Wednesday, March 30, 2011

AThird Bit, Slightly Rambly

I saw this post from the Coast Guard Compass. HAMILTON is the first of any ship I've sailed on to be decommissioned. I'm really, really sad to see HAMILTON and CHASE go. I know it's well past their time, and they've served their country and sailors well. Thank the powers that be that I have the memories I do of my time onboard, the good, the excellent and the bad and ugly. I was OPS onboard HAMILTON from June 2006 until January 2008. Most of these snippets won't make sense, but I'm cataloging them for my own sake.

Having a nasty cold and wanting to sleep in Combat so I wouldn't have to go so far in the middle of the night when the watchstander woke me up with an interesting contact report (I didn't, but Doc was nice enough to send down a cot just in case).

The sun rising over the deck of that Peruvian fishing vessel we chased for two weeks out too far past the Galapagos. The flat tire on the helo that kept them on the deck and unable to search. The 200 bales of cocaine the traffickers had stacked on deck as we came alongside.

"Shiny metal objects." And skull tattoos (not mine). (Well, maybe mine...thanks, MPA, for making sure Jimmy got it straight on my arm).

Watching Sunday evening sunsets on the flight deck while enjoying a rationed root beer. Most other sunsets on the gun deck, chatting with friends, commiserating about being far, far from home. Running the decks, laps and laps and laps around and being very grateful I never stumbled and shredded my knees and hands up on the non-skid.

The *reee-dik-uuu-lous* conversations with TACON.

The tasty fresh water the ship made while underway, and watching the EO get annoyed when we pulled in because it meant his good water would have to be treated once it was mixed with whatever we got from the shoretie. It would always take about four days underway to get back to the good stuff.

Getting backhanded with the Wonder Woman compliment. In front of all the other Department Heads, the XO and the Command Senior Chief. Still stings, that one.

The blueness of the waters in Gulfo Dulce when we came in close enough to pick up some passengers. And the chat about mentoring that happened while the small boat was away.

Four ugly days at the pier in Acajutla, El Salvador. Hot, sticky, and dirty rub marks left all alongside the hull. The late night berth shift to the other side of the pier, tight between two merchant ships.So that we could get gross, dirty rub marks on *both* sides of the ship.

Numerous hands of Bastard while sucking down Otterpops (I think I was Strawberry Short Kook), munching popcorn, and whatever other tasty treats the Wardroom Mess Treasurer supplied.

The peacefulness of Decameron Beach Resort after countless Panama City port calls. Bosn's comment afterwards, "I drank so much pina colada I'll be shitting coconuts for a week."

A helicopter almost out of radio range, two small boats in the water at the edge of radio range, and an LE team on a captured go-fast without running lights all screaming towards each other in the pitch black. Oh, and which way is the Equator? North or South?

And how happy I was that my sister was onboard when I finally lost it at the end of that last, shitty patrol when the mooring line snapped the deckie's leg.

Three days on both MDEs at flank speed...to  conserve fuel, of course.

Two Bits and a Rant

Good heavens, if I thought I was slacking before my last post, I'm not sure what to call not posting for nearly three weeks! But, here I am, posting again, even if this post does threaten to be whiny and dejected. Onward though...

First bit: I'm making O4 on April 1st. Which is GREAT!! (Though I do feel just the slightest bit cheated for making it on April Fool's Day. Is that some kind of commentary on my career? Just as a point of reference, I felt the same way when my divorce papers were dated April 1st. *That* likely was a commentary on the circumstances :) ) I posted my happy news on Facebook as "O4 on 04-01-11. Whooooppeeee!!" My aunt commented back, asking what that meant. I explained, saying I'd be promoted. Due to the vagaries of FB and email notifications, I thought she asked the question again (not that she was too "Denise" to get it the first time), and it got me thinking, what *does* it really mean? Ok, so it means more money, which will be great and useful and well-appreciated, even though sometimes I think the Coast Guard already pays me an obscene amount of money.

But beyond the money, I am really grateful that my hard work and perseverance has paid off with a promotion. It's nice to get that recognition of a job well done (or at least done to a satisfactory level). For me, right now, I don't think it means much more beyond that, though. No one at school knows what being an O4 means (beyond a couple of the other military folks in my Private Enterprise/National Security class...which I've already proved to them that I'm a little bit of a PITA know-it-all. Have I said before I feel like I've got an unfair advantage in that class? Eleven years of military experience v. four to five years administrative/work  experience like many of the others have...let's just say I have an opinion on most everything--not that that's really an anomaly, but opinion + experience is a powerful combination). And I doubt it will mean much once I get to Headquarters...just another of the multitude of Junior Officers in the building. Maybe after the HQ tour...XO of a bigger boat will be good fun. Couldn't do that without the promotion. More opportunities, different challenges, I guess that's what it really means.

