Her beauty, her grandness, magnificence, power, mercurialness, depths and bounty. When I was on AQUIDNECK for a few weeks while their CO went on R&R, the crew thought I was a little batty because I asked for the 4-8 watch. It's kinda a crappy watch because you've got to get up at the ungodly hour of 3 am, and then still function throughout whatever goes on during the day. But I love the 4-8s... you get to watch sunrise and sunset. When I was on HAMILTON, I tried to make it a point to see as many sunsets as I possibly could around operations (sunrises, well, let's just say sleep and breakfast took precedence there); there were never two the same and it always gave me a chance to pause and ponder the benefits of being at sea for weeks at a time.

Then there's the wildlife found in her depths. It makes me laugh out loud to see dolphins swim alongside the ship and play in the bow wake. Sea turtles. Whales, even though I whine about them from time to time during whale season in the Maui triangle. Birds, photo-luminescence, mahi-mahi, halibut. Two very distinct memories about marine wildlife stick out in my mind: First was on BOUTWELL. I think we were down south, somewhere off the coast of Central America, transiting along. It was dark, probably the 8 to 12s. It must have been fairly soon after 9/11, because I remember thinking maybe it was some kind of threat. But there was this ball of light that came alongside the ship's starboard side, just forward of the bridge. It was probably 30 feet in diameter, moving along beneath the surface. It kept pace with us for a while, and then slipped under the ship and came out on the port side. I called the Captain when it went under us, and she came up to the bridge. Once the ball moved over to the port side, it didn't stay with us for too long, but continued on its track. CAPT Kelley postulated that it was a pod of dolphins or fish that was stirring up the photo-luminescence. But it was so very cool.

The second wildlife incident was on HAMILTON. We were transiting from Oakland back down to San Diego. All in all, that patrol was stupendously crappy. Lots of equipment casualties, people got hurt, people got fired, the patrol was extended, and then we had an unscheduled drydock for which we had to drive by our homeport that was burning from Southern California wildfires. I, at least, was desperately happy to be headed home. My sister and her husband were onboard, along with about a dozen other crew family members that were making the overnight transit with us. It was just before sunset, and we were transiting along the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The water boiled, just boiled with critters. There were birds, whales, porpoises, sea lions, whales, I don't know what all. We transited through the water that teemed with life for about 20 minutes. The ocean itself was flat calm, with a very light swell and no waves, but the animals were jumping and thrashing and tumbling about so much, that the water was far from calm. It was *incredible*!!

Those are certainly not the only two times I've seen amazing wildlife scenes, but they definitely stick out for me.

The could I forget the stars? The blankets of twinkling lights that spread over the skies from dark horizon to dark horizon.

 And then there's that inexplicable mystery that the ocean offers. The ocean will always be there; never the same, but always just what it is. Its possibilities are endless; hope is always just over the horizon. I can't even pretend to ever be as insightful or poetic as others over the years about what the ocean means to sailors. There's just too many good quotes that encapsulate it so much better.

"The cure for anything is salt water - sweat, tears, or the sea." -- Isak Dinesen

Roll on, deep and dark blue ocean, roll. Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain. Man marks the earth with ruin, but his control stops with the shore.-- Lord Byron

"When you see the Southern Cross for the first time
You understand now why you came this way.
'Cause the truth you might be runnin' from is so small.
But it's as big as the promise, the promise of a comin' day." --Crosby, Stills & Nash

*Lyrics from Deep Blue Sea, by North Mississippi Allstars