Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

First and most important, Merry Christmas to everyone underway, standing the watch, and otherwise on duty this morning! Y'all rock...thank you for taking the watch to keep the rest of us safe and secure!

I, however, am not one of those people on watch this year. I'm on leave, soaking up the sunny Southern California days at my sister's house. We don't have many hard and fast Christmas traditions in our family. Over the years, we've been so spread out that year-to-year everything is a little different. When Mom was alive, she insisted on playing Santa, handing out presents from under whatever was serving as our Christmas tree. We had to wait until each person was done opening their present before the next person could start. I'm sure, as a kid, this drove me *crazy!* But it definitely helps prolong the moment of everyone's joy, as we all get to ooh and aah appropriately over each gift.

Speaking of presents -- good gawd is there pressure to find *exactly* the right thing! It shows you know the person well, you're caring enough to get something they want, and in my family, there has always been a weird dynamic between extravagance and thrift, which I think comes from not having a lot of extra money when my sister and I were young.

I've usually been pretty good with gifts. I'm sure there have been some years where I failed spectacularly miserably (please, family and friends, no need to remind me of these!). But on the whole, I try really hard to make my gifts thoughtful, meaningful, helpful, useful and fun. And if they don't cost a lot of money, all the better! These are qualities I value in the gifts I receive.

I gotta say, this year, I slam dunked it :)

Spoiler alert: Dad, Steve and Jan, and Linda -- don't read any further if you don't want to know what you're getting from me! Dad, your's and Sandee's is in the mail; Steve and Jan, I still have some tweaking to do on yours, so I'll bring it down next time I visit or have it ready if y'all come up; and Linda, umm, well, here's the thing...I still have to finish yours, so ditto the delivery note to Steve and Jan :)

I had all these DCU's (desert camouflage uniforms) from when I was on MAUI/at PATFORSWA that were taking up space in my closet, see. I can't recycle them at the thrift store; they're still in good shape; can't just throw them out.  So I started trying to figure out good ways to re-purpose them. Looking on Etsy, I saw some folks doing really creative work with old uniforms, like Emily at Emily's Custom Bags. She totally deserves the $50+ she gets for making her gorgeous bags out of what are otherwise useless rags.

But, frankly, I wanted something a little simpler (oh yeah, and I had procrastinated, and didn't think it was fair to ask her to make eight bags in 12 days on top of all her other orders). And I can be crafty if I wanna. So one evening, I broke out one of the blouses from the closet and started going to town with the seam ripper, deconstructing the shirt. I felt kinda like a butcher, wanting to use all the pig parts, saving them for sausage...I have plans for the collar -- maybe a wrist band with a pocket for running.

I wasn't sure how the bag was going to work exactly, but figured, how hard could it be -- rip a few seams here, sew them back in a slightly different construct. And once I got the system down, actually knew what I wanted to do, it was pretty easy.

Except, my poor sewing machine wasn't quite up to the task. I'd love to be able to say that I used my grandmother's treadle machine to make these gifts, but I broke down earlier this year, and bought an electric machine from Bryan at Brothers Sew & Vac in Silver Spring (great shop, btw -- very helpful and knowledgeable! Total small business charm!!). But I just got the starter model back then, not imagining that I might use it for a project like this. After I nearly destroyed it trying to sew through, idk, like 8 layers of heavy-duty ripstop material, I realized I could keep going with an underpowered machine, get thoroughly frustrated and probably irrevocably break the poor think, or I could admit my mistake and turn it in for an upgrade.

I chose the latter, and went back to Brothers. I got a very nice...probably a little too nice, what with all the extra decorative stitches and nonsense that I'll likely never use, but what the hey...upgrade that made the rest of the work a breeze.

I am happy to report that the bags were a total success with my sister. It took some explaining that these were uniforms that I couldn't wear anymore, and that I had made them myself (she said they looked professionally done!). In a stroke of good luck, she bought some bread for her husband yesterday, so I got to show off the usefulness of having used the sleeves as the sides of the bag, which made them perfect for baguette pockets. The straps are just long enough to get over a shoulder, but not too long where the bag drags on the ground if carried in hand -- didn't plan it that way, it just happened. The pants also turned out well. Definitely a smaller bag, but may be more useful for smaller trips to the store.

It drove me crazy the day I got the bags done, because I totally wanted to brag about them to someone and show them off, but couldn't post them to Facebook without all the recipients seeing them. It was worth the wait. And the work.

Merry Christmas, everybody! May you get all the presents you didn't even know you wanted, but will remind you daily of the people who love you!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Gratitude the Hard Way

I was searching online a while back for a purveyor of *good* news, instead of the death, destruction, greed and inanity offered by many media outlets. I came upon the 21-day Gratitude Challenge, and signed up for their daily emails figuring I might get something in my "Promotions" inbox that was better for my soul than eBay and airline ads. I didn't expect to really pay too much attention, and I was right. However, one of the days' questions really stuck with me; it was something along  the lines of "what are you grateful for in things that annoy, frustrate or challenge you?" (Going back to the actual email, I find the question really was "what inconvenience are you grateful for?" Interesting how my mind morphed it.).

I waste a lot of energy aggravating myself over things that frustrate me, whether it's the jackhat in traffic who speeds up to cut me off at the last possible second before hir lane goes away when they've had 2 miles of notice that it's going to happen, or ooh, better yet, the Very Bad Driver who turns right from the *left* lane directly in front of me while I'm on my bicycle going straight (hate that intersection of West Virginia and New York on the way home!!). Or getting an email at work whining about an uninformed and parochial problem with no hint of any suggestions on how to fix it. Or the kitties (heck, who am I kidding -- I know it's only one kitty, and his name is Harry) gnawing through not one, but two sets of earbuds, and not realizing until I'm headed out the door to work on my bicycle, and have to ride both ways without my usual NPR fix. Or having to pour an almost entire half-gallon of milk down the drain because it has gone sour, because even though I know well and good that I can hardly ever finish a half-gallon of milk before it goes bad, the grocery stores I frequent don't carry quarts of milk, so I'm stuck wasting a lot, or going without. Hmph.

And then there's the bigger stuff that I find frustrating. Like our current federal budget situation (come *on!* politicians -- figure this stuff *out!!* Compromise is not a dirty word) and how that affects the daily grind of my job. Like being single again (very sadly, things didn't work out with the Rocket Scientist; distance, communications styles, emotional needs...I'm not entirely sure which hurdle finally took us out). Like feeling sorry for myself for *anything* when I know there are people very much worse off than I am, like my sister's friend who is herself disabled and unable to work, has a severely autistic child, and whose husband was just diagnosed with brain cancer -- goodness, what personal problems was I hacking on about? Why, oh why do bad things happen to good people?!?

So this particular question in the Gratitude Challenge definitely hits home with me. I want to be more positive and grateful about the big stuff and the little stuff; and I want to do this so I can be happier, and I can have a less negative impact on the people around me. This gets a little woo-woo here, but I believe that the universe reflects back at me what I put out there. So I'd rather send out happy, positive energy instead of negativity, anger, and frustration, both for myself, but also for the good of all of us.

In a happy coincidence, I started reading two books within the last couple of days. One is Leading at the Edge: Leadership Lessons from the Extraordinary Saga of Shackleton's Antarctica Expedition, by Dennis Perkins (yay for Books 24X7!) and The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun, by Gretchen Rubin (yay for eBooks at my library!).

In the Shackleton book, there's a great section on cultivating optimism. Perkins talks about psychologist Martin Seligman who pioneered learned optimism, which is simplified into five concepts and related actions:
A - Adversity: Identify the adversity you have encountered (ex., some jackhole almost hit me on my bicycle commute)
B - Beliefs: Note your thoughts and beliefs about the event - that is, your interpretation (ex., s/he doesn't care about me)
C - Consequences: Recognize the consequences of your belief (ex., I feel insignificant, unimportant and disregarded)
D - Dispute: Dispute the negative belief with a sound argument based on evidence (ex., I have friends and family who care about me, and would be really upset if I got hit by a car)
E - Energy: Generate the energy and feelings needed to overcome the adversity (ex., I don't want to expose myself to the risk of being hit any more than I have to, so I will continue to pay close attention to the road and traffic around me, making myself better able to respond if someone else is not paying such close attention)

That might not be exactly what Perkins and Seligman meant, but hey, if it gets me through DC traffic without losing my mind (or getting arrested for shouting profanities in public), that's good enough for me!

As for the big stuff, I am grateful for my job, even as I bitch and whine about it. It's not just about the people I work with, who are the best of the best. I have been in more than a few meetings with a preponderance of Admirals, where I am the most junior member. And they listen to what I have to say. I am making myself a better leader by learning about the really big picture stuff that drives our organization, so that I can go back to the fleet and help make sense of it out there. I am (hopefully) influencing things in a positive, forward looking manner by the sole means of promoting questions that no one has wanted to face asking before. So, yes, all the frustration and head-desk feelings that happen frequently enough to be discouraging are worth it. And I'm grateful to have this blog/forum with which to remind myself that the fight is totally worthwhile and must go on.