Second bit: just as I've been slacking with the blog, I've been slacking with general correspondence as well. My good friend Rickey sent me an email in the middle of February!! and I haven't gotten back to him yet. He shared this sweet photo of his friend Sammy, chillin' on a beach in Central Cal. Dog's life :)

And an old shipmate sent me an email about a previous post. How cool to hear from him.

And a friend sent me a great message about my last post. I *really* need to get back to him on that. I've been thinking about my response, but haven't quite gotten fingers to keyboard yet. Sorry, friend...I feel like a schmuck for pestering you about your comment, and then procrastinating my own response. Got a million excuses: midterms, readings, excuse-blah, blah, blah, papers to write, excuse-blah, blah, blah, spring break, family emergency, excuse-blah, blah, blah. But just excuses in the end.

And on to the rant! I'm finding that bureaucratic red-tape is all the more galling now that I'm a student of public policy. There was a confluence of three different events that really rained frustration down on my head. None of the three of them would piss me off separately...well, maybe the motorcycle license part would annoy me, but all three of them within the same day just made me mad.

So I knew I needed to get my motorcycle license renewed while I was in Hawaii for spring break this time. My learner's permit had expired the week before, and I really want to be able to keep riding my bike, especially now that spring is coming and the weather is getting better. I tried to find a loaner bike over Christmas break so I could just take the road test and be done with it. But I couldn't find one...friends had bikes, but they were either not registered or on the other side of the island or kinda too big to feel comfortable taking on the road test. Actually the best line was from my mom's pastor--he doesn't loan out his bike, his wife or his guns. All for very good reason :) So, no bike. I knew I was going back to Hawaii for spring break, so I signed up for the Hawaii-sponsored motorcycle safety Basic Riders Course. First minor bit of frustration here: the DOD-sponsored course I took last spring wasn't good enough for the state of Hawaii. Had to take theirs to get the waiver for the road test. But I understand that. The policy is a tool to generate revenue through their continuing education program at the community college. So I took the class over spring break. The next day I went to get my license.

Well, apparently, Hawaii has a rule that if your learner's permit expires, there is a 90-day cooling off period before you can do anything about getting a new license, learner's or permanent. WHAT?!? Are you freaking kidding me? No consideration for the fact that I'm a Hawaii resident on active military duty stationed outside the state. I was supposed to attempt the road test at least once during the year my permit was good in order to get an extension. Never mind that I tried in Hilo and was told, maybe they could do the road test if it wasn't raining. Not raining? In HILO?!?! Are you freaking kidding me?

I asked why they had that rule (poor lady behind the desk, I really tried hard not to take my frustration out on her), and was told so that people didn't just come in and keep renewing their learner's permit. WHAT?!? Are you freaking kidding me? First of all, the learner's permit is not all that great. You can't take passengers and you can't ride after dark. Yeah, I want to put up with both those restrictions for a lengthy period of time, because they're both so convenient. And, and, and...they'd make more money that way anyway. If someone came in to renew their learner's permit for the entire six-year duration of the regular license, the state would make $30 ($5 x 6 years) instead of the $20 they make on the regular license. ARGH!! Really?!? I can't imagine what the real reason is for the policy, but it's gawd-awful annoying.

The second incidence was my fault. Totally. I went into the local library to enjoy a quiet place to read a couple chapters for my Federal Budgeting class. I took my water bottle in and sat down in a reasonably comfy faux leather chair, which just happened to be rather centrally located in the middle of the library. I got the first sip out of my water bottle before I was brusquely told by the stern library security guard (really, a security guard in the LIBRARY?!) that drinking wasn't allowed in the library. I said, rather snottily, it's just water...from your water fountain. She just as snottily pointed out the signs that said no drinking or eating in the library. I put the water bottle away. Water, in a faux leather chair, reading MY BOOK!! Not doing a water dance in their rare books collection. And, and, and...she noisily told a table of four middle school boys to "SSSSHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!" about as obnoxiously as humanly possible. I really thought that only happened in the movies.

So the next day I went back, and sat around the corner instead of smack in front of her desk. And safely enjoyed casual sips of water from my water bottle while reading my book. That's why the first incident was my fault...should never have sat where she could see me.

That same afternoon, I went looking for an outlet to plug my phone into while I read since it was low on battery. There was a block of tables around a pillar with outlets that was labled "for laptop use." *ALL* the other outlets in the library had little flap signs over them that said, "Not authorized for use. Use outlets in Laptop designated area." Ugh, seriously?

I recognize the need behind all the policies. But where's the leeway for responsible people? I said it was a rant...I never said it was rational.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Reflections Revisited

I've been slacking on writing a post for a while, mostly because I've got thoughts from about four different projects roiling around in my head, all tangled up in each other. It's making it hard to make progress on any of them. So I'm going to cheat a little, and recycle another post from when I was in Bahrain. It's interesting to me how my perspective has changed, even over the course of the last year and a half. I'll explain more after the recycled post.

