Sunday, December 21, 2014

Random Bits, December 2014

I haven't had any major, timely ideas for posts that easily write themselves. What  I have had is a bunch of little random thoughts that with significant time for reflection and excessive wordiness might turn into something worthwhile. In an ideal world, I would emulate Seth Godin, and post these little thoughts as they come up, and not require them to be three-page, fully explored treatises (treatae?) before posting them. Here are a few for now:

Time: CDR Randall is really good about giving timely and regular feedback. Our daily conversations usually have a performance dimension woven in about once a week to 10 days. He gives suggestions about how I could approach a challenge in a different way, or provides another way of thinking about an issue, or simply tells me I'm doing a fine job. He did have an observation for me last week, which definitely stuck with me, and has given me something to work on. He commented that, while I turn things around quickly, sometimes I move them through too fast and miss stuff. It's not usually big stuff, but there's enough volume that tells me I need to pay more attention. 

I'll never forget my first exposure to an XO's primary responsibility as gatekeeper for quality work. I was XO on WASHINGTON, and (now) CDR Steve Adler was my CO. We were going through MLC compliance checklists, and I had tasked out development of some required bills. MLC had templates on their website, so all our Department Head had to do was tailor the template to our ship and local situation. Unfortunately, there were lots of tailoring s/he missed, but as I looked through it, I figured well, s/he's senior enough to know what s/he's doing, so I'll just send it up as is. 


Cap'n was *not* happy. It was one of the (thankfully) few times I have been counselled on my own poor performance in the Coast Guard. Steve made it a relatively positive experience (i.e., he didn't yell), but I could tell how deeply disappointed and frustrated he was that he even had to talk about this very fundamental tenet to his XO. 

From that little counseling session, I try to make sure whatever passes through my hands (or inbox) does not have spelling, formatting, grammar mistakes, or outdated organizational information including reference manuals, organizational structure, or policies, and applies some level of common sense and is consistent throughout. Whew. I didn't realize until I wrote it all out how much I actually do when I review something. 

I said I try. Because when I have a stacks of folders that seem to breed in my inbox, sometimes I feel like I just have to *get through* them so that I can get to the next big or several small items on my to-do list. Because almost *everything* goes through the XO. Page 7s (even the routine ones for qualifications (and non-qualifications)), A school requests, purchase requests, memos, waivers, draft instructions and Cutter Organizational Manual (COM) updates, message traffic, every.single personnel evaluation, and on and on. 

I know it sounds like I'm complaining. I'm really not. I swear. I'm simply acknowledging that a lot of information passes across my desk and providing quality review TAKES TIME. And time is a precious commodity. It is finite. No matter how hard I try, I cannot make more of it, so I have to make what I do have count. Especially since I don't want to spend my entire day stuck in front of my computer. There are lots of other equally important things for me to do, like walk around and talk and *listen* to people and *look* at the ship and all her spaces and *think* about how to make things better. And eat...let's not forget to eat :)

In writing all this out, the conclusion I'm being drawn to is that I need to be more mindful of my time. Like most people, I get easily distracted by my technology. So I need to turn off the little pop-up box that flashes when a new email comes in. I need to not jump away from what I'm doing every time my cell phone buzzes in my pocket with a new email. I really should leave my personal cell in my purse so I'm not chat-texting with friends throughout the day (though that does have it's own benefits of reminding me that I'm not *just* an XO -- I'm a Real Person, with Real Friends). 

But even though it would probably increase my productivity, I simply cannot bring myself to shut my stateroom door, even after the workday, so I don't get interrupted every 5 minutes by someone needing something from me. Because if whoever it is cannot find me, or feels awkward in knocking on my door, I have effectively slowed their progress...and one of my (other) XO tenets is to give people the tools/resources they need to do their job, and then get out of their way. Making myself inaccessible directly undermines that progress.

So there's a balance to acknowledge between productive and effective. 


People not onboard: We've had a lot of people on leave these last few weeks. I am grateful that our inport is long enough for people to finally get some down time and delighted they are taking the opportunity to spend time with their families and loved ones. Even though it means they're not on the ship. Because the ship is different when individuals are gone. It's not just that there is more room on the messdeck for people to sit at tables during all-hands musters or training or lunch, or that someone is not available for a question, or a task may have to wait a few days until someone gets back.

It's more that everyone contributes their individuality to the overall personality of the ship, so when someone isn't there, the boat is a little different...even when it's someone who is mostly an introvert is gone. I think that may be one of the things I quietly like a lot about being underway -- our ship has all her peeps and is so much more...I don't know...*whole* because of it. Right now, I feel some gaps. They're good gaps, mostly (see the second sentence in the paragraph above), but they're gaps all the same.


Risk acceptance: CDR Randall recently shared a truth about that I think I knew, but hadn't yet vocalized: What *we* teach our JOs and junior enlisted *now* about risk and risk acceptance will be the Coast Guard's future level of risk tolerance. As much as I've railed about how I think the Coast Guard culture is moving towards being more and more risk averse, this thought puts the responsibility of where we go back squarely in my lap. 

Our JOs think it's perfectly normal to transit the Cape Fear River after dark. We've only had one transit since I've been onboard that has been completed in full day light. Our crew thinks it's perfectly normal to conduct unrestricted BECCEs (basic engineering casualty control exercises where we could potentially lose ship's power) while we have a boarding team out on a boarding. Our crew thinks it's perfectly normal to have members of the public onboard everyday for tours since we moor up in downtown Wilmington and are imminently more accessible to the general public than any other Coast Guard unit I know...even if it means that when the downtown bars shut down at 2 am, their duty nights might get a little more exciting than they really want. All of these DILI norms are slightly more risk tolerant than other units I've been on. In fairness, we took different risks at other units, but those were generally on a case-by-case basis...not something that was incorporated into our normal operating procedures.

Of all the lessons I've learned so far onboard DILIGENCE, I think the thoughtful pursuit of the acceptance of risk is one of the most important, deeply resonant and organizationally important things I could ever internalize. CDR Randall does not accept risk willy-nilly. He acknowledges it, trains his crew to recognize and overcome it and then sails on through it. 