I am grateful to have the personal space to realize that I really like spending time with my friends and family -- and that they love me enough back to have such amazing patience with me for taking so long to figure that out :) I'm also grateful for the personal space to figure out what makes me happy, without the influence of someone else's enthusiasm to sway me. You'd think by 40 I'd have figured that out, but it's still a work in progress, I guess probably because I have changed over the years, and continue to change.

But all this chatter about being happy in the face of adversity makes me wonder, at what point does trying to be positive about something, finding the good in a bad situation, drive me to neglect trying to change whatever the bad situation is? I mean, it's one thing if I can find a way to be more sanguine about annoying drivers, but what about when I do need to take positive action, but I'm too busy trying to be up-beat about whatever it is that I run out of energy to actually *do* something? Is it okay to talk myself into being positive about being in a bad place, instead of trying to do something to get out of that bad place? There has to be a middle road there.

One last note of gratitude the hard way -- I am grateful for being sick today and having to cancel on a 8k race, brunch with fellow military ladies and a later brunch with farm folks, all of which would have been so much fun. But because I had to cancel, I got this post written, and have two *huge!* pots of turkey soup bubbling on the stove. And best of all, I feel absolutely NO guilt for the nap on my couch that I'm about to take!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Headquarters Effect

Sorry no post in was kinda a rough month.

Over the course of my time at Headquarters, I've received some very positive feedback on this blog. Many deep thanks to all the folks who take the time to read it, and especial thanks to the couple of people who have offered such kind words of support, either in emails or comments. And my sincerest apologies that I'm not better at responding more quickly and individually.

One reader said, "As a WG-10 from Maine who has spent more time visiting headquarters than I ever want to again, banging my head against the Head of the "Puzzle Palace," your writing reminds me that "The Agency" is heavily populated by incredibly intelligent, dedicated, well meaning and motivated people...Sometimes while trying to swim up river from the swamp I reside in, I forget that. Thank you for the needed reminder."

And another said, "I don't know what kind of problems you're working on at HQ. And I have no if I would agree with whatever you're fighting for...But from your blog posts, it seems like you really think things through and you actually give a shit. As a deck plate sailor, I don't always see that."

Couple these comments with some of the elitist whining that goes on in my office, and I have to wonder why Headquarters gets such a bad rep. I mean, even I have said that I want this to be my one and only Headquarters tour, and even though part of that is because the real fun is out in the field, part of it because Headquarters is frustrating. Decisions are tough to get, and even when they do get made, there can be so many compromises that the original intent of the initiative, whatever it was, is lost.

But why is this? Coasties, as a whole, are a dang good bunch of people -- hard working, smart, motivated, generous, and concerned about the outcome. Why then, when you put them in Headquarters, does it appear that we founder?

I asked this of one of my peeps from CG-12A. I love having this kind of talk with the -12A (pronounced, "twelve alfa") folks because they so totally get it. CG-12A is the Office of Workforce Forecasting and Analysis -- they're the ones who figure out accession numbers (how many people should go through boot camp, the Academy or OCS), provide end strength forecasts (how many people will there be in the CG in, say, 12 months), determine the advancement/promotion numbers (what the SWE cut-offs are for enlisted, or what the zones and opportunities of selection (OOS) are for officers), and generally make sure that policies under development don't irreparably harm workforce pyramids so that we continue to have a healthy "home-grown" workforce.

They are such a pleasure to work with, understanding the need to look big picture, thinking outside the box, and bringing recommendations or even solutions when they highlight problems or concerns with an initiative. What's not to love?! In some ways, it's part of their job to think big thoughts about the workforce, and they do it with flair and dedication.

So one quiet morning, I met for coffee with my trusted -12A agent (I'm not mentioning names only because I haven't asked permission). T12A2's (Trusted -12A Agent) initial response was that it's part of the bureaucracy (still can't spell that damn word). It's designed that way, similar to how the Constitution was written specifically to slow things down and generate debate within the three segments of government. And having read most of James Q Wilson's Bureaucracy, I can absolutely see the sense of that. The system needs a built in set of checks and balances to make sure that the whole system functions evenly. Without these checks and balances, for a very simplified example, we spend too much time and attention on operations, and maintenance would suffer, eventually negatively impacting operations. Systems of accountability also add to the bureaucracy. Assigning and tracking resources, documenting decisions and execution of decisions, and reporting out on all that, adds people and decision points and (sometimes deeply opaque) processes.

Somehow all this is supposed to make the system work better. I think to a large extent, the concept of bureaucracy does what it is supposed to moderation. But I also think there has been an accretion of bureaucracy, and it's gotten to the point where we're sagging under our own weight. Processes have been added to processes, instead of going back to the original intent and figuring out how to make the whole thing work better. The problem with the wholesale overhaul is that the entire structure (I'm talking CG organizational structure here) would have to be overhauled all at once; doing it piecemeal is a recipe for failure due to the inter-relatedness/-connectedness of everything. And that kind of change is not easy. Or cheap. Or fast. Or simple.

T12A2 and I also talked about the external pressures to which Headquarters is exposed. I think we'd all like to think that our CG leadership knows absolutely what is best for our organization. But our system of government doesn't operate that way. We work for a Department who works for an Administration, but is funded and governed by a legislature. All of whom have, at times, opposing agendas. I'm treading on very treacherous ground here, suggesting that priorities among the different levels of the Administration are not completely aligned, because at the end of the day, we Coasties all serve at the pleasure of the President. However, there should be intense debates and discussions about how the Coast Guard fits into the national security portfolio -- I have to believe that these debates and discussions make us stronger because we subject our organization to serious introspection. Suffice it to say, sometimes we just have to salute our leaders, say, "aye, aye!" with conviction and step out on tasking whether we agree with it or not.

Maybe this next part is related to the internal bureaucracy bit I first mentioned, but I think there's also something to how strictly focused an office is on their own mission that contributes to the Headquarters Effect (T12A2 heard me out on this one, but I'm not sure I completely swayed him). There are some offices that have a requirement to look at the entire organization, like CG-82 or CG-12A, or CG-092 (External Affairs), or CG-095 (Strategic Planning). Other parts of the organization are very focused on whatever their office mission is, like CG-731 (Shore Forces) or CG-45 (Naval Engineering). This second type is the majority of Headquarters, I think in part because we have such a diverse mission set. We have to have specialized policy types to answer all the questions that are inevitably asked about the specifics of that particular mission set.

The difficulty with this organizational specialization is that the individuals involved can get such tunnel vision about their own issue, that they forget they are part of a larger organization with many such issues, and limited resources. I do see a lot of provincial-ism or overly narrow focus at the staff level, but that may be by design. Where we fail is when, at the staff level, we can't get offices to acknowledge that the Coast Guard will not wholesale fail if they don't get every concession they want for a project or initiative.

I think this is part of a larger issue, though. I think those office staff members are motivated by one primary thing that has underlying motivators/factors. They want to get done what their bosses want done (primary thing), so they meet or exceed expectations and get a good OER, civilian eval, or EER (underlying motivator); they assume their bosses are looking out for the overall good of the Coast Guard (underlying factor), because I think at heart, we all want what we do to help, not hurt the Coast Guard. This scenario (if correct) has the potential to allow inconsistencies and falsities to creep in in a couple of different places. The translation of what the staffs think their bosses want done is kind of like the old game "telephone." What gets said on one end can be unrecognizably mangled by the time it comes out the other end. Their boss's perception of what is good for the Coast Guard may be slightly off from senior leadership's, or more likely, still tightly focused on their world of work, ignoring the greater overall needs of the service. And maybe, in the rare case, the individual isn't motivated by their evaluation report because they simply don't care any more -- I think this is the exception rather than the rule.

I hope all this makes some sense. After reading through this, I sort of feel like I'm talking in code, and it makes sense to me because I understand what I'm trying to say, but it might be impenetrable to someone who hasn't ever experienced Headquarters. I would encourage any and all Coasties to accept a tour at Headquarters, if only to understand how it works.

I also encourage Every.Single.Coastie to read the message board. All of it. There is lots of information put out in ALCOASTS, and other message types that explains what is going on at Headquarters. Each of these messages goes through a pretty hardy review process, from various offices that have interests/stakes in the message. The words are important in many cases, specifically chosen to convey what leadership wants members to hear. I heard a statistic that only 10 percent of the Service is actually exposed to the information in these messages, and that *absolutely* is the fault of each and every one of us for not seeking out explanations that may be available. Ignorance is a piss-poor basis for bitching; a much stronger foundation for complaint is knowledge of the facts.