I’m coming to the end of my tour in [what is marketed as the Coast Guard's] most challenging and arduous mission. Let’s just say it hasn't lived up to the hype. The things that I thought were going to be challenging, like tactical decisions, bullets flying down-range, tensely intimate engagements with a particularly volatile and slightly ludicrous enemy, turned out to be non-existent. My failing was in realizing that far too early, and not training or preparing for those things that, while infinitesimally possible, would have been catastrophic because of my lack of fore-thought and preparation.

I never really did buy into this mission, even when I first made the decision to ask for it; never really thought W’s dirty little oil war turned personal vendetta was a good fight. I selfishly came over to challenge myself. What I didn’t realize in not buying in was that I put my self, my guys, my unit and my fellow teams at risk because I wasn’t thinking things through all the way. I did my job as assigned and fairly well, but I didn’t face up to the bigger threat picture and become the professional that I gave lip-service to being. My command philosophy as stated, is something like, “any job doing is worth doing to the best of your ability.” I say the words well, but didn’t do such a great job putting it into practice. I’ve been lazy and complacent.

I keep looking for something that will challenge me, something that will inspire passion in me, something that will make me work hard, stay up late and go to bed exhausted each day, pleased with what I’ve accomplished, and chomping at the bit to get up the next day to do it all over again. I haven’t found it yet. I worry that I never will.

But I had the blinding realization, or at least initial spark of recognition, that maybe the challenge is within myself…and this is definitely a thought process in progress, so bear with me. Does the mission really matter? Or is it that I need to buy in more to my own philosophy, and give more of my ability to whatever I’m doing? I think buying into the mission would give me the motivation to get more involved in the operation, to spend the extra time and energy to become thoroughly familiar with the intricacies and details as well as the big-picture, long-term, organizational-level stuff that actually makes a player into a leader.

I like my job now. I enjoy it, mostly because I’m good at it. I have career goals that I’d like to accomplish. But I don’t love it. I count the time until I can be done with it and move onto something I’d rather do. I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not going to be very good at what I want to do…farming is a fairly creative venture; my nature is more regimented.

So one of my take-away lessons from this assignment is to be passionate about what I do. But how do I do that if I don’t believe in it?

I thought of this post when I was watching ADM Papp's State of the Coast Guard address last month. His remarks on qualification versus proficiency struck me as elementally important. And I hung my head a little, acknowledging that I have plenty of room to improve in this area. It's so easy to get wrapped up in the crisis of the moment and dismiss the necessity of continued familiarity, dare I say intimacy, with the details of operational guidance and requirements. That is my goal for my next job, whatever it may be...to know the fundamentals, the background, the foundation of what I'm doing. If it's the budget shop, know the statutory basis for our funding; if it's strategic planning, know the overarching, big-picture guidance. When it's XO, know the PERSMAN. If it's CO, know the CG Regs. And whatever I'm doing next time I'm underway, know the COLREGS, shiphandling theory (beyond "drive the stern of the ship"), and the casualty control and emergency ops manuals to the point that they are much more internalized than they are now. That's my goal for myself.

It makes me laugh a little, that part, "But I don't love it." I'm sure that some of it is that you never know what you've got 'til it's gone. In rereading this old post, I realized what I appreciate so much about my time on KISKA. I found more to believe in than just my own philosophy. In some ways, KISKA helped me to see the bigger picture, the grander challenge. The power of the future, if you will. 

For example, on MAUI, all of my crew came from other units; there was no one there straight from boot camp. Within a month of taking over KISKA, I had three guys newly report directly from boot camp slogging through the rigors of drydock. One of them commented on my last post, and I sent him an email back, chiding him lightly for still calling me "Captain." He responded, "...you were my first captain so I will prolly always call you captain unless we're around other people who don't know that story." That is the power of the future.

The discussions that XO and MKC (soon to be CWO--super, major CONGRATS, Greg!!) and I had about Big Coast Guard Issues inspired me to persevere through some pretty boring classes (microeconomics and statistics, blech) so I could get to the more interesting classes I'm taking now. And I'm learning *a ton* that I hope to use to make life better for my shipmates. That's the power of the future.

And the classes I'm taking now are pushing me, stretching my capabilities, giving me the opportunity to think about things that I know are important to the future of the Coast Guard. I'm not even close to pretending that I have any of the answers, but I'm glad to know that I can at least frame the questions. Knowing the question is the easiest place to start for figuring out an answer. And the coolest part of what I've seen in the Coast Guard is our organizational willingness to self-examine in pursuit of a better way of doing things. Our institutionally heuristic nature (Frank--I win...though there is something oxymoronic about an "institutionally heuristic" anything). That is definitely the power of the future.

So, the realization from this post for me...I do love it. The challenges, the people, the demanding tasking, the opportunities, the doors opened, the sights seen, the sea stories told and retold, and the possibilities for a next generation.

PS - The more I think about this power of the future concept, the more I realize that *is* the mission of the Coast Guard, in aggregate. I'll write more on this later, but providing the possibility of the best future is what the Coast Guard is all about...SAR, LE, homeland security, prevention...all of it.