Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Orders....Or, The Next Challenge

This transfer season has been more tumultuous than any other I've been through. The only other one that might be even somewhat comparable was when I was leaving HAMILTON. I had successfully screened for command, and asked for nuthin but 110s. I was cocky enough to think that it was just a matter of which one I would get.

It was about a week or ten days before Christmas. Suppo and I had left the boat right when liberty was piped to go shopping for a Christmas wine and cheese party I was hosting. We stopped by the L&L Hawaiian Drive-In just outside the 32nd St Gate of NAVSTA San Diego to get some lunch to sustain us. I ordered the kalbi rib lunch plate (with rice and mac salad). I had grease and teriyaki sauce all over my face and hands when my phone rang. It was a 202 area code...during transfer season, that only means one thing--the detailer.

Breathe, Charlotte, remember to BREATHE.

I (somewhat) calmly wiped my hands so I could answer the phone, chatted with the Assignment Officer/detailer (AO) for a few minutes, long enough for him to tell me I was going to MAUI. I had enough wits remaining about me to thank him for the call. I hung up. And then almost hyperventilated. I don't think I stopped saying omg for about two days. Suppo was very patient with me that afternoon.

This year my e-resume was due mid-August, I think, because I was putting in for a Special Assignment, as a Program Reviewer at CG-821. I duly submitted my wish-list, and then really didn't think much more about it. I knew I was going somewhere at HQ, so why fret about the details (anybody that knows me, knows that is a *flat-out* lie...of course I worried about it!!). All there was to do was wait.

Then the AO called me the first time. I spent a couple of days shaking my head in wonderment that a) he offered the opportunity and b) I turned it down.

Then he called back about a week later (at this point, I was starting to recognize his phone number on caller ID...kinda a weird feeling). He asked me if I was interested in putting in for a high-profile Aide job. Ok, so when the AO calls you *TWICE* to push special assignments, you don't say "no" a second time. I said yes, and started a crazy roller-coaster ride that ended this week with PCS orders for my payback tour.

As the AO explained the process to me, my file would be forwarded to the appropriate office and they would be in touch about an interview if  they were interested. He made it sound like the turn-around time was going to be pretty fast. Somehow, I think our definitions of "pretty fast" were slightly divergent. To me, "pretty fast" should mean, I don't know, maybe two or three days. So four days went by, then a week went by, and I still hadn't heard anything. I started telling myself that the office wasn't interested in me, my record wasn't good enough, I should have known better than to expect an interview, the whole thing was so far-fetched anyway. Sadly, I let myself get pretty down about it.

In the interim, the Deputy at CG-82 contacted me, requesting I call him for a phone interview. I phoned him back the next day, and we chatted for about 25 minutes. He asked a little about me, but also spent plenty of time making sure I knew what the Program Reviewer job was all about. He was very forthright about the pressures of the job, lots of responsibility and long hours. He gave me the names of a couple of people currently in the office, and encouraged me to talk with them about what they do.

But then, a couple of Tuesdays ago, I got an email. The subject line read: "Interview for ______ Aide." The first line: "Congratulations..." I called my sister. I called my friend who had been an Aide. I think I might have even shouted it from the rooftops. I could barely contain my excitement.

I actually prepped for this interview. I talked to my friend to get her perspective on being an Aide, about what kinds of questions they might ask, about what kinds of answers might be appropriate. I really appreciate her patience with my ignorance and naivete...I'm not sure it would have occurred to me that my involvement in UCMJ proceedings weren't appropriate and contributory topics of conversation for an interview. And she was honest enough to advise me that I needed to be upfront with the interviewers about the tattoos...an Aide's job is to make sure there are no surprises, so showing up the first day of a high-visibility job with a full sleeve tattoo the bosses didn't know about kinda sets a Girl up for failure. With that in mind, I went into the interview with a somewhat fatalistic attitude of presenting my best effort, to hell with the results.

The interview was last Tuesday. I was nervous! I arranged to use a landline at the School of Public Policy so that I wouldn't have to worry about the call being dropped by my cell carrier. I dressed professionally to give myself some confidence and remind my self to maintain my professional persona (no cussing allowed!). I wrote out key points to questions I thought they might ask so I wouldn't stumble (as much) over my answers. And I wondered how I went from not even knowing I wanted this job to it really, really mattering to me.

The interview was scheduled for 1600. About 20 minutes beforehand, the current Aide called me to tell me they were running behind, some things had come up; would I be able to move the call to 1700? Umm, of course, no problem. And then I (tried to) read some of the articles assigned for class the next day. It was a little anti-climatic. But 1700 finally ticked around on the clock, and I made the call.

I thought the interview went very well. The interview panel asked me some of the questions I thought they might, but then come up with a few others that I wasn't expecting. I was able to put together cogent responses to all of them. One made me nearly choke up: the CAPT asked what my crew would have said my Command Philosophy was. I told them about the BM2 that, as he left MAUI, told me he really appreciated how I stuck to my Philosophy, relating events back and referring to it on a regular basis. Made me miss my crews! And then they asked what was the one single scariest moment I had faced underway--that would have been playing chicken with a 650-foot container ship, speeding 18 knots straight at the oil platforms, and crossing his bow at about 400 yards to try to turn him away from the security zone. The crew responded so fantastically to that situation , and were totally ready to react to the threat if had fully manifested.

At the end of the interview, the panel told me that I should hear something by the end of the next week. Ugh!! I HATE waiting.

Turns out I didn't have to wait nearly that long. When I got home from class the next day, I had an email from the Deputy at CG-82 asking me to call him. I called him first thing the next morning; he told me I was on the short list for Program Reviewer but he wanted to check with me to see if I was still interested and make sure I had the opportunity to talk with someone in the job. We made arrangements for me to visit the office the next day (I was headed to HQ for something else already).