I'm curious about how the insights I've gained while at Headquarters will affect me once I get back to the fleet; will it make me more patient with the messaging and tasking and requirements? Or more frustrated that the pointy end of the spear is being intentionally dulled by shortsighted decisions from an air-conditioned office building? I hope it's the first, but I can't wait to find out. Max of eight months and counting!

Happy Veterans' Day, y'all!! Many thanks to all those who have served and who are still serving!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The New Digs

One of these days I'm going to write a post that is timely and not have to say, this happened weeks ago and I procrastinated so long that now what I'm saying just isn't as relevant as it once was. But that's not today.

We moved to the new St Elizabeths campus, Douglas A. Munro Coast Guard Headquarters Building last month. Our first day in the new space was 11 Aug 13, after months, no *years* of hearing and talking about the first new Coast Guard-specific Headquarters building we've ever had, built just for us.
The best view on campus -- overlooking the Anacostia River
The move itself was fairly uneventful -- though I do remember a certain amount of elitist whining about the movers being in our way during the week that preceded our move date. In our defense, though, we were trying to actually build the FY 2015 OMB-stage budget for submission to DHS on the 14th of August. Like get the verbiage and formatting and numbers and tables right for like a dozen different appropriations (I'm somewhere close in that number). So things were already a little tense for CG-82. We joked about it, and went frantically  back to work.

According to the move schedule, we had to be out of our spaces at Transpoint by 1600 on Thursday, and we had Friday off. I teleworked, declining to participate in the chaos that I knew would be the temporary worksite arranged to accommodate CG-82's aggressive worklist.

Showing up at St Es on Monday was some weird combination of the first day at a new school and moving household goods. CG-8 was assigned to the second increment, so we were the second bunch of people in the new building. CG-1 had moved over the week before (which has been *really* nice for me because all my programs were immediately available in the new building and I knew who to ask for all the good gouge about where stuff was and how it worked). I took nearly the most indirect, but most obvious route to get from the parking garage to my new cubicle that first morning (I have since refined by route to one that is completely inobvious, but super convenient  -- gotta love the freight elevators!).

The exterior Ceremonial entrance courtyard
The inconveniences I remember from that first week seem like stories from a vague and distant land now. The water from the taps hadn't tested as potable yet, primarily due to the building having been under construction and not occupied yet. Bottled water was provided, but it prevented the little cafe in the building from providing anything but pre-prepared sandwiches and packaged snacks for food. At least there was coffee available the second week -- CG-1 had to suffer through no coffee (ADM Neptun's comment was something about "the perils of pioneering"...tee hee). The sections of hard pasteboard that were put out on the carpets for transporting the moving crates were loud...people walking up and down the passageway was a cacophony. Every single entry point had a different requirement for entry -- or maybe it was every single security guard had their own standard for allowing access. Some glanced at IDs, some wanted to touch them, some made you try the electronic gate system first and then wanted to look at the ID too, and some barely grunted as you passed by.

The cafeteria, still in early stages -- now there's outdoor seating :)
The building is a maze. There is no other way to describe it; every floor has a different layout; only one elevator goes from the top floor to the bottom; the numbering of the floors starts at the Ground level (G) and goes *down* to Lower Level 9 (LL9), so you have to go down to go up, and up to go down; staircases are nearly impossible to find, and some don't let you back into the building proper, just into mechanical spaces; some of the doors to get outside aren't full access, an alarm goes off if you use them; and that first week, a lot of the access doors to the exterior courtyards were locked, so I walked around the courtyards for twenty minutes looking for an alternate way back to my office, only to have to go back to the same door I came out.

I'm not really sure how that FY15 budget got put together -- I suspect it was due to the very very very hard work and dedication of the Coordinator and one key analyst. By that time, all my stuff was pretty much done, and I was just standing by to help however I could. Regardless, not much got done besides the budget build that week, and even that was done begrudgingly. We were all too busy exploring our new home.
View of one of the interior courtyards -- the shade structures are on LL5
 And explore we did. I remember at least two long walks with fellow Reviewers dedicated to wandering most of the levels to check things out (yes, including the Commandant's Office --couldn't help it).  We walked out onto one of the grass-topped roofs and found a great spot for a barbeque set up. We cracked jokes about how the metal in the water feature in the LL6 courtyard may have been cropped out steel from a cutter, except it was *****WAAAAAY***** too thick, and not nearly pitted enough. We tramped along the entire length of the LL1 boardwalk that fronts the catchment pond, and wondered when the morale paddleboat races would start. Yeah -- not that much got done that week.

But it was somehow very exhausting anyway. I left the first couple of days by 1730, feeling like I had put in an 18-hour day. I think it was just the newness of everything...even figuring out where to change into uniform wasn't as simple as it used to be anymore. I used to wait until MC stepped out, close the door to my office, and be done with it. The new cubes don't allow nearly that much privacy. Now I have to make sure I've got all the requisite parts and pieces and make my way to the changing room down the hall or the restroom. At least I can multi-task if I change in the restroom :)

Things have settled down quite a bit now, and will continue to normalize as time goes on, programs come over from the other buildings, and amenities start up at the new one. My biggest dilemma right now is dry-cleaning. I'm out of clean uniforms for next week, and just dropped two off at the local dry-cleaners in town yesterday. I didn't have a chance last week (it felt like I bounced from crisis to crisis with not a minute to spare) to look for the temporary dry-cleaner's location in the new building...which really is pathetic on my part, since it's even on the same floor as we are. Once I get back into the dry-cleaning routine, one uniform in, one uniform out, I will have crossed a major hurdle in the move.

I'm still getting used to working in a cube farm. I didn't realize how spoiled we were, with our own offices. Sound is somewhat dampened in the larger space, but I can still hear distinct conversations from at least seven other Reviewers if they're talking in their cubes. And it's much easier to interrupt and distract people. It's just a pop of the head over the cube, instead of walking past their office door. I'm trying to use IM a little more effectively, so they can ignore me for the moment if they want to. The "gopher city" effect is definite cause for hilarity call someone's name from a little ways away, and 9 times out of 10, if they're at their desk, they'll pop their head up above the cube wall, just like a gopher emerging out of their hole. The stand-up desks add to that effect, but I have become quite attached to mine.

I rearranged my cube twice before I feel like I got it right. Within the first five minutes of being in our new cubes, MC and I had taken out one panel of the cube wall between us, so we could sit at our desks and still talk to each other. Definitely a configuration management faux pas, but critical to coordinating work in the Body Shop. I tried putting my computer on the stand-up desk, but that meant my back was to the cube entrance which was a little awkward. Now, my computer is facing MC's cube, and my phone is on the stand-up desk, which I try to use for phone calls and for things that don't require computer work.

And I don't think I've said it yet, but the new building is just plain *nice.* Natural light, lots of views of green plants through the windows, the courtyards...all of it is such a welcome change from those dark, sick buildings we were in. The inconveniences are minor, and will be part of the landscape soon enough as people find ways to deal with them. I have high hopes that the new building, with its communal feel may help to change some of the culture at Headquarters...but that's a post for next time.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Roller Coaster

I *wish* I was talking about the amusement park kind of roller coaster. It's been a while since I've been to an amusement park, and heaven knows there are a couple of good ones around, and I totally want to go, but I've been lazy about rallying somebody to go with me. Any takers?

No, I'm talking about the emotional roller coaster that was this past week at work. Monday started off reasonably enough, but by noon I had received some stupendously unfortunate news. News that unnecessarily complicated my work-related responsibilities, was based on (IMHO) a supremely poor decision, and for which there is no readily identifiable solution, for a number of reasons. It's an issue that has been brewing for about eight months (that's being its entirety, it's probably been an issue since this time last year). I had written panel sheets, digests, memos, slide decks and emails describing potential courses of action (COAs); and apparently I failed to communicate my position adequately, because such a crappy non-solution was the end result. The best I could say about the whole thing was that at least now I had an answer. I shut my office door to vent to fellow reviewers, stewing about it for a while, then tried to shake it off because I had other work to do.

In the afternoon, I was working on a panel sheet to brief my bosses about a meeting the next day, so they'd be prepared to discuss the issue with knowledge of some critical background information. I reached out to the brief's drafter because I had some questions of my own. And proceeded to get into a 20 minute conversation, bordering on argument, about the importance of spend-down and closing out accounts as close to zero as possible at the end of the fiscal year, and how OMB treats vacancy rates for planning purposes. As cogent and rational, based in fact, as I thought my premises were, I was unable to sway the other party from hir fears about having to brief the Admiral (theoretical Admiral, in this case) about the potential for going ADA (violating the Anti-Deficiency Act -- spending more money than appropriated) in the account. I failed to communicate my position adequately. I shut my office door because I had to pace the length of the office a dozen times to regain some composure, then tried to shake it off because I had other work to do.