A tangent thought about risk: mediocrity is antithetical to the safe acceptance of risk. We have to be *Good* at what we do to safely accept the level of risk we do. Which takes time to train and pay attention to details and get all the maintenance done and train some more.Time...did I mention time?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

DILIGENCE's 50th Anniversary

DILIGENCE was originally commissioned on August 26, 1964, so she turned 50 this summer. CDR Randall wanted a celebration that former crewmembers would want to come to and that truly honored the hard work, dedication and well, diligence of all her crews over the last six decades.

Unfortunately, DILIGENCE was still in drydock on the actual anniversary of her commissioning, so before I reported to the ship, it was decided to have all the celebration events on Veterans Day weekend, when we were pretty sure we'd be in homeport. This worked out wonderfully because it really highlighted honoring of all the veterans that had been on the ship and gave us more opportunity to talk about how it was the efforts of all the crews, all along the ship's service life that have left the ship in such great

Here's the schedule of events from that weekend:
Front Street Brewery supports DILI!

Friday, 7 Nov: Front Street Brewery tapped three special DILIGENCE 50th Anniversary kegs at 11:30 am. At 5 pm a bunch of folks from DILI, SMILAX and BAYBERRY all showed up for a toast, graciously given by EMCS Del Castillo, one of CDR Randall's good friends. The company was better than the actual beer, but then again, I don't particularly like sour ales.

Saturday, 8 Nov: The 4th Annual DILIGolf charity tournament was held at Magnolia Greens golf course and sponsored by the Wilmington Navy League; proceeds benefited Cape Fear Hospice and the Cape Fear Community College Coast Guard Scholarship Fund. We raised over $5,000 due largely to the coordinating efforts of ENS Aaron Corn, FS1 Justin Henkel, DC2 Adam Carignan, SN Rick McCabe from DILIGENCE and LTJG Angel Kwok from Sector North Carolina, along with all the other volunteers and support from the Wilmington Navy League.

Saturday, 8 Nov: The ship was open for tours from 12 pm to 4 pm. I think we actually started giving tours at about 10 am because there were people already lined up. While I hadn't planned to, I hung out at the ship on Saturday, talking to people who were waiting to go on the tours, answering their questions and thanking them for their patience and support. These were our regular tours that we give most days we're inport (sometimes the work schedule doesn't allow us to), that start on the flight deck, go up to the focs'le and then through Upper O's passageway to the bridge and back down again. They take about 15-20 minutes depending on how many questions people ask. We had over 500 people onboard on Saturday.

CGC SMILAX and CGC BAYBERRY also came down to Wilmington to help us celebrate and they were both open for tours as well. SMILAX is the Queen of the Coast Guard fleet as the oldest commissioned cutter in service; she was commissioned in 1944 and is 70 years old. BAYBERRY was commissioned in 1954 and is 60 years old. And of course, DILIGENCE was commissioned in 1964 and is 50 years old...we had over 180 years of cutter service on the Wilmington downtown waterfront for our celebratory weekend -- pretty cool!

Saturday, 8 Nov: Wilmington Harbor Enhancement Trust (WHET) sponsored a barbecue for past and current crewmembers, their families, city representatives and sponsors downtown at Cape Fear Community College's Union Station, catered by The Sawmill Restaurant. I finally got my fix of delectable Eastern North Carolina barbecue...vinegar based chopped delicious! I wasn't sure what kind of turn out to expect, so imagine my surprise when I showed up and found the 500-person capacity room nearly packed! We had nametags out for folks so we'd all know who each other was. We also had a guest book for people to sign, so we'd know how far people came from. We had a "memory box" for people to write down snippets and sea stories from their time onboard DILI; we'll compile those after a few months so we can capture some more of the history of the ship.

DILIGENCE underway on her latest patrol
We also had a row of tables with six decades of DILI memorabilia. Former crewmembers and COs had shared their photo albums and news paper clippings from their time on the ship. There were pictures from the original commissioning in 1964 in Miami, FL and plankowner certificates from the very first crew. There were pictures from the search and rescue case of the M/V CUNARD AMBASSADOR  in the mid-1970's when the ship caught fire, and DILI responded to help fight the fire and rescue more than 300 people onboard. There were pictures from a structural test fire of the 3" gun in the late 1970s. There was a picture of a very young Jimmy Buffett in a DILIGENCE ball cap, and the accompanying Rolling Stones cover of the very same picture. There were pictures from the 1980s of marijuana busts with the crew plunging their hands into the bales of pot for the camera -- many of them had some amazingly robust beards. There were some great photo albums of DILI's change of homeport to Wilmington in 1992. And there were patrol videos showing in the background from the 2000's. (I tried to add some of these scanned pix, but unfortunately couldn't figure out how to get a .pdf to attach in the blog, or how to save the .pdf in another format -- hmph.)

Crewmembers spelling out "50" on the flight deck
I mingled a little at the dinner, talking to as many former crew as I could. My very favorite story from the whole weekend was the two engineers (and I feel awful that I can't remember their names!) who served onboard from 1965-1968. They were best of friends down in the engine room, but hadn't seen each other in the intervening 47 years. Their wives and other family members were there with them, and they had such a great time reminiscing and getting back in touch after so long.

It was also very sweet to see the reaction from many of the older women, wives and sisters of the former crewmembers, that were very proud to see a female XO onboard DILI. I think it made them feel like their efforts and hardships many, many years ago had paid off huge dividends because opportunities exist now that they didn't have. So ladies, thanks so much for all your work and suffering through those unfortunate social standards, the changing of which have allowed me to enjoy such a fantastic career!

We also had the former COs and single plankowner in the crowd speak for a few moments. CAPT Andy Cascardi (1992-1994), CAPT Dennis Inhat (1994-1996),  and CAPT Ed Daniels (2001-2003) all shared some great stories and thoughts from their time onboard. And CAPT PJ Kies was the only plankowner able to attend, but he also had some wonderful memories from the very early days of the ship.

