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.

Saturday, January 5, 2013


I don't really do New Year's resolutions. They sound like a nice enough idea, but also seem rather arbitrary to me. Or maybe I'm just lazy, and don't want to make any kind of effort to change my behavior. Whatever the reason, I've never wasted much effort on them.

This year isn't really any different. I haven't made any resolutions. I think of them more as...refocusing of efforts and attention -- areas of my life that I think are important enough to spend time and energy thinking about and doing. So here goes:

Where is my money going? When I first though about this one, I kind of framed it as wanting to pay attention to where stuff is made, and stay away as much as possible from cheap crap made in China. The last two purchases I made for the house at the beginning of December last year were a sewing machine and a hairdryer...both made in China. When I bought each, I thought I needed them, and would use them constantly. I've used the hairdryer twice (I’m not very coordinated with it -- The Rocket Scientist tells me I need to practice more), and just got the sewing machine out of the box today. I don't know that I really did need them, and if I did, if I couldn't have taken the time to look around for quality items that support ideals I value.
When I mentioned this "Refocusing" to my good, crazy-high-speed friend (who will likely one day be either Commandant or in Congress -- or both), she asked what I had against buying goods from China -- as a developing economy, they need the economic demand to continue driving their growth and concomitant progress. And maybe it is provincial and protectionist of me, but I want to support *my* country's economic growth and progress. Call me a Tea Party convert (bahahahahahaaa), but I've pretty much bought into the notion that our country's economic metabolism depends on the slow, steady contributions of mom and pop enterprises. And I can chose to spend my money at big box stores where the dimes will get lost in a corporate oubliette, or I can chose to spend my money in places that will provide direct and immediate support to real people. Yes, I *know* that is an extremely simplified and generalized version of reality, but I see this as part of my thought process, starting with "do I really need XXXX?" and moving on to, "what are my options for where to get XXXX?" and then "who benefits from where I spend my money on XXXX?" is my new starting point for pending purchases. We'll see how this works when I'm looking for more than just random wants like purses and jewelry boxes.

I put this process to the test on Wednesday. I needed milk (ok, maybe need was a little bit of a stretch -- but I get really grumpy when I don't have milk for my tea). I drive right by Aldi and Safeway on my way home. Eastern Market (long-standing farmers' market close to Capitol Hill -- yuppy-town galore, but a foodie's dream) and Glut Food Coop (a throw-back to 1973 when it was opened -- hippy-central, but 5 blocks from my house) were also viable options. I wasn't sure Eastern Market was open as late as I needed, and so, with a slight alteration to my normal route, I stopped by Glut and picked up some milk from a local dairy. Yes, more expensive than half-a-gallon from Aldi, but organic and I could picture the farmer who fed the cows the morning they gave the milk. And spending money at Glut ensures that my neighborhood has a natural food store providing good, whole comestibles to a less-well-off part of town.

What are my daily choices about my health? Ugh. I've been on a work-out and healthy-eating hiatus for a coupla weeks now. The holidays, no settled work schedule with lots of time off with family and friends...I've read all the warnings from women's magazines about how to resist weight gain and backsliding during the holidays -- and I ignored them all in the *grandest* style, since about Halloween! Cookies, candy, cupcakes, pork and mashed potatoes, lots of butter, turkey and stuffing, popcorn, sodas, potato chips and *fritos!!* Over the last two weeks, I have abandoned my smoothies, salads, morning oatmeal, bike rides and runs, workouts of any kind, really. And I'm definitely feeling the results. I feel like a slug. I know I'll get back to it, but it's gonna be a hard slog. I might hafta go cold turkey on cutting sugar out.

The most sensible route is to just be more aware of what I do and how I treat myself. Getting back to the three-mornings-a-week, 7.5-miles-each-way bike-ride-to-work will be a big boost in the right direction. I've found that I can easily ride on Monday and Tuesday, but by Wednesday, I've lost interest in getting up so damn early and going out into the frigid cold morning only to get to work and have to do it all over again on the way home. So I drive on Wednesday and Thursday (which works out well for the office's Fun Run usually scheduled for Thursday mornings) and then bike again on Friday, when I can tell myself, it's just one more day before I can sleep in. Yoga on Sunday mornings at Joe's Movement Emporium up the street from Glut.

But it can't just be about the workout. I have to pay attention to what I'm eating too. Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and beans, no processed crap and oooh, eeek, awww, limited cheese and dairy. (Julia Childs' cooking program just came on the tv behind me -- I don't think her style of baking will really help me much). And it will be interesting with how I resolve my first "Refocusing" with this second "Refocusing." They both take time and attention...searching out good food isn't usually fast.

What can I write about? I am not really happy with my lacksadaisical approach to writing, and in particular to this blog. I used to keep a journal, in addition to writing here, but I have also fallen off of that. I have to remember that I get a lot out of writing like this...thinking about issues bigger than just the daily grind, my place in the grander scheme of things, my emotional and spiritual well-being, and sometimes just darn funny things that pop into my little pea-brain. And writing things down helps get them out of my head. I have a really bad habit of allowing the hamsters to race and race and race and race around on their wheel without making any attempt to quiet their frantic but completely unproductive efforts. The process of writing and journaling gives those poor rodents a break.

However, I am not going to make any rash and binding promises about how much I will write. I'll keep my goal of a blog post every week or two, but don't want to feel like I should beat myself up if I go, idk, a month!! or more!!! without blogging. But I darn well better have at least cracked my journal open!

All of these redirections require more time commitments compared to how I spent my time last year. Unfortunately, I can't make more time, so something will have to give. Maybe less time on trashy fiction novels. Maybe less time on bitching about work. Maybe less time on waiting around for stuff to happen. There are a few things that I won't allow to suffer however...time with friends (including the two newest additions to my house -- Ringo and Lucy, brother and sister mono-chromatic kitties from the DC pound), work (sad to say in some ways, but I take pride in doing what I do and doing it well (or so I tell myself) that I'm not willing to half-ass my efforts there), and the house, especially once spring comes and I can get back into the yard and garden.

Happy New Year, all! May your “Refocusings” be long-lived and productive for you this year :)