'Long about 1900 (yes, I was still in the office...we're trying to build an FY15 budget, people), I subjected myself to another confrontation because of my strongly held beliefs and lack of ability to do anything other than speak my mind. Even to an O-6. Heated words were exchanged. I ended up saying, "Aye, sir" a lot. And even though had back-up from another Reviewer this time, I felt like I failed to communicate my position adequately. I shut my office door to change so I could go home. I was done being beat for the day; the other work I had to do would still be there tomorrow.

On the ride home (thank goodness I had ridden my bike that day -- the National's game traffic would have been the Last Straw if I had been in my car), I reviewed the day, wallowing in the crappiness of the whole thing. And I realized,  while the decisions related to each of these issues are very important, no one was going to directly die because of them. No boat crewman was going to be pitched into the water from the small boat, to be run over by the ship's screws; no person in the water was not not going to be spotted by the lookout and rescued after 11 hours in the ocean; no flight deck crew was going to be sliced in two by the spinning blades of a hovering helo; no engineer was going to be sprayed with fuel oil and engulfed in flames in an engine room fire. It's good to put things into perspective.

Tuesday started with a better attitude and I jumped right in. Until the first meeting of the day, at which point, a little bit of office logistical news was inadvertently leaked before its proper time. I got spun up about the rationale behind the decision, feeding off the righteous indignation of the other Reviewers and shutting the office door numerous times to rail against life being so damn unfair. Not much work got done that day -- and I don't think it was just because the movers were packing up our spaces for the pending move to St E's, trying their very best not to get too much in our way.

But there was 1700 meeting to plan high level strategy about a Very Important Decision, to which I was invited. I don't always get invited to these kinds of meetings -- I have niche role, specialized in personnel, and while people are everywhere, these strategy meetings are typically about politics, which is definitely *not* my specialty. And when I have attended these type meetings in the past, I haven't ever said much. This time was different though, for some reason. I had input which the other attendees valued and incorporated into the plan. It was very satisfying...the small victories count.

Wednesday started with the chaos surrounding the move to St E's slowing expanding; yellow bins were everywhere in the office, next to the shred bins, next to the disposal bins. I don't like that moving day feeling, knowing there are a thousand little tasks left to do but not wanting to start on them too soon because you might need something you've already packed. Haha!! I tried to be proactive with my packing, and put the binders from my shelves into crates on Monday -- fifteen minutes later I was digging through the crates in search of my FY13 and FY14 CJs (Congressional Justifications) because I needed to look something up. I brought the CJs home with me on Thursday, in case I needed to reference them while working from home on Friday.

So while the moving day chaos was building momentum and rage, we were still trying to help the FY15 Coordinator get the budget built for submission to the Department next week. Tables and displays and write-ups and object class spreads and personnel counts...for every single appropriation. It is a huge task that takes a lot of time and attention. Each Reviewer is tasked with making sure their program's stuff is done and compiled. I remember the process from last year, and was able to bang through my stuff pretty easily, after a few fits and starts of trying to recall approximately what the end product was supposed to look like. Unfortunately, new Reviewers don't have the benefit of that experience and usually end up frustrated because they don't know exactly what to do. They're usually smart enough to ask one of the seasoned Reviewers what the hell is going on.

Earlier in the week, a new Reviewer asked for my help with trying to wrangle hir program stuff into what the Coordinator needed. I gave hir some general guidance, completely forgetting that this was entirely new to hir. On Wednesday, I asked the Coordinator what s/he needed help with to keep things moving along. S/he asked me to work with the new Reviewer to make sure hir stuff was in the proper format, with the required information. I probably could have avoided the whole situation if I had given better information the first time around. Needless to say, s/he was annoyed at having to go back and redo some work because the expectations weren't clearly stated at the beginning. The whole process is not intuitive, requires detective work, and you've got to know where to look for stuff...heck, you've got to know what you're looking for in the first place. Yet another communication fail on my part. At least I didn't have to close my office door afterwards this time.

At some point during the week, I realized if I didn't just *make* the time to submit my e-resume, the 1 Sep deadline would creep up on me unawares like some little sneaky-sneak, and then I'd be scrambling to get it submitted. So I took a few moments to prioritize the boats one last time. I only put seven ships on my list -- I figure if I can't get one of those seven, I'd like a call from the Detailer to talk about why, and have a conversation about alternatives. I hesitated, hemmed and hawed, wished and washed, and in general procrastinated hitting "submit" for as long as possible on the dang thing. But I finally amassed the gumption to press go, and away it went. Now I wait.

One last piece of major business got taken care of on Wednesday. CG-8 signed a memo I've been working on for a while, with major personnel implications including a direct relation to individuals' lives, political and financial impacts, and kind of the whole future of the Coast Guard-thing going for it. I was very glad to get the project moving. It's not done, not by a long-shot, but it's started. And that's better than when the week started.

Thursday was a blur of packing the last of my stuff, cleaning up common spaces, trekking stuff to the car, with small bursts of actual work getting done at the peripheries. I left at 1550, as the movers were invading to make this move a reality. I wasn't sure what to do with myself, getting home before 1700. I think I actually made dinner that night, instead of just grazing from the fridge.

Next Monday I'll start work in our new St E's offices. I'm excited about it...and more than anything, glad the turmoil of last week is over.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Assignment Year 2014

We've got lots of years in the Coast Guard...calendar years, Assignment Years, fiscal years, promotion years...they all serve their individual purposes, but I'm particularly excited about Assignment Year 2014 (AY 14). Actually, I'm not sure "excited" is really the right word. Nervous, maybe; anticipating, yes; frustrated, maybe a smidge.

An Assignment Year encompasses the whole military personnel assignment timeline, from Personnel Service Command (PSC) kick-off in early summer to actually changing jobs the next summer. The timelines are ever so slightly different when comparing the enlisted and officer corps because of Promotion Year impacts on the officer side -- the enlisted folks tend to get their orders (which means knowing where they're going) two to four months earlier than the officers. And just because I understand from a system perspective *why* that is, doesn't mean I particularly like it very much.

Now, I haven't had an AY like this one in a since 2008, when I was leaving HAMILTON. Even then, I found out super early (Christmas-time!!) where I was going because I had to head to pre-deployment training less than two months later. And the AY before that I didn't take seriously because I didn't expect to receive orders because I would be short-touring from the D14 Command Center. And the AY before that was a no-cost transfer from the WASHINGTON to the D14 CC; figured it was an easy box to check for the Detailer.

Oh, so more scene setting -- Detailers, or Assignment Officers, are the folks at PSC, Officer Personnel Management (OPM) more specifically for me (Enlisted Personnel Management (EPM) for the enlisted side), that actually do the grunt work of figuring out where everybody should go. They have "slates" they have to fill, all the jobs that will be empty the following year that they have to shuffle people into from the list of people available. I've never done it, but it sounds like doing a puzzle, in 3D while underway in a the forward berthing area of a WPB 110 (what we call the "anti-gravity chamber")...with maybe some of the pieces missing...and the picture changing while they're working on it.

The last few transfer seasons for me have been relatively easy. When I left HAMILTON, going to MAUI, I knew I shouldn't have any troubles getting my first choice afterwards. And after KISKA, I knew I had grad school all lined up, deferred so I could take the command opportunity. And after grad school, I knew I'd be somewhere at HQ. Some of the details may have been fuzzy, but not the level of uncertainty I'm facing this go-round.

This AY is different for other reasons too. I'm at the point in my career where I have to start looking at assignment possibilities with some strategic intent. This next job has impacts on the job after it, which will affect the one following...and so on. I haven't really looked at my assignments like that before, instead just kind of bouncing from one thing to the next based on what sounded good right then. Luckily, and probably unwittingly, I made some really good choices. But I guess I realized, or it sunk in, sometime when I was on HAMILTON, that I am a Cutterman. And a Cutterman should be afloat. And for me that means that when my career is over and I'm retiring, it should be from the deck of a ship, not from some land-based office job, no matter how important. So that became my goal -- to retire as CO from a ship. I haven't settled on whether that will be as an O-5, or if I have the where-with-all to shoot for an O-6 command, but at least the concept is sound.

But that means that this next job, coming off a staff tour, has to be operational. I would want it to be anyway. I've been away from the sea for three years already, which is too long. I want to go back afloat -- so for me right now that means an XO on a WMEC, either a 210 or a 270, or OPS on a WMSL (the newest ships in the fleet -- the National Security Cutters). The last conversation I had with the afloat detailer was all about how the O-4 XO slate was one of the most competitive in his portfolio. Lots of highly qualified and dedicated people all jockeying for a limited number of pressure there. And if I get a 210, does that limit my ability to get a 270 CO ride as an O-5? And if I don't get a 270 CO ride, how does that affect my chances of getting an O-6 command? I know what the conventional wisdom is, but I've seen some instances where conventional wisdom didn't explain the whole story.