Sunday, 9 Nov: We opened the ship for "enhanced tours" from 12 pm to 5 pm. The enhanced tours had nine stations with crewmembers ready to talk about the particulars of that station. I don't remember all the stations, but there was someone at the 25 mm to talk about the armament (flak jackets and helmets were out for the kids to try on), someone at the small boat dressed out in LE gear to talk about boat operations and more law enforcement, someone on the flightdeck with gumbie suits that the kids could race to put on, someone on the fantail with the P-100 pump to talk about damage control, someone in OPS and Deck berthing areas to talk about the living quarters onboard, someone in the engine room to talk about engineering details, someone in the galley talking about cooking for 75 people at a time, and someone on the bridge to talk about navigation and help the kids to use the alidade to shoot a bearing (if I was really on my game, I'd be mentioning specific crewmember names...shoot.). These tours took about an hour, and we tried to run two or three at a time; the local Girl Scout troop helped us out by taking tour goers from station to station. We had over 1,000 people onboard for tours on Sunday. BAYBERRY and SMILAX also continued their tours.

Sunday, 9 Nov: No-host Cuttermans' Call at Bourbon St bar just up the hill from DILIGENCE. I didn't stay for very long, but we had a pretty good turn out. I left before the sea stories got too outrageous.

DILIGENCE on 11 Nov 2014 during the 50th Anniversary Ceremony
Tuesday, 11 Nov: This was the actual ceremony. Representative Mike McIntyre (NC, 7th District), City of Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo and New Hanover County Commission Vice President Beth Dawson all made remarks. CDR Randall also spoke and presented commemorative DILIGENCE 50th Anniversary challenge coins to each of the former COs and CAPT Kies, Plankowner. We had great weather, and standing room only. It was a nice, simple ceremony. I just felt bad for the tallest member of the color guard detail who lost his cover coming under the tent. There was nothing he could do about except carry on, which he did with dignity and honor.

Throughout the entire week preceeding the events, CDR Randall gave half a dozen or more interviews to local media. All the local news stations came down at one time or another, including a few live spots on WECT, the local NBC affiliate early on Friday morning. It felt like a full-on media blitz.

So all in all, it was a chaotically busy week, making sure all the details were ready and covered. I definitely felt a little like my hair was on fire. But here's the absolute truth -- it was All Entirely Worth It! The former crewmembers had nothing but complimentary things to say about the ship and the crew. I mean, I know we have a great crew, but to have such enthusiastic and unwaveringly positive feedback from so many people was a solid validation of what I know to be true. And I really hope some of that spilled over for the crew to hear, not just from CDR Randall and me, but from the former crewmembers themselves. Over the years all these crews have all worked so very hard to keep this ship in good shape after 50 years. It was refreshing to hear so many people say it has paid off.

Thursday, October 30, 2014


DILIGENCE's Commanding Officer, CDR Jeff Randall has used basically the same command philosophy on all three of the ships he has commanded. With permission, it follows here:

While I have the privilege of serving as your Commanding Officer, I will ask you to live by the following three themes. These themes are the foundation for all we do and will ensure that we execute all missions to the best of our abilities. These themes are:

Take the Initiative - Recognize and take action to do what needs to be done. Learn and know your role and perform assigned duties to the best of your ability to the betterment of yourself, your shipmates and DILIGENCE.

Operate as a Team - Be a team player. Rely upon and respect your shipmates. Working as a team ensures that we can accomplish our missions effectively, efficiently and safely. Everyone and everything we do contributes to mission execution.

Execute the Mission - The success of DILIGENCE is measured by the public, our supervisors and our peers by how well we execute our assigned missions. By taking initiative and operating as a team, we position ourselves to put forward our best effort. The public and the Coast Guard expect this of us on a daily basis.

These central leadership themes will guide my leadership decisions while I have the opportunity and privilege to serve as your Commanding Officer. I challenge and expect you to live by these themes during your service aboard DILIGENCE.

Semper Paratus,
Jeffrey K. Randall
Commander, U. S. Coast Guard
Commanding Officer

Nothing earth-shatteringly radical about it, but well spoken, simple, to the point and comprehensive. And most important, it works for CDR Randall.

We've been having some discussions onboard about taking the initiative -- what that looks like, how to instill initiative in junior members, how it fits into the bigger picture both for the ship and for members individually.

I can look back and identify when I was first introduced to the idea of initiative. It was at Larriland Farm, my first real job, starting at 14. I first worked in the market, stocking shelves and answering customer questions. One of my boss, Lynn's pet peeves was having people standing around shooting the breeze, starring off into space, or otherwise not engaged in something productive. She used to do (and probably still does) the math that if 12 people stood around the market yakking to each other for only 5 minutes, she had effectively lost an hour's worth of productive work. So she constantly was on us to make continual rounds of the market shelves to see what needed to be stocked and replenished, what work could be done ahead (cleaning and bagging spinach was my *least* favorite, seconded only by cutting fudge or inventorying the 50+ types of jams and jellies), and if all else failed, going to the lower level of the big red barn and reorganizing the chaos down there. If I stayed busy and productive, I didn't get tasked with something less pleasant.

Fast-forward almost 30 years, and those early lessons are still with me. Except now, finding useful things to keep busy with is not as easy as checking to see if I need to pack up more pecks of peaches. And I'm the boss, trying to encourage good habits in junior members that will carry them forward in the decades ahead.

One thing that I think is critical to getting effective proactiveness from people is a common understanding of the bigger picture. Why are we doing what we're doing? Why is it important to get people qualified quickly, or to have charts correctly prepared in advance, or have PMS done on schedule, or get the running rust scrubbed off the hull, or update checklists based on the current operations, or deconflict projects between departments so the cooks aren't trying to make chow at the same time the engineers need to take down potable water for something?

