Sunday, July 29, 2012


So much for a post every other week or so. I'm slacking. At least on blogging. There's a lot been going on otherwise. I just can't write about it here for one reason or another...pre-decisional stuff related to the budget (*way* more drama than that boring ol' snippet of a sentence makes it sound), too personally inappropriate for the blog (you're wondering, based on my previous posts, what on earth falls into that category, but there is stuff I'm not willing to share here), or not my story to tell. It's been pretty stressful, taken all together.

But, again, when I take a step back and look at what is stressing me out, it all stems from the abundance of wonderful things in my life. My job is a high grade stressor. Long hours, complicated problems, high-stakes outcomes, delicate negotiations...but also smart, incredible people to work with, the opportunity to make a real difference for an organization that I believe in and that has given me so much, daily challenges and lessons to learn. I love my job. I mean, it's not underway, but if I have to be a sand-peep, this is the job I want. Even when it makes me tear my hair out.

I've had a couple of conversations about this with fellow reviewers. The general consensus is that, the work is shitty, the hours are long, the problems knotty and difficult, and the processes overly bureaucratic and opaque...but that just means that when something does get solved, fixed or changed for the better somehow, all that hard work is so very, very worth it.

At the same time work is so busy, there's other stuff going on in my life. I've been doing some updating in my house (yes, still). But that requires *being here* to let workmen in, or having to remember to leave the back door unlocked and the security key hidden somewhere that's easy to explain. On the grateful up-side, though, I came home on Friday, after a ridiculously demanding week at work, and stepped into a freshly cleaned *AIR-CONDITIONED* house! It was *glorious!* The new mini-split a/c system is so quiet and works so well. I kinda wish I could just go on Google maps, and cut out my little house and yard, and take it with me wherever I get transferred to next, because I really like my house and yard and garden. Oh, and the garden is overrun with cucumbers and basil. Thanks to my sister's cuke salad recipe, I have been known to eat an entire cucumber by myself for dinner. Peel the cuke, slice as thin as possible (I use a mandoline), squeeze half a lime (she uses lemon) over the cucumber slices spread out on a plate, and sprinkle to taste with salt and pepper. De-LISH!

Another little story about the house/garden frustration/abundance...a couple of weekends ago, I noticed that my new chest freezer (a recent, fantastic addition) had become unplugged. I had no idea how or for how long, but it was long enough that most of the stuff inside had thawed. AAAARRRRRGGHHH!!! So much for my quiet, lazy weekend. Instead I had to cook, cook, cook to make sure I didn't waste a lot of food. But I came out Monday morning with the freezer (plugged back in, of course, and humming away) freshly full of chicken mole and quinoa, corn bread muffins (I had frozen corn to use), and spinach, bacon, feta quiche. And last weekend, I continued my cooking frenzy and deposited homemade, personal-sized pizzas (pesto, mushrooms, anchovies, salami, garlic, mozzarella, eggplant and red sauce -- though not all on the same pizzas) and raspberry-rhubarb pie in the freezer for future consumption. How *on earth* could I complain about *that!?!*

And I won't bore you, and prompt an involuntary eye-roll with details of how sweet, and wonderful, and amazing, and...see, I tend to get a little carried away...fabulous the Rocket Scientist is; I'll simply leave it with the statement that I am *so ready* for him to come home. It is with a well-honed sense of irony that I will complain for a moment about how crappy it is that his job is keeping him so busy. Before he went on R&R, we would chat on Skype in his mornings/my evenings and his evenings/my afternoons (on the weekends, anyway), and I got used to that. But he stepped into a new position when he got back into theatre after R&R, and now he is working from about 6 am solid through until sometimes 11 pm and later. And I must footnote this comment with the recognition that at least (though much to his chagrin, I think) he's not going out on patrol, and is relatively safe within the confines of the FOB. So he's not getting shot at regularly, like so many of the troops are. But it is a low grade, kind of background noise, that wears on me--his being gone. Not for too much longer though.

So, while I might bitch, whine and complain about how tough things are for me, I do it with complete awareness that, in a twisted sort of way, I'm actually expressing my gratitude that my life is so very, very full of wonderful abundance. Really need to figure out how to just express the gratitude and *get over* the grumbling.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Operational or Support

I found myself in a few conversations this last week centered on how to define an operational unit. Well, the question being asked was actually how to define support, but it turned out in order to do that, we had to define what operational was. I had a couple of partners in crime during these new office-mate, Master Chief Hooligan (should really ask his permission to talk about him before mentioning his name, hence the moniker), a Maritime Enforcement-type and CDR B, a Sector Prevention-type.