So I've narrowed it down that far. There are still more choices, though. How do I prioritize the list of probably 15 boats that are open next year? 210s have better homeport locations, 270s have better operational capabilities. I don't have any Atlantic Area experience to speak of, so at least that narrows the field some. And I don't really care for cold weather, so D1 (New England area) will go on the list, but down towards the bottom. I've never done D7 ops, so Florida boats will likely be at the top of the list.

And there are the tours in between. Being in the same place for three whole years so far has given me the taste of stability, and I find that I really like it. It would be particularly divine to find a place to call home for the next few tours until I retire. Unfortunately, a premium is placed on operational diversity for senior officers; homesteading can sound a death knell faster than all but a handful of other things. So there are few places that I can ask for this time and expect even one follow-on tour, never mind two or three or four.

In my quest for a rational means of further prioritizing the list, I've researched other important characteristics of my top candidates. What is their maintenance schedule? Most, if not all, of these boats have been through a mid-life extension project (MEP), so I shouldn't have to mess with that. But they still have regularly scheduled drydocks and docksides, and based on previous experience, I really don't want to give up any more days of being operational than I have to sitting high and dry on blocks in a drydock or at the pier with a gaggle of yard-bird contractors infesting the ship.

And I've looked at who is CO, or slated to be CO. A few of the boats are on a rotational cycle where both the CO and XO change out the same year. What is more distressing: going into the unknown, or knowingly walking into a tough leadership situation? I don't think I know the answer to that one.

That's about the extent of what I care about when it comes to picking where to go. But again, this year is not like other years. All I get from the Rocket Scientist is that he likes Florida. Which is helpful, but definitely places the necessity to make a decision squarely back on my lap...or rather the Detailer's lap.

It's kind of funny in a really frustrating sort of way. For all the worrying and fretting and fake planning and stressing and analyzing and loss of sleep and..., you get the idea, it really doesn't matter where I get assigned. I just want to know where it is so all the rest of things can start falling into place. Looking for a place to live, narrowing the Rocket Scientist's job search to a general locality, and finally, when it gets a little closer, settling on a departure date and report date. All that stuff is still so far off in the future. And in the meantime, I'm stuck on the endless loop of prioritizing and reprioritizing my top five boats...move one to three and two up to one and three to four and five to six.

The shopping list comes out 1 Aug; e-resumes are due 1 Sep. Until then, I can't do anything *but* ponder and plan. And then...wait. Yup, that about sums up AY14.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


I can't figure out why it's so hard to accept freely offered help. And why do I have lingering feelings of guilt and inadequacy for having outsourced three major household chores?

This line of self-examination is the culmination of a series of events and decisions from the last few months. In some ways it all started when I hired Upper Crust Maids to clean my house every other Friday. That was a year ago, and coming home those Fridays after Marta and her helper have been here is *awesome!* But while I pay the company a fairly decent sum for unskilled labor (I have no idea what they get paid), I still try to make sure the house is not a disaster, the dishes are not piled up in the sink from the last four days (like they are now), dirty clothes are actually *in* the laundry basket (instead of tossed towards the general end of the room where the laundry basket sits), and all the junk mail is off various horizontal surfaces and in the recycling bin.

And then there was the debacle with getting my motorcycle license in time for a road trip to Florida for vacation. Now, I fully admit I approached this whole thing with a fundamental flaw to my overall plan: yes, I tried to subvert the system...lie, as it were, because I thought the rules were stupid (side note: this experience did reinforce to me the problems as a leader with picking and choosing which rules to follow -- but that's a topic for another post). I went out to Hawaii in February to take the state's motorcycle safety test (again), so I wouldn't have to play by Maryland's stupid rules. Had a great trip, but forgot to take all the required documentation to prove that I am a US citizen and Hawaii resident. Foiled. So I came back and got my Maryland's learner permit. Now, the only restrictions on a Hawaii's learner's permit are that you can't carry a passenger or ride after dark, which is how I was able to ride across country without a full license. Maryland, however, requires that any rider riding with a learner's permit must ride with a fully licensed rider at all times. You mean...sputter, sputter, huff, huff, that I made it safely across 4,500 miles through this great nation, but now I have to have a *babysitter!?!* Whatevs...

That attitude served all well and good until I went to try taking my road test for the full license. First question they asked was, where is your licensed rider? I fibbed and said, he dropped me off and then left to go do other stuff. I was summarily and unabashedly shot down, told I was disqualified from taking the road test without my licensed rider present. Oh, and I had to have an appointment. Oh. My. Goodness. Absurd.

But reality. I left, frustrated and uncertain how to proceed. I didn't want to make an appointment without having a babysitter lined up, but how could I line up a sitter without being able to tell him/her when I'd need them? Thankfully, I have the *best* officemate in the world, and as I explained my self-imposed quandary to MC Hooligan, he came up with a plan to solve the whole mess. He suggested I make the appointment for the next available slot that didn't conflict with any scheduled meetings at work; he would ride his bike to work that day, and we'd leave from the office to head to the DMV. It worked perfectly...just like clockwork. Though both of us were completely astounded by the depth of requirement for having the licensed rider there...I could either push my bike (not even walk, straddling it) the 50 yards from where it was parked to the start of the test line, or MC could ride it there (visualize 6' 4" MC riding my Nightster..."monkey riding a football" was the phrase he used to describe it). Even after the test, he had to *walk alongside* me from the end of the test area back to a parking space so I could park the bike before going inside to get the actual license. We still shake our heads about it when the subject comes us. But mad, huge, crazy thanks to MC for ...hell, just being himself!

Next was a little situation after a morning workout. I usually ride my bicycle to work three days a week. I try to get to the morning "Phit" class at least once a week, preferably two...which means at least one day of a two-a-day, where I'm riding my bike and going to class on the same day. Nothing too unusual about it. But this one day, we did 100s...100 push-ups, 100 sit ups, 100 squats, burpees, body rows, and I think there may have been one more, but I can't remember. I did ok through the workout. Had to push it kind of hard on the last set of 20 each...probably held my breath more than I should have. I felt a little wobbly on the way out of the gym, but who doesn't after that kind of exertion? Once I was in the shower, though, things started going downhill...nauseous, shaky, sight graying out on the edges of my vision. I managed to finish, but had to go straight to the locker room bench and sit down as soon as I got out. Thankfully there were a couple of other girls in the locker room with me, and I guess I looked horrible enough they knew I was in trouble. One of them asked I wanted her to go get some help. If she hadn't asked that question, I don't think I would have volunteered that I needed help. But because she offered, it was so much easier to say, yes, please. She went running off to medical. Laying down was easier than sitting down, which was easier than standing up. So there I was, laid out on the locker room bench.

The cavalry arrived in the form of a very capable and efficient HS2, armed with a bp cuff and a bottle of oxygen. The other girl was so sweet about getting all my gym gear stowed away in my locker, and handing me clothes so I could make my way down the hall to medical with some shred of dignity. Side note: one of my most *mortifying* moments in Headquarters (so far) -- being wheeled down main pass in a wheel chair because they weren't sure I could walk that far without passing out. I made it safe and sound to medical, where Doc checked me out.

Turns out my blood pressure was super low. Not sure why...they said dehydration, but I usually drink at least 4 20 ounce bottles of water a day, so I have my doubts about that (I was really nervous about it until I talked to my sister who said she started experiencing the same thing at about my age (gotta love getting older). I'm keeping an eye on it, trying to make sure I breathe even in the middle of sit ups and push ups. I ran a really hilly 10k this morning, and felt fine...well, felt great actually.).

Some time while all this other drama was going on, I decided I didn't want to have to find the time on the weekends or in the evenings after work to mow the lawn, a chore I really don't like. I never do a very good job, and that damn string on the weed eater makes me crazy as I try to cut along the chain link fence. There's a guy that a couple of the families in the neighborhood use, and at $30 every 10 days to two weeks...I call it a dag-gone good bargain.

And it took me an entire weekend, like two days of 6 hours a day, sitting out in my front yard weeding the blueberry beds along the front walk, to admit that I needed help with my garden too. An entire *weekend,* and I hadn't even touched the red raspberries, the black raspberries, the grapes or the three raised beds...those critical spring planting hours were dribbling away, lost through my fingers.