I have to get people to look beyond the immediacy of just being told what to do, and have them understand the **why** of having it done so they can start to anticipate the next step. That's on me. But sometimes (many times) I don't have time to explain everywhich why, I just need stuff to get *done!* and it's even better when it's done without me having to say it needs to get done.

The CO and I have been saying "trust your instinct" regularly, particularly to the junior officers. If something makes you go, "hmmm," or the little hairs stand up on the back of your neck, maybe you should look at it a little more in depth. Because most of the time, there's something worth investigating further. And if nothing else, you might learn something.

Which leads to the follow on advice of "Ask questions." Incessantly. Even if they're stupid or basic questions. Asking questions means that I know you're interested and engaged, thinking ahead and wanting to know more. It shows you care enough to learn additional details and expand your horizons. I have told a couple of the JOs about my experience at CG-821 where I never knew when some tidbit of information I picked up from some random place would come in handy and be useful to a discussion I was having with the program.

Asking questions has helped me to expand my imagination, see the potential in a situation instead of just accepting things the way they are. Find out how something is supposed to work, instead of just accepting the current expediency and work around. I still have some work to do on expanding my imagination, though.

But asking questions is hard when you don't know what you don't know. How do you get the right answer when you don't even know what question to ask? I feel like I have a handle on about 90% of what I need to do, but I still get completely blindsided by about the remaining 10% -- stuff that just comes totally out of the blue that I've never even heard of before...even after 15 years of doing this. (My goal is to get that down to about 2%; it won't ever be zero because that's just the way the bureaucracy works. Policies change, new requirements are made, and the word takes a while to filter down.) But for people new to the organization, the sheer amount of knowledge you're expected to have, and quickly, can be overwhelming. So the asking question advice has to be accompanied by patience from the questionee for seemingly stupid and basic questions. Otherwise how do people learn?

I also see lots of effort expended sometimes with very little effect gained; people spinning their wheels as hard and fast as they possibly can, but getting absolutely nowhere. During a discussion a few mornings ago with the CO, he distilled the following points for me to offer individuals struggling with the effort v. effect dilemma:
1. Have a clearly defined goal. If the effort you are expending does not support that overarching goal, you need to ask yourself why you are expending that effort in the first place.
2. Make sure the defined process transcends your personality. Processes should be self-sustaining and not dependent upon the force of an individual to make sure they are followed. Codify functional processes and revisit existing processes to find more efficiencies.
3. Set and communicate specific expectations. This is tied very closely to having a well-defined and well communicated process. If the expectations are clear and well-known, they are much easier to follow and achieve.
4. Equally important is to hold people to standards of accountability. If you've communicated an expectation, hold people to it. It can be appropriate to make allowances for exigent circumstances and modify deadlines, but do *not* let people off the hook just because they ran across dome difficulties getting a task done. It's the taskee's responsibility to communicate the difficulty, and the tasker's responsibility to help remove the barrier.

But at the end of all this yammering on getting stuff done, if someone's givashitter is broke, it's gonna be hard to coerce any level of initiative from them. And that is a difficult truth for me to accept. I think it's a difficult thing for many cuttermen to accept. You don't sign up for this job if you don't care; it's simply too hard a life. The possibilities for failure are numerous, and the sacrifices are only sparingly outweighed by the opportunities to see and do amazing things.

People chose their own course. I can only make sure the shoal water is clearly marked in blue ink on the chart, teach them how to read the buoy tails to make the current work for them, and give them the checklist for engineering light offs. I can't drive their boat for them. I may however tow them, dragging along kicking and whining...for a short time. At least until they figure out the controls for themselves.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Underway Daily Routine

We had my first Training Board meeting a few days before we got underway, to plan our training for the patrol. The Department Heads were very patient in explaining to me the typical underway training schedule. It went something like this (acronyms explained below; pipes included in the schedule):

0800 - 1000 M/W/F - BECCEs: "Now, commence unrestricted BECCEs. Place all sensitive electronic equipment in standby. Limit phone calls to Main Control."
0800 - 1000ish T/R - DCPO Day and Small Boat training
0800-0930 M/T/W/R/F - Personal development time
0800 Sat - Field Day of common spaces and work areas
0945 M/W/F - DCTT brief
1000 Sat - Materiel Inspection
1015 M/W/F - DCTT drill (doesn't start until 1015 so the midwatch (midnight to 0400 watch) can sleep until 1000 and actually get a couple hours of uninterrupted rest): There's a super long pipe that goes along with setting the training environment so that everybody knows what to do in the event of an actual casualty (v. just a training team imposed casualty), what a safety time out is, and what a training time out is. The end of drill is piped as, "Now, secure from drill. Stow all gear."
1130-1230 everyday - noon meal
1250 T/R/S - Officers' Call: "Now, officers' call, officers' call. Quarters will be held at fair (on the flight deck)/foul (on the messdeck) weather parade."
1300 T/R/S - Quarters: "Now, all hands to quarters."
1315 T/R - LE training
1530 everyday - Sweepers: "Now, knock off ship's work. Sweepers, sweepers, man your brooms. Give the ship a good sweep down. Take all trash to the receptacles on the starboard main deck. Now, sweepers."
1530 everyday - DCPQS training
1645 everyday - evening meal for watch reliefs and 1st Class Petty Officers, "watch reliefs to the head of the line"
1700 everyday - evening meal for all hands
1830 everyday (or at least most days, because I can't seem to remember to take it off the POD (Plan of the Day) even when we're not supposed to have it...and if something is on the POD, it happens...yeah, right!) - OPS Brief
1845 everyday - Evening Reports: "Now, 1845, lay before the mast all evening reports. Departmental representatives muster in the wardroom."

BECCEs: Basic Engineering Casualty Control Exercises, pronounced of my more favorite acronyms, where the Engineering Casualty Control Training Team (ECCTT = ee-set) runs engine room watchstanders through a variety of potential casualties, like a uncontrollable hot bearing or loss of l/o (lube oil) pressure on the NR1 MRG (number 1 (starboard side) main reduction gear))

DCPO: Damage Control Petty Officer

Personal development time: just what it sounds like...if you don't have somewhere else to be with all the training going on, you can use the time to work on something productive, from fitness to watchstanding quals to advancement requirements...sometimes even to sleep if the days have been extra full.