One point I stumbled on along the way was the importance of this definition. The XO had stopped in The Body Shop (colloquialism for my office), probably to task me or MC, and got sucked into the conversation briefly. I was going on about why we were talking about the definition of operational in the first place, and got a skeptical look when I said that at this point it was more a theological discussion. I started to backtrack a little, but quickly realized that it really *is* almost theological, more than philosophical. How we define operational within our organization is sacred. It is fundamental to the  daily function of the Service and is really a key component of the glue that cements together all our disparate missions. It is how a Boatswain's Mate working buoys on the Mississippi River near Kentucky can share a sense of purpose with a pilot patrolling for drug runners in the middle of the Eastern Pacific Ocean can share a sense of purpose with a Marine Inspector in Boston Harbor, climbing around the bilges in a commercial bulk carrier.

The discussion went in predictable directions, of course. We used the "Operational Distinguishing Device" litmus test...though that one had a few problems for me: how did I get an "O" for my time at the D14 Command Center, but my MKC and FS2 on MAUI didn't? Well, I mean, I know how that happened, and it definitely informed the a ridiculous outlyer. It was two different commands, obviously. And if I had to go back and change it -- make it make more sense -- I'd give up the "O" device from the Command Center and give it to the MKC and FS2. But the argument against them receiving the device was that they provided a support function on the ship. Read: They didn't do boardings. They only ran the boat deck crane, responded as part of the repair party in case of an emergency, handled lines and ran the focs'le or fantail during Special Sea Detail...nothing *all that* "operational" (really hoping the sarcasm is coming through here). Hell, neither did *I* as the CO, but I still got another "O" for that tour. Does Command and Control make a job operational? Maybe so...maybe that's why I got the device at the Command Center. Really, with the CC, though, I was just the different from a phone talker, passing communications from the leadership on the bridge to the operators on the flight deck. And I am still offended on behalf of my MKC and FS2 that they were not considered operational.

I think that line of argument originally came from discussions on larger cutters, WHECs/378s, where it was called into question if the Storekeepers (SKs - supply clerks), Yeomen (YNs), Health Service Technicians (HSs - corpsmen) and probably Food Service Specialists (FSs - cooks) were really operational, or more of a support function for operations underway. Again, they (typically) were not doing boardings. But, at least when I was on HAMILTON and BOUTWELL, they were phone talkers, tie downs, and part of the repair locker for flight ops and general emergencies, line handlers and line heavers during underway replenishments, and quarterdeck watchstanders, with guns, ready to defend the ship in ports, foreign and domestic against any threat...sounds pretty operational to me. Just because nothing happened that they had to react to, doesn't mean they weren't ready to react (if that was the case, most folks at MSSTs likely wouldn't deserve "O" devices, since they are in place to react to possible threats...but do their job so well that those threats very rarely manifest. How do you prove a negative again?). Well, and then there's that whole thing of, I don't know, just *being underway,* away from family, home, normal life.

So, it's more than just the "O" device. MC Hooligan, in typical MC fashion, attempted to simplify the definition to an easily understandable quantity. He said, If you have the possibility of being cold and wet, in the middle of the night, you're operational. I added that there has to be a level of associated risk, maybe of not coming back unscathed. This, then encompasses Marine Inspectors, Vessel Boarding and Security Teams (VBSTs) and probably the entire Incident Management division at Sectors. Most Sectors (I won't risk saying *all* Sectors, because I've been told, "you've seen one've seen one Sector (instead of "you've seen one Sector, you've seen them all")) have Response, Prevention and Logistics Departments. The Response and Prevention Departments are the operational side of things...boardings, inspections, pollution investigation and clean-up, all those good things where people are exposed to bad weather, risky situations, dangerous conditions. The Logistics Department supports those functions.

I'm almost ready to suggest an "Operational" point get so many points for being in uncomfortable situations: cold and wet, hot, sweaty and dehydrating (think off the coast of Panama), dirty and grimy (scrambling through bilges and engineering spaces); so many points for being in life-threatening situations (climbing the jacobs ladder to do an off shore boarding, going onboard an unknown vessel of any kind); so many points for being away from home (underway for two months, two weeks or, hell, even two days, or on a 2 days on-2 days off schedule at a station); so many points for busting your circadian rhythm all to hell (mid-night SAR cases, offshore boardings by the VBST that started out scheduled for 2200, but that get pushed back 'til 0200 because the ship being boarding is running a little behind PIM (path of intended movement...when you expect to be where underway), and do I even have to give an example from being underway on a cutter?); so many points for every time you have to do a GAR model risk analysis during the course of your day (my record for a day underway was probably around 15); so many points get the gist of it.

But all that really does is prove that "Operational" is a spectrum...different things add to a person's operational-ness, depending on the unit they're at, the type of job they are assigned to do, the collateral duties they have. Someone will *always* be able to find that outlying example that goes against the general rule/guidance.

And it's funny the stated, unstated and unstate-able biases we each brought to the table during the course of our discussions. In the end, as a Program Reviewer, I had to concede that Sectors are, in fact, operational. As a cutterman, I'm not sure I'll ever get there. Just like I'm not sure I'll ever understand the justification of ACIP (Aviation Career Incentive Pay...ugh, don't get me started). Or fatigue standards for boat stations. I will always honor and respect the importance and contributions of other career paths...while reveling in the knowledge that *I* have the **coolest** job as a cutterman :)