Love and Carrots to the rescue! Meredith came out for a garden evaluation, and told me it would be one of the easiest garden set-ups they had, especially since the automatic irrigation was already installed. I signed up for a visit every two weeks, and the garden looks fantastic! One of my particularly pragmatic relatives pointed out that by the end of it, my tomatoes would probably cost $10 each, but heck, I've got a brown thumb, and I still want to call myself a gardener! Oh, vanity! Meredith did jokingly call me "borgie" when I started naming off all the projects I would probably have to hire help for around the house. I took it with the best grace I could...I'm a yuppie. I know it. (hang head)

In the middle of all these manifestations of neediness, the Rocket Scientist and I had a conversation about asking for help (I wish I had written this post when I meant to, two months ago, so that I could have quoted the conversation exactly...Google Hangouts' history doesn't go back that far). The basics of it were that I was frustrated with feeling like I had to ask for help for so much stuff, and it made me feel weak and needy. His response was that asking for help was not about being weak, it was just about not being able to do something by yourself. And if that's how I thought about asking for help, I must think he's the weakest person around (AS IF!!), because he had asked for help with so much stuff lately too (this was right around the time I went down to AL to help him with a yard sale -- lots of junk *gone* traded for $350 cash-- *SCORE!!*). I said I *offered* to help him out with the yard sale. And that offering help is some people's way of showing love and support, not judgement on weakness.

Now, I'm just not sure why that's how I look at *offering* help, but I look at *asking* for help as admitting weakness...seems like a particularly unfair and schizophrenic bifurcation of the help coin. Writing it all out like this has definitely helped me see the flaw in my perceptions. I think I'll always be a little uncomfortable about asking for help, which is probably for the best. It helps me find that right balance between being independent and capable, and being a contributing part of a community, able to both give and receive.

Monday, April 22, 2013


Something I've been pondering lately is what makes someone smart. I say it lots, that I'm working with some of the smartest people I've ever met before, but what does that really mean? Is it being witty? Well-read? Good data recall? Plain ol' hard work? Lots of technical knowledge? A big vocabulary? The ability to think brand new thoughts? Or put old ideas into a new order?

And I guess this is partly me trying to come to grips with being part of the -82 legacy...I don't think I'm particularly smart. I know I don't mind working hard (though two weeks straight of at least 11-hour days is eroding a bit of my enthusiasm...I have *no idea* how the folks back in Aft Steering or some of the other reviewers do it. They're there when I get to the office a few minutes after 0700, and still there when I leave 11-12 hours later.). I know I can multi-task. I know I can process complexities. I know I communicate well (as long as I can use cuss-words liberally)...which really means I know I listen more than I talk -- though I'm pretty sure some Programs would vehemently disagree about my self-proclaimed lack of verbosity. And I can extemporize with a certain amount of skill, as long as I have a decent sense of whatever subject on which I am pontificating.

But I don't think I'm particularly good at developing new ideas or putting together old ones in new ways. I'm not very good at analysis -- knowing what questions to ask to learn more about something...I don't know what I don't know. I tend to accept things at face value, even when there is an obvious question begging to be asked. I like to simplify things, break them down into little pieces, even when that degrades nuances. And I have my biases...too numerous to mention here; but those small-minded little assumptions that are the foundation upon which I build all my thoughts and perceptions.

So all this has led me to the question of what makes smart? Looking at the other people in the office who definitely personify the smartness of the office, I'm gonna boil smart down to three basic qualities: people skills, technical abilities or knowledge, and common sense. In our office at least, people skills manifest as wit: a sharp running commentary, witty repartee, quick comebacks and hilarious quotes that are logged, voted on and memorialized on members' departing plaques. While I think wit is indicative of the ability to quickly process information, make subtle connections from seemingly disparate bits of data, it also shows a keen ability to read people and know what might tickle their funny bone, or touch their hearts, or fire them up.

MC Hooligan has *mad* people skills -- I don't know which came first, the people skills or the 20-some-odd years as a state trooper in the Northeast. But he has an amazing ability to pick up very subtle cues, understand motivations, sense anomalies, and connect with all kinds of people. We talked about the people skills aspect of smart late last week. Our conclusion was that people skills are grounded in a genuine interest in people, concern for their welfare and desire to make connections and understand the human condition. Without that authentic-ness, a person in some way. But that genuine-ness can  go a long way towards compensating for social awkwardness (or, in my case, lack of social grace). It was a great discussion; I'll have more excerpts from it a little further along in this post.

Technical abilities and/or knowledge is the book smarts that some people just seem born with. Book smarts can be learned, I think, with enough effort, dedication and time studying, but I think it just comes naturally to some people. While there is a component of data recall to this aspect, what I'm really talking about is the deep internalizing of that information so that it becomes a basic component of how people think.

And common sense is, well, umm, kinda hard to actually pin down. Maybe, an ability to apply the rules of a generally accepted reality to any situation. Or maybe it's a foundational acceptance of the adage, "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Or when something sounds ridiculous, it usually is. I don't do you explain common sense?

So we've got these three components of smart. In all his wisdom, MC Hooligan made this make sense too: the strongest of any shape is a triangle; and the strongest triangle is an equilateral triangle with all sides equal. Our three smart qualities make the triangle, and the smartest people, or maybe the most successful people have each of the strengths in equal, or nearly equal, abundance. I like the simplicity of it.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Catching Up

Here's what's been going on since early March:
-- Sequestration went into effect. There were lots of external Qs (questions) to answer.
-- I finally caved and got my Maryland motorcycle learner's permit on the way to getting a real, legit license. It hurt to give up my Hawaii license, but it was due entirely to my lack of looking at the identification requirements before going to Oahu. `
-- A major workforce management decision memo was signed. Pretty sure that I'll be working on responding to questions about that here within the next few weeks. 
-- Congress passed an FY 2013 appropriation for DHS...not just a CR (Continuing Resolution). There are mechanical differences for how accounts are managed between the two.
-- My cousin, her boyfriend and my *sister* came to visit! Yay!! They had planned separate visits, but ended up here on the same weekend which was awesomely cool to get to hang out with all of them. My sister and I walked miles and miles on the Mall. In a stunning oversight of awareness, we ended up on the Mall the day of the International Kite Festival that was part of the Cherry Blossom Festival. It was crowded, but so cool to see all the kites free and easy in the breeze. We were still too early for the cherry blossoms though.
-- The FY 2014 President's Budget was released. The Qs have been coming fast and furious for the last few days, and will likely continue to do so for the near future.
-- I dropped my lawnmower and weed eater off at the appliance repair place for a pre-summer tune up nearly a month ago. I've stopped by a couple of times now to pick it up. The first time it wasn't ready (they were waiting on carburetor kits); the second time they were closed for a medical emergency. I really hope I can get the tools back soon...the weeds are starting to get outta control.
-- We're working on a  fast-approaching deadline for submission to DHS for FY 2015. I've got a couple of items for which I am responsible. No pressure...we're just talking $50 million to $70 million. No biggie.
-- One of my immediate family members is going through some health issues. It's scary and there's nothing I can do right now to help. There might not be anything I'm ever able to do to help.
-- The first round of departures have started from our office. JZ headed out late last month. He is missed. New folks won't start showing up until mid-June. We have some gaps in the office. We're managing.
-- I got a bunch new gear for The Old Man, getting ready for a road trip to Florida in May. The Old Man has a new windshield, new saddle bags, a new *seat pad!*, and I got a new helmet. And my friend/neighbor, Molly, got me my Hawaii license plates!! Yay...and thank you, thank you, thank you, Mols!!!
-- The personnel ladder chart was finalized for FY 2014 roll-out. It includes a technical footnote required by some assumptions we made about FY 2013 that were proven wrong by the FY 2013 Enacted Appropriation. Apparently, the footnote made things very confusing. Guess what -- the dang thing is confusing to begin with!! The footnote at least points readers in the right direction to be able to figure out what happened. Harumph.
-- I'm trying to kick processed foods and refined sugars. The refined sugars are kicking my ass. Donuts, Easter candy, *jelly beans* (I love jelly beans), Cadbury creme eggs, cookies, brownies, ice hard to resist. I had one day last week where I didn't eat any refined sugar. Just one day. I'll keep trying.
-- Spring has sprung...finally! I was getting really tired of riding my bicycle in to work with so many layers on I could barely move, and still feel like my lungs were burning from the cold. So very very nice to ride with shorts and a t-shirt on!

Here's what I haven't done: write. Not one word outside of work. I mean, at work, I write every day...long, obnoxiously explanatory emails, talking points, OERs, awards, edits...all kinds of stuff. But that's not for me. Obviously, it's shown in the fact that I haven't posted for six weeks. But it's Very Difficult to write in this forum about what I'm doing now. The pre-decisional side is only one small piece. 

The larger, harder piece is that I don't necessarily always agree with leadership decisions. While I don't have much refined sensitivities about Coast Guard, internal Headquarters politics, I am just barely savvy enough to understand that whining about decisions made by senior leadership will not enhance my career, and depending upon how egregious the whining is, could be detrimental. I like my career. I don't want to end it prematurely in that particular fashion.