Field Day: Deep cleaning (as opposed to Sweepers)

DCTT: Damage Control Training Team (pronounced de-set), coordinates the damage control training like major flooding, fire or other calamity onboard

Officers' Call: When the Chiefs and Officers have a little powwow to pass information before going out in front of everybody.

Quarters: All hands gatherings; used to pass items of interest to most, if not all hands. Awards/recognitions are typical, as are drill debriefs, where we talk about recent training events.

LE training: Law Enforcement training...gotta keep those Boarding Officers (BOs) and Boarding Team Members (BTMs) proficient and certified.

DCPQS training: Damage Control Personnel Qualification Standard -- how we learn about all the DC tools/systems/equipment we have onboard and how to use them safely and effectively to combat damage to the ship.

Evening Reports: Accountability check, making sure we still have all hands onboard. But, it usually turns into a mini-Department Head meeting with taskers flying around, deconflicting the next day's POD and sharing any other pertinent information that's useful for cross-departmental purposes.

Once the Department Heads ran me through what all was in the training schedule, I kinda looked around and said, well, that should keep us busy. When do we do operations?

Everybody laughed. Of course, I knew the answer -- operations always comes first. If we have a case, that takes precedence over training.

Though I have seen a true commitment on this ship to multi-tasking. We did a couple of fisheries boardings on the way down to our op area, and once the boarding team was away on the small boat, unrestricted BECCEs commenced iaw (in accordance with) the POD. Hadn't seen that before, but it's a realistic else do you know how to combat a casualty when your boarding team is on another boat?

There are lots of other random items thrown in the POD also. Flight ops when we have a helo onboard; Morale Committee meetings; Navigation Briefs the evening before we pull into a port; all hands medical training; lately we've been doing two sets of BECCEs some days, to provide break-in engineers with the opportunities to get qualified at their watchstations; LDAC (Leadership and Diversity Advisory Committee) meetings; and whatever other fun stuff might come up.

Stuffing all these events into the POD makes for some very full days. But we're not underway to sit around playing video games and watching movies! :)

The weeks have been busy since we pulled into port the last time. Lots of chasing "hot intel," and training and meetings and departmental work when the intel turned out to be luke warm at best. We've done one boarding. It took 50 hours. Everyone was a little wore out after that. I was one of the lucky ones that actually got to sleep for a few hours overnight, so my internal clock stayed pretty much on track. The CO, OPS (LCDR Jim Pafford) and the Boarding Officer, ME2 Craig Miller...not so much. All three of them were up for about 30 hours straight. We did our best to swap people out and make sure they had the opportunity to sleep and recover, but there are just some functions that have to be maintained during an operation.

We did a hot wash (debrief/discussion of the pros/cons/lessons learned) a few days later, once everyone had recovered. Comms can always be improved; the teamwork was strong and definitely contributed to the smoothness of the boarding; the plan needed to be more of a work in progress, with specific missions defined at each step that then determined who needed to be involved on the boat being boarded. Some suggestions for additional training were noted. We didn't find anything illegal onboard, but we got permission to turn the boat over to the destination country so they could do a more thorough inspection at the pier once the cargo had been offloaded. Not a total victory, but also not a full defeat.

And in the meantime, people have been getting **QUALIFIED!!** I think the list might be even longer this time! Congratulations to everyone who earned a qualification this leg. You're making the ship more capable with each and every qualification! Here goes the list:

Engineering Type Watches (or at least submitted by EO, LCDR Todd Devries):
Auxiliary Watch Stander: EM2 Tony Bennett
Throttle: ENS Johnny Upton; EMC Walter Evans; MKC Jason Newby; MK1 Bobby Messick; DC1 Jeremy Salinas; MK3 Charles Murray
EOW (Engineering Officer of the Watch -- the highest engineer watch, in charge of all the engineering plant during the watch): EMC Walter Evans; MK1 Bobby Messick; MK2 Matthew Bowman; EM2 Matthew Ferguson
Basic DCPQS: ENS Johnny Upton; ENS John Benedict; BMC Rob Vanlandingham; SK1 Bismarck Miranda; DC1 Jeremy Salinas; FS3 Billy Shuck; FS3 Cody Frizzelle; SN Josh Shawler
Advanced DCPQS: ENS Johnny Upton; ENS Aaron Corn; EMC Walter Evans; MKC Jason Newby; FS3 Cody Frizzelle
On-Scene Leader (manages the attack team during a damage control scenario (fire/flooding/etc)): EMC Walter Evans
Locker Leader (coordinates repair efforts from the Repair Locker (where all the damage control equipment/gear is stored): FSC Mike Eckstrom

Operations Type Watches (submitted by OPS, LCDR Jim Pafford)
Boarding Officer (BO): ME1 Jason Pratt
CIC Watch (Combat Information Center -- where operations are coordinated; OPS spends a lot of time in here): ME1 Jason Pratt
GPOW (Gangway Petty Officer of the Watch -- the person who you'll see at the quarterdeck when we're inport): IT2 Jason Mansfield
Nav Plot (Navigation plotter -- plots the ship's position in restricted waters (<1 christopher="" div="" from="" jozan="" nbsp="" nm="" shoal="" water="">Bearing Taker (shoots bearings using the alidade to help Nav Plot figure out where the ship is based on visual fixes): FS3 Billy Shuck - Bearing-taker

Support Department Watches (submitted by SUPPO, ENS Joe Smith)
SSW (Safety and Security Watchstander -- inport watch that keeps an eye on things by doing rounds throughout the ship every hour): SK1 Bismarck Miranda 
Lee Helm (works the throttles when we're at special sea detail): SK1 Bismarck Miranda
Inport OOD (CO's direct representative while the ship is inport): FSC Mike Eckstrom

Deck Department Quals (submitted by 1LT, ENS John DeCastra)
Aft Steering (ready to take over steering locally at the rudders if something happens to the steering control system; manned during special sea detail): SA Josh Shawler
Boat Crew: BM2 Christopher Jozan
Coxswain: BMC Rob Vanlandingham
Davit Operator (the davit is what allows us to launch the boat from where it usually rests, secure in the cradle): SN Nick Docherty
Helm and Lookout: SA Robert Morse
Master Helm (more precise helm qual, used during special sea detail, or other evolutions where being even one or two degrees off course could be **really** bad): SN Nick Docherty
Needless to say, there are *a lot* more quals this post! Just goes to prove that we're getting salty! 