I'm glad I went to visit CG-82. I met both the Deputy and the CAPT. The Deputy talked about how much responsibility the Program Reviewer had, both in terms of the budget and some aspects of policy for their programs. Millions of dollars, the last check to make sure messages are consistent, briefing ADMs going to testify before Congress...very high-powered stuff. Yup, it kinda intimidated me, and I told him that. He looked at me a little quizzically, and asked, weren't you CO of a ship? Yeah, but somehow it just seems different. The consequences of mistakes just seem so much more daunting. But as those words were coming out of my mouth, I realized just how inconsistent they were. As CO, peoples' *lives* are in your hands, millions of dollars of assets and equipment are at stake. What's the difference between the levels of responsibilities again? I guess after two years as CO, that mantle of responsibility finally settled more comfortably on my shoulders.

Later that evening, my phone rang again...202 area code (it's not quite so nerve-wracking now that I live in the DC area, but still gives me pause). It was the AO telling me if I was still interested in the Program Reviewer job, he was ready to pencil me in for it. I asked about the Aide job; he said while the interview panel liked me, there were other candidates they were considering.

Well, hell.

Once again, I had the wherewithal to thank the AO for his call and tell him I was still interested in the Program Reviewer job. And then I started to sulk. Just a little bit, and not for long. But I had already had kind of a crappy day. Frustrations with the dry cleaner (four visits required to get O4 stripes on my Bravo jacket), losing the battle with the weedeater (thankfully there were no injuries involved and I eventually won the war...the next day), not working out or eating particularly well lately...all conspired to put the AO's call in the worst possible light.

After gaining a small margin of perspective with the help of my sister and friends, I came to realize the Aide job would have been a poor fit for me. It *absolutely* would have been super-cool fun -- all the traveling, meeting some of the country's top leadership as well as all the Coasties at so many different units, getting the high-altitude big picture of the Coast Guard; and I would have done a perfectly acceptable job at it. But it just wasn't the right fit. It reminds me a little of my friend Rickey's attitude about campgrounds that didn't allow dogs. He had a *big* dog back in the day, and while it was sometimes frustrating for him to have to drive on down the road past those campgrounds, he always felt that rule probably kept him out of some places he wouldn't have been so welcome anyway. I'm only kinda saying that my tattoos are like Rickey's dog, keeping me out of places I have no reason to be anyway. They're only the physical manifestation of an individualism that I'm not ready to change, or obscure, or censor...but not flaunt or obnoxiously brandish about, either. I see lots of days wearing a woolly-pully in my future. I might even have to get one of the cardigans.

So, my orders are on the board for Program Reviewer at CG-821. I would be *LYING* if I said I wasn't nervous. I'm *very* nervous. Like, "how did I get myself into this mess"-nervous. But that feeling is a little familiar. I remember it from getting orders to HAMILTON as OPS and MAUI as CO, from staring into the face of a new challenge, something unfamiliar, something I haven't done before. I wrote about it when I was on MAUI. The next crop of crews was starting to come in, and one of the new COs went on a familiarization ride with us during post-drydock sea trials:
One of his questions was, how do you integrate into the crew that's already in place, not knowing all of the particulars of the oparea...how do you lead without total confidence in yourself?
The funny thing is, he was actually able to articulate the question. I certainly felt the same way when I was getting ready to take over MAUI, but I wasn't so clear with myself why I was uncomfortable and uncertain. I hemmed and hawed for a moment, but then told him, "Fake it until you make it." It really was an attitude of bravado that got me through those first few weeks of wondering what the hell I was doing and why on earth anyone in a position of power would have ever though I was a good fit for the job. Eventually, I got more comfortable, mostly for two reasons, I think. First, I developed the knowledge the operational area and mission required; I studied tasking messages, did some of the specialty operations, and in general educated myself on what I was doing. Second, I just couldn't sustain the level of hypervigilance I adopted in those first few weeks. I was always on edge, always looking for the next thing that was coming along. I don't think I got complacent, necessarily, but something like it. Maybe I just grew into the leadership role.
I had a brief reminder of those first few days as we were returning from our shake-down trip yesterday. [One of our main diesel engines] failed, just [as we started our approach to the pier]. I took over driving us in. At one point, I looked at the situation and realized that I had absolutely no clue what I was doing...I'm just a wanna-be Farm Girl for god's sake, not some BAMF (as my room-mate calls me) war-fighter. How the *hell* was I gonna get us out of this mess?! I thought about it for a moment, and realized that I had no choice...there was no one else with us that I could turn the mess over to, and expect a better outcome than if I just did it myself, even with my extreeeeeeme discomfort with where we were at. I balled up, and faked it until we made it in.
And then took myself off to my office for a few minutes to physically stop my hands from shaking. But, if you can spare me a moment of egotism, I did an awesome!!! job getting us safely home. It was graceful and it looked good. I really did look like I knew what I was doing.
Ha ha ha ha ha ahahahaaa. That's the funny part!
But isn't that what this life is all about...facing the next challenge, stretching myself to discover if limits exist?


Azulao said...

Here on campus we'd say you've gone over to the Dark Side and we'd never trust you again.

But don't let it get you down.

No, seriously, any faculty member with a couple of brain cells *outside* his own lab or library realizes how difficult jobs like yours are, and respects people who do them well...although I think that no dean or president I know of has anywhere near the responsibility that you will! Can you come be our president after you're done with the CG gig? I'd work for ya.

Brother Pilot said...

So what are your orders anyway?