Now, on the other hand, there have been a few decisions recently that I think are stupendously inspiring and support whole-heartedly. They are decisions that show vision, and understanding of organizational needs in a changing world. Just the stuff that I think we need much much more of right now. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

One Year

I've been in CG-821 for a year now. Or just over a year, since I've been pondering this post for about a month now. It's interesting for me to compare what I think I know now with what I didn't know when I started.

First of all, the learning curve associated with this job has been astounding. In previous jobs, I was used to the overwhelmed, just keeping my head above water feeling for about the first two months, but then it would gradually ease until about four months into the job, I'd have a handle on it. Even OPS on the WHEC-378 didn't take but about four months to figure out. This job, though -- whew...I'm just now to the point, maybe since about December, where I feel like I have a good enough sense of things to suggest I know what I'm doing. Which is *NOT* to say I know everything I need to know. But I usually know enough to answer the question...though I still say, "I don't know" a *lot!*

Second, there are gawd-damned ZOMBIES!! in this job! I'll work on something, complete it, turn it in, file it away...and it pops up three days, three weeks, three *months* later and I'm trying to kill the damn thing again! Thank heavens for an encrypted hard-drive which stores all my deleted, sent and saved emails. Though I really gotta figure out and fix that warning that pops up about archiving files not completing soon...not all my emails are there, and I can't search them easily because the "archiving is not complete." Archives, encryptions, zombies??? I thought I worked in a dang office!

Third, it's all about the assumptions. I cannot *tell* you how many hours I have wasted chasing numbers for DHS- or administration-required reports. And all because I wasn't smart enough to ask about the beginning assumptions that went into the numbers: Is it FTE or FTP? OE-funded? Or all discretionary appropriations? Does it include Yard and Reimbursable billets? OCO billets? Actual, enacted, President's Budget, or HAC/SAC Marks? But there is very most definitely a terrific sense of accomplishment when I get the numbers to *MATCH!* When my ladder chart matches the waterfall matches the congressional justification -- victory is MINE!!

Fourth, this stuff is complicated. I don't know why it's so complicated. The best answer I've been able to come up with is, it's a bureaucracy -- that's just the way it is. It's especially aggravating when I ask what I think is going to be a simple question, like who owns a billet? and I find out I'm not even asking the right question. I think part of this is just because everything is so interrelated. There are very few cases where there is a single "owner" of a billet. There are stakeholders in billets -- multiple interested parties whose world of work is impacted when that billet is touched -- changed, deleted, upgraded, downgraded, vacated, or filled. But part of the complication, is that we *make* it so complicated. Personnel policies, internal processes, external requirements, statutes, regulations are all constructs we as a society and organization have imposed upon ourselves. Not saying we don't need some of that guidance, but lordy it sure does add extra effort.

Fifth, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN EASY BUTTON!! It is very rare indeed to find a circumstance that the easy solution is the right solution. Because these things are so damn complicated, the easy button invariably ignores a major component of the issue or problem. I was at a meeting discussing a particular initiative quite a few months ago. The program offered up a suggestion, let's eliminate these 17 things. I asked, how many of those things are there in total? Program answered: 17. REALLY?!? *That's* your answer?!? So rather than going through and figuring out what we as an organization actually *need,* we'll just get rid of something because it's a convenient number?!  Not just *NO!,* but **HELL NO!!**

Hmmm...apparently, I'm still fired up about that.

Second and third order effects are important, which also limit the "easy button" answers. I spend a lot of my time thinking about the linkages, the systems that surround issues I'm working on. How one thing affects another affects the whole affects something else...I wish I had a good example that wasn't "pre-decisional" or "budget sensitive" to illustrate. Suffice it to say, the personnel issues we're working with do not exist in a vacuum.

Sixth, having the right people in the room is *imperative.* I really need to understand general detail (gen det -- not GD... though I do use that acronym for it when I'm particularly peeved), which is a personnel management tool that helps ensure military billets stay filled even when individuals are on extended leave, medical holds, at school, etc. But like everything else, it is complicated. So I decided the best way to understand gen det was to get all the smart people who know the different pieces of it in one room (away from Transpoint and Jemal, our two HQ buildings, so that we can think straight) and hash through what we do know, what we don't know and what we really need to know. I scheduled the meeting once, twice, three times...(hopefully it actually happens this Tuesday), but the last time I rescheduled I waffled. One of the key, like key, primary, most important attendees had a family emergency come up and he couldn't be there. I thought about going forward with it, but then realized, it wouldn't do me much good to sit around a room with a bunch of people who, though they might be smart in their own work, didn't have the information I needed and discuss what we thought about something we didn't know much about. I think the same thing goes for having the right people in the room to make decisions.

Seventh, making the sausage, or even being able to watch the sausage being made, sucks. It can be disheartening, disappointing, frustrating, and generally soul-sucking. But somehow, for me it's still better to know which sacrificial lamb's toe-clippings are in the sausage and at least participate by sweeping up the little bits left on the floor than to be force-fed the final product without knowing anything about it. Maybe, just maybe my efforts will help keep the fat, cholesterol and sodium levels more reasonable.

Eighth, I work with the best people in the Coast Guard. As a group, and individually, the folks in CG-82 are wicked smart, incredibly witty, super helpful, and always great to be around. We bitch and whine an awful lot, about how various and sundry things about our jobs are obnoxiously crappy, but it is fantastic to work with and around a bunch of people that just plain *get it.* And I have the best roommate possible anywhere, ever!

This time next year, I'll be working on my departure OER, transferring responsibilities to the next sap...I mean Body Shop Reviewer, planning pre-arrival training and moves. But for now, I think most days I'm still satisfied with what I'm doing...and looking forward to the next lesson.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Glory Days

I got a wild hair on Saturday and started to organize my e-photos. I think the way it really happened was that I went digging through a desk drawer trying to find a electronic thingamabobby cord and got totally fed up with the disaster that was my desk. So, out came all the random cds and cords and thingamabobbies and I spent the morning sorting them. The process was somewhat complicated by the fact that when I cleaned out Mom's house last year, I just dumped all her desk junk drawers straight into mine, thinking, oh, one day I'll get to that.

Saturday was that day, I guess.

But combo that organizing fest with hearing some of the guys at work get ready to transfer back to ships in the next few months, and I got a little nostalgic. I posted plenty of photos from my time on KISKA (and am *truly* appreciative of the crew's collective patience with having their pictures splashed across the web). But I've got lotsa pictures from the other ships I was on also. So here's my little trip down memory lane...oh the glory days -- I am *so* looking forward to Summer '14!

Local grocery, Petropavlask-Kamchotsky, Russia
My first "official" patrol on BOUTWELL was a D17 patrol that included a trip to Petropavlask-Kamchotky, Russia. It was March or April...and *cold!* I remember taking hours to Med-moor (e.g. Mediterranean moor -- backing in with the transom flush to the pier, with both anchors out to keep the bow from swinging; kinda like backing into a parking space), and the vodka, and the empty grocery shelves, and the beautiful furs the fashionista women wore (and they were all fashionistas).

Geting work done despite the weather, Petropavlask-Kamchotsky, Russia
It was my first foreign port call ever (I can't legitimately count Kodiak and Dutch Harbor -- as fascinating as they are -- still US soil). We had to wear SDBs when we went out in town, so we stuck out like sore thumbs. But all the locals just wanted to talk and were very friendly. I had a few words of Russian left over from the two years I took in high school and college, and really just succeeded in confusing the sweet woman who stopped to help give us directions to the local bank so we could change money.

Lenin's statue, Petropavlask-Kamchotsky, Russia

I don't recall how the timeline of that patrol unfolded. But we pulled into Kodiak a coupla times, Dutch Harbor at least once (on a Wednesday, of course...couldn't miss the seafood buffet at the Grand Aleutian). We boarded a bunch of fishing boats. We got a call to assist with a 6'6", 350-pound fisherman who had gone off his meds and was threatening the crew on his boat (I might be combining two or more medevac requests from that patrol, but I remember the helo crews' horrified expressions when it was suggested that they put a mentally unstable giant into their helicopter...I think we sent Doc over to see what the situation was first). And we were called to respond to the tragic loss of the F/V ARCTIC ROSE that sunk quickly in the early morning hours of 2 Apr 2001. All 15 crewmembers onboard were lost. I don't remember how long BOUTWELL searched; all we found was the bag to a survival suit.

And then we got our asses *handed to us* in a spring storm typical of the Bering Sea. I try my best not to exaggerate the conditions that night, but I know we logged 60 knot sustained winds (which means they were actually gusting up to 80 knots -- considered hurricane strength anywhere else) and 45 foot waves. I stood the mid-watch with Bos'n Rick Arsenault. I lasted a couple of hours, standing on the bridge, where the height of eye is approximately 55 feet, and looking *UP* at the crests of some of the waves as we crashed along at three knots, just trying to maintain our heading so we wouldn't turn broadside-to the seas. I was *terrified.* I finally told Rick that I was not getting anything at all out of standing the watch, other than terrorizing the crap out of myself. He was generous enough to let me go below for the remaining hour of my watch, to lie in my rack, wondering if the ship was going to bash itself apart on the water.
Yawn...just another gorgeous u/w sunset in the Eastern Pacific

I've spent some time lately thinking about that night. The storm was worst during the mid-watch and 4-8s. Just by the happenstance of the schedule, Bos'n and OPS (then LCDR Maury McFadden) had those two watches. And thank goodness they did. They were the most experienced shipdrivers we had onboard, other than the CAPT and XO.

One of my greatest fears when I went to be OPS on HAMILTON was spawned from that night on BOUTWELL, knowing that the crew would expect that level of competence from me...and also knowing that I had asked to lay below instead of face the fury of the sea that night. In my defense, I had been on BOUTWELL a sum total of five months, nearly to the day, at that time, and was barely able to find my way from my stateroom to the wardroom without getting lost. I was still in the throes of hating being underway.
Green deck -- HH65 cleared for landing

But this all goes to the discussion of "proficiency" that we've been talking a lot about in the office recently. Am I more proficient today than I was the night of that storm? Heck, yes! Am I fully proficient? No, I don't think I am. I still have lots to learn, more skills to hone (skills that have sadly atrophied over the last two and a half years), fears to overcome and experience to gain. Am I safe to sail? I think I am. I know enough about how the systems work (even if I might be hazy on some of the details -- I still think of the gyro as a magic black box), I have confidence in my crew and my ability to read them, I have a sense of my limitations.

Static refuel -- HH65 on deck
How much proficiency is enough? And what does the right *kind* of proficiency have to do with things? I have flight deck experience, TAO experience and patrol boat experience. CO, XO, OPS. Eastern Pacific counternarcotics experience; Hawaii fisheries and SAR experience; and joint/DOD interoperability experience. I *don't* have 210' experience, or migrant experience, or D7/Caribbean experience...all of which is what I want to gain in my next assignment. Life (and by my logic, proficiency) is a journey, not a final stamp of arrival. IMHO.

Go-fast booty, BOUTWELL/HAMILTON Hitron patrol
I included the picture of the fueling team for the HH65 just so I could tell about the baked potato (the guy in the silver exposure suit holding the fire extinguisher) and the grapes (the fueling team in the purple jerseys). The tie downs (the kids that ran out to strap the helo to the deck before anything else is done) are known as blueberries because they were blue jerseys. I love sailor humor :)

I did three patrols on BOUTWELL: the ALPAT described above, the 9/11 patrol which is a story in and of itself, and a joint patrol with HAMILTON which was the debut of HITRON in the Eastern Pacific.

 It was an exciting patrol, replete with go fasts, gun shoots, contraband watches, port calls, swim calls, fish calls, drills, flight ops -- you know...all the good stuff.

BOUTWELL outboard of HAMILTON, Golfito, Costa Rica
That patrol was late spring, early summer. Tour complete JOs were starting to leave to their next assignments, Ensigns were newly reported. I somehow ended up being the only qualified helicopter control officer (HCO) (or at least the only one who wasn't otherwise tasked as Landing Signal Officer (LSO) or boarding officer (BO)) onboard for at least a good portion of the patrol. The HCO is the liaison between the bridge, led by the Officer of the Deck (OOD) and the flight deck, led by the LSO. I could go look at my old OER to figure out how many flight operations we did that patrol, but I'm not gonna...I just know it was a *lot!* I got really good at saying the take-off and landing spiel. And I was *oh so grateful* when one of the new ensigns got qualified!

I felt a little sorry for the poor town of Golfito. It's a peaceful place, tucked into the eastern side of Golfo Dulce in Costa Rica, and it was overrun by the crews of two 378s for three days. I think we may have drunk a couple of the bars dry that trip.
BOUTWELL and HAMILTON, Isla del Cocos, Costa Rica

At the tail end of the patrol, we somehow (thanks, OPS!! (then LT John Pruitt)) were able to negotiate permission to visit Isla del Coco, a nature preserve governed by Costa Rica, about 300 miles off the coast of the Panamerican isthmus. The small boats ferried crewmembers into shore. We swam with the baby nurse sharks and hiked up into the hills. And then went back to stand the anchor watch so that our shipmates could go ashore for a few hours.

When we got back to Alameda, I was off to my next assignment...XO of WASHINGTON. In Honolulu. But that's a good story for another post. To be continued...

Shipmates at sunset

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Lack of Imagination

It happens more frequently than I'd like to admit, but sometimes I suffer from a debilitating lack of imagination. Seems hardly possible, right? Especially since who would have ever dreamed I would end up where I the middle of a successful *military* career. I mean, that takes nearly a suspension in reality to even conceive of. But no, I really do think I have trouble picturing myself in some situations, and last night my own small-mindedness kept me from an incredible opportunity.

There MC Hooligan and I were, at about 1630 hanging in our office, racing each other to wrap up our respective week-ahead emails to the XO when who should walk in but the XO himself. Usually when the XO comes in, there is a brief moment of suspense until we figure out which one of us he is getting ready to task. But last evening he took a different tact and starting off with "We have a unique opportunity for an O3 or an O4." He went rambling on (which is somewhat unusual for an individual who is normally DIRECT and TO THE POINT) about how CG-82, by way of XXXX, came into a pair of tickets to the Inaugural Ball (!!!!!!) for a Reviewer and their guest. It took me another moment or two to realize he wasn't just in the office with idle gossip about these tickets...he was asking if I wanted the tickets.

Upon this realization, the first words that popped out of my mouth were, "Holy f***!" At which point I think he immediately regretted asking me.

I quickly said yes, and went flying off on flights of fancy about the Rocket Scientist coming up for the weekend and going to this spectacularly awesome and historic event in my beautiful ball...go...w...n...oh crap, I probably would have to go in uniform. Which I don't have, never before being in receipt of an invitation to an event which required Dinner Dress Blues. I thought briefly about the possibility of borrowing a set from the one person I reckoned might have them, not initially considering the fact that she is 5'9" and probably two cup sizes bigger than me (there is only so much even a good tailor can do). So I reluctantly turned the tickets down, suggesting to the XO that he should probably look for someone else who was better prepared with a full O4 seabag.

The ironic kick in the head came about 45 minutes later when I found out that one of the other women in the office has a set of DDBs that she said would likely fit me. I went back to the XO to check if the tickets were still available; he had already given them to someone else...who was in the process of finding DDBs because she didn't have any either.

I think I fell victim to the confines of my own self-image. I couldn't think big enough to imagine myself at such a fancy soiree. I get stuck in thinking of myself as a mostly uncouth, socially graceless sailor. I pigeon-hole myself, assume I can't break out of my mold. Which is kinda funnily ironic given how much I tout my ability to face a challenge as one of my defining characteristics.

I remember a little scene from when I was about 8 or 9; I was trying to teach myself how to hock a lougie (is that how it's spelled?). I thought at the time it was one of the coolest things a kid could do. There I was, out in the parking lot of our townhouse complex, trying to spit. I must have just eaten a piece of cherry or cinnamon flavored candy, because my spit was coming out pink. My sister and I were waiting by our car, getting ready to go somewhere with Mom, and Vicki was so thoroughly disgusted with my totally disgusting behavior. She told Mom I was spitting, and I got in trouble. Yes, it was totally gross, but just recently I was out with Vicki somewhere, and hocked a big ol' nasty ball of snot out of my throat, and then apologized sincerely for my abjectly rude action. Vicki said she was a little jealous, she had never learned how to do that, and wasn't it a useful thing to be able to do sometimes. This from the woman who reads Miss Manners (my sincerest apologies again, Sis, for sharing such a base little anecdote).

But that's the paradigm (ugh) I'm comfortable in. I can clean up my act when I have to...which I *certainly* would have done for the Inaugural Ball! but it's not a natural state of being for me. It takes *effort.*

And as I write this, I realize I didn't just suffer from a lack of imagination...I also suffered from a lack of the universe at large. *So what!* I didn't immediately have the right uniform?!? If I had trusted the universe a little more, what really were the options? The only possible thing that *could* have happened was that I would find all the right bits and pieces to the uniform in time for the ball. With all the women stationed at Headquarters, I am sure someone there, hearing my story, would have lent me what I needed.

Definite *headsmack* moment. Think *BIG!* Dream *BIG!* Don't ever let the little things get in my own way...especially my own small thinking. Lesson learned.