Friday, October 3, 2014

First Leg Out

It's 2241 on Wednesday, closing down day three underway. We just recovered the small boat after a run into the local small boat station for a pax (passenger) pick up. It's crazy dark out to the east, while the coastal lights brighten the western sky. Clouds are broken enough to glimpse some stars, and there are lightening strikes flashing off all around.

We're all getting back into underway mode, which means endless flexibility to respond to the next planned and unplanned evolution, as well as a comforting amount of respect, compassion and general acknowledgement that we have a lot of people sharing not very much space. It's as simple as people being courteous when passing each other in the (not very wide) main passageway, and making room for each other, or being aware of that person sitting next to the aisle at a table on the messdeck and not getting grouchy when they don't realize someone is there and try to stand up. I know there are squabbles, even if I don't see them -- this many people in this little space, it's inevitable. But the squabbles are contained, overcome and (hopefully) quickly forgotten as the operational pace picks up.

The underway mode also means lots of stuff going on all at once. I'm still adjusting my mindset from my last ships. On a WHEC 378, with a crew of 175 people, multiple things can happen all at once. But on a WPB 110 most evolutions take every person on the ship to accomplish, which limits how many separate and simultaneous actions can take place. The WMEC 210 is somewhere in the middle, with some evolutions taking nearly everyone, especially when there are break-ins (people training in a position), while other evolutions can definitely be done at the same time because different divisions/types of qualifications are required. I'm still working on figuring out which is which.


It's now Saturday late afternoon. The evening meal was just piped for watch reliefs and all E-3 and below. Usually it's for watch reliefs and First Class Petty Officers, but I think the change up for holiday routine is quite appropriate. The Support Department all pitched some help to the cooks tonight, in a traditional Morale Pizza Night. I got hooked on chicken wings during patrols on my last 378 (I used to think wings were disgusting, but Saturday night after Saturday night they couldn't be ignored, and now wings are a fave underway or inport), so I'm looking forward to chow. I think I even recall seeing ice cream on the menu!

We've been underway for about a week now, and have reached our op area (operational area -- where we're going to patrol for the remainder of our time underway this trip). People are starting to get qualified at their new watchstations. Here goes with the list:

Engineer-type quals:
Auxiliary Watch Stander: ENS Johnny Upton, EMC Walter Evans, MKC Jason Newby, MK1 Bobby Messick, DC1 Jeremy Salinas, MK3 Charles Murray
Throttle: DC3 Phillip Wert
Advanced DCPQS: FS3 Christopher Vitale
Basic DCPQS: BM2 Christopher Jozan, OS3 Joseph Sanchez

Operational-type quals:
Boarding Officer: BM2 Christopher Jozan
Quartermaster of the Watch: BM2 Christopher Jozan
Helm/Lookout: SA William Ball, SA Tyler Fields, SA Ronnie Liles 
CIC Watchstander: OS3 Ryan Taylor 
Boarding Teammember: GM1 Jason Brewer U/W OOD: ENS John Decastra

Aviation quals;
Tiedown: SN Nick Docherty, SN Phillip Cook, ET3 Mike Piunno 
Landing Signals Officer: FS1 Justin Henkel 
Helicopter Control Officer: OS2 John Holden

Personal milestones:
BM striker: SNBM Jake Rorabeck

Congratulations to each and every one of you for your accomplishments! Next watch! :)


And now it's well into our first port call. I've never been here before, much to the MPA's dismay. I wish I had been better about typing a little bit each night, even five or ten minutes, cataloguing what happened during the day. From this distance, the week was a complete blur. There were definitely a few highlights.

Swim call on Sunday afternoon -- depth of water over 1200 fathoms (6 ft/fathom = more than 7200 feet to the bottom of the ocean), 80 degree plus water temperature, crystal blue cloudless sky, gentle two foot swell, and the guys trying to catch a football thrown from the water as they jumped off the boat platform.
FY14 close out -- I had my head buried in a budget/spend plan (how ironic) for the majority of the three days before 2359, 30 Sep 14 to make sure we made the best use of our ships funds while not overspending...all over a sketchy to non-existent internet connection = nearly tearing my hair out. But the dedication of SK1 Bismarck Miranda, SK3 Kal Hukkeri and ENS Joe Smith triumphed and we all survived FY14. SK1 said he enjoyed a favorite cigar on the fantail to put the final classy touch on closing out FY14.
Helo ops on yet another cloudless afternoon -- the flight course didn't allow for internet access, so I had no excuse not to be on the bridge for flight ops. I went up completely grumpy and frustrated about the chaos of closeout, but soon lost myself in the absolute cool factor of cruising along in an undisclosed location in the Caribbean watching an unmistakable orange helicopter land on the flight deck. I'm not sure what exactly about it struck me as so distinctively awesome, but after watching a pax xfer (passenger transfer), a number of touch-and-goes, and a hot refuel (refueling the helo with the blades still spinning) I went back down below (after we resumed our internet-friendly course) in a much better frame of mind.
Multiple small boat launchings and recoveries to help with qualifications, a DCPO (damage control petty officer) day so the DCPOs could work on their divisional damage control equipment (battle lanterns and fire extinguishers PMS (preventative maintenance system = sprucing something up before it breaks -- still my least favorite acronym ever!), a Class Alfa fire in laundry caused by excess lint left in the dryer combined with a ruptured fire main pipe and an casualty from electrocution (don't worry, it was a drill!!), FS3 Cody Frizelle's advancement to Third Class Petty Officer, and certainly not least because it's listed last, EO LCDR Todd Devries' promotion to O-4 (at sea, because we're cuttermen and it's just cooler that way)!
There was a bunch of operation stuff in there too -- not like we're out here floating around not doing our assigned mission, but I can't talk about those details due to operational security (OPSEC) concerns. There's no need to make the bad guys' jobs easier by sharing where we are and how we work to thwart their nefarious intentions.

I know there was a bunch of other great work being done throughout the ship, especially as evidenced by the long list above of qualifications earned. Knowing that is a gentle reminder that I need to get out of my stateroom and be more involved in what's going on around me. FY14 closeout is no longer a valid excuse for holing up in front of my computer. Time to get back to learning the ship, learning the new mission, and learning the crew.

Today was one of those days I hope I remember when I'm old and gray, sitting on my front porch rocker telling tales to young whippersnappers about back when I was a sailor. The Chiefs' Mess put together a beach barbeque for the crew. The water was warm, even if the beach was rocky and full of ankle breakers, and the palm trees were picturesque against the azure sky, as long as you could imagine away the chain link fences in the foreground.

The beach really was fantastic for beach combing...all kinds of cool rocks and corals washed up. I spent a good little while picking up pebbles and casting them back into the water once they dried to bring back their brilliant colors. I found three or four pieces of fan coral which are currently soaking in a light bleach solution in my sink.

It wasn't a great day for snorkeling, but a number of the crew went out anyway, braving the rocks to get out beyond the breakers. Much hilarity ensued from those less intrepid souls onshore watching them pick their way back in and get knocked about by the sets. Thankfully only minor scrapes were suffered.

A bunch of the crew come through at regular intervals, each van run picking up a couple of people while dropping off a couple of others. A frisbee was tossed and caught, tossed and missed, and tossed and oh shit!! the iguana is chasing me!! missed.

MKC Jason Newby brought his guitar. Midway through the afternoon, he opened the case, couldn't find his slide, but rocked out some mad blues tunes. Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimmy Hendrix best watch out! MKC Newby In. The. HOUSE!! Nothing like a Garth Brooks' I've Got Friends in Low Places and The Eagles' Take it Easy sing-along with live guitar back up to make an afternoon unforgettable.

There will always be personnel issues, machinery casualties, materiel condition discrepancies and all the other negative hardships to overcome. But there are also moments like this afternoon, watching a bunch of hard working professionals enjoy some down time, knowing I'm even a small part of that august group, that tip the balance on those negativities, and make the hardships of the job completely and utterly bearable.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Drydock Recovery/Patrol Prep

Apparently this isn't going to be as easy as I thought, blogging as an XO. It has nothing to do with the subject matter -- there's **always** plenny to write about. No, it has more to do with actually finding a spare moment to sit down at the laptop and put words on the screen.

In my defense, the last few weeks have been...intense. Insanely busy. Barely controlled chaos. Packed full every. single. day. Where to start?

Last time I blogged, we had just gone back in the water after being on the blocks for just over 10 weeks. That was the Friday before Labor Day. By the time I got back to the ship on the following Wednesday (I made a quick trip down to Wilmington over the weekend to close on my house -- Hale Hikina), the crew and the Yard were in a mad dash to get the ship underway for sea trials. We originally had planned for 12 days in the water prior to sailing, but both the ship and the Yard made a massive push to get us outta there after a  very short seven days. It was a close thing, not knowing until mid-evening the night before that we had met all the CO's requirements to be ready to go.

The crew was fantastically responsive and adaptable. Damage control gear was onloaded and restowed; equipment was tested, repaired, tweaks made, tested again; stores were onloaded and stowed; charts were reviewed; drills were briefed, run and debriefed; checklists were broken out and followed. People were flexible and worked incredibly hard to make it all come together. Needless to say, we had some motivation -- to get home.

We all had big chunks of rust falling off of us (metaphorically speaking -- most of the physical rust was gone from the ship by now, thank goodness), as we prepped to get underway and make the 12 hour transit down the Chesapeake Bay. We didn't do everything perfectly, but we did it well enough to be safe and get where we were going. Along the way, we swung ship, which means we went round and round in circles adjusting the magnetic compass, trying to eliminate deviation that makes the magnetic compass read differently than the gyro compass. We also had the small boat in the water, both to transport Yard workers and the compass guy to and from shore and to do drills and requalify people as boat coxswain and boat crewman. We anchored, exercising both anchors. The starboard anchor gave us a few fits, not wanting to seat itself in the pocket (tuck up into where it usually goes) when we hauled it up; but eventually with some tenacity and creativity from the focs'le crew, they were able to get it haused.

The transit down the Chesapeake Bay was mostly uneventful, though I know the CO and EO were taking phone calls all night long in accordance with (iaw) their Standing Orders to the watch. When asked, CDR Randall (the Commanding Officer -- shame on me for not introducing him before now!) said he got phone calls about every 40 minutes because of shipping traffic. All. Night. Long. Oof. We crossed over the Chesapeake Bay Tunnel at about 0345, I think, and headed out to sea.

The day of transit off the coast was another full day. We ran a main space fire drill, abandon ship drill, man overboard drills, both shipboard and small boat pick up. We left the small boat in the water so they could do more training and continue working on qualifications, while onboard the ship, new conning officers practiced driving the ship and chased after a couple of red cherry fenders tied together as something to aim for. I'm sure there was much more going on in each of the departments as well, but that's what I can remember from a couple of weeks removed.

We pulled into Wilmington on the morning tide. Families were waiting on the pier. Liberty was granted around 1145, after the CO let me have the privilege of reading a Team Commendation Award the EO (Engineer Officer, LT Todd DeVries) had written for the great work the crew had done while at drydock.

Things didn't really slow down once we got back home. The crew got a (very) few days of standdown early in the week, and then we had a couple more workdays. I don't remember what all had to be done, but we don't have long before we leave again on patrol. We fueled, had two deliveries of ammo to onload, stores onload, supplies onload, small boat ops to keep going with getting people trained up, lots and lots of purchasing of stuff (especially since FY14 is winding down -- spend, spend, spend!!!), more equipment testing, receiving and stowing all the goodies we had ordered that came in, DILIGolf tournament planning, DILI 50th Anniversary planning (definitely more on those two events to come), route planning, chart preps, new people reported onboard, some folks left off to A school, inport damage control drills were run, a crane came to help us repair some gear on the mast, a new-to-us small boat was delivered from the boat pool, and I'm getting wore out all over again just remembering how busy we've been. There were some random personnel issues thrown in there as well which helped to keep me occupied in the intervals.

I don't really know where September went. Last time I up and looked around, it was still August, and I was sunning myself on the beach, waiting (unsuccessfully the first time) to close on my house. A lot has happened in the meantime. And more to come over the next few weeks.

Now -- bring me that horizon!

Monday, September 1, 2014


DILIGENCE has been in drydock at the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore since late mid-June. I have what I’d call a tolerance-hate relationship with drydocks…I recognize the fundamental need for the deep maintenance that gets done on the ship, but I have a visceral dislike of actually being in drydock. The ship is torn all to pieces, things don’t work the way they should, the normal routine of either underway or inport is disrupted, there are a bunch of people I don’t know on the ship, and everything is dirty.

Yard workers working to replace wasted metal plating on the hull
I have a theory about all that dirt: normally, a ship is cushioned in the water. Any vibrations from work on one part of the ship are dampened by all the water surrounding the hull. In drydock, since the ship is out of the water, there is no cushioning or dampening, so all the dirt and grime that has built up over the course of 50 years vibrates out when work like needle-gunning or water blasting is done. And those vibrations ripple out in intensity from the site of the work…if work is being done on the focs’le (on the front of the ship), the vibrations will shake out the dirt in aft steering (at the back of the ship), so that you can never really tell where the next mess will come from.

The Palomino look -- primer going on the boat deck
This drydock has focused mainly on shaft work to make sure the shafts will continue to be able to rotate safely in alignment at high rotations per minute (rpms) to turn the propellers and move the ship and hull, freeboard, superstructure and mast preservation where contractors took all the exterior metal (other than the decks) down to bare metal and then primed and repainted everything. There are plenty of other smaller projects that are in progress also, but those two items are the big drivers for how long we’ve been on the blocks.

Besides the work that the Yard is doing, the crew is also cranking out a lot of ship’s force projects. The Tiger Army is a group of voluntolds from each Department that tackle a different project each week, like PPPing (prep, prime paint) the interior fire stations, PPPing a number of interior hatches and doors, removing vestigial degaussing cable from a number of spaces, PPPing some interior bulkheads, and cleaning the galley and getting it ready to reopen.

 Each Department has their own worklist as well: the Engineers have been busy PPPing equipment and pipes in the engine room and throughout the engineering spaces, repairing brackets and guards for equipment including dehumidifiers in the berthing areas to make the living spaces more comfortable and less wet, replacing air handling motors to improve the circulation on the ship, and a bunch of other projects. Many of the Engineers are also inspectors for drydock work items, making sure that the Yard workers and contractors are completing the work to the specifications required by the Coast Guard. You’d think that since we were in a Coast Guard facility, it wouldn’t be an issue. And while the Yard workers do great work, they are human, so our inspectors are a great backstop and are critical to the team work necessary between the ship and the Yard to make sure the work gets done right.

FSC Mike Eckstrom, FS1 Justing Henkel, and BMC Robert Vanlandingham
 on bucket brigade
The Engineers also spearheaded an impromptu, pick-up project that became more reasonable when we had some flooding in CPO (Chief Petty Officer) Berthing. While the hull was being painted, the overboard discharge holes were plugged up so that paint wouldn't get into them. The plugs were left in after the workday. And then it rained. A LOT. The first time it rained overnight, so MKC Terry Tice woke up at 0130 to the disturbing sounds of flowing water within his berthing area. Somehow the deck drains are piped into the same line as the air conditioning units. Since the discharges were plugged, the rain water backed up from the deck drains into the a/c units, and came out in the berthing area. The second time it happened it was during the workday, and we were able to get control of it before the water got too deep. 

MK1 Bobby Messick, FN Josh Evans and FN Marvin Campbell
scrape up carpet goo
Because the carpet got all wet, MPA decided it was the perfect time to rip up the carpet, clean the deck and seal it against some fuel that had been spilled ages ago. The guys did a great job on it, and no diesel fumes linger.

ENS Brent Lane and ET1 Calen Isbell taking me on a tour of the mast
The Operations Department has been doing a ton of different work too. On the bridge, the Navigation Division PPP’ed  bulkheads, joiners and the console, updated navigational charts and are still working on prepping for our next patrol. The OSs (Operations Specialists) and Maritime Enforcement Specialists (MEs) are also prepping for next patrol, updating checklists and references, indoc’ing newly reported personnel into the many security requirements the ship has, and doing their own workspace improvement projects. The Electronics Technicians (ETs) have done a ton of work too, removing some obsolete equipment and installing some new gear…which all has been totally overshadowed by their installation early last week of the DirectTV satellite equipment. Huge morale boost for the crew! And me J I had DIY’s Rehab Addict on in the background for the rest of the week.

The Support Department has been busy supporting everyone else, from buying all the stuff the other departments need to get their work done, working  towards FY14 closeout, taking advantage of being onsite with the CG Yard Clinic to take care of medical readiness items like periodic health assessments (PHAs) to OMSEP (oof, I cannot for the life of me remember what that stands for, but it’s all the work safety type stuff like hearing tests, respirator fit tests, and lead monitoring) to dental appointments and flight physicals to making sure crewmembers’ pay and benefits are squared away, checking in new people and checking out departing members, and getting ready to reopen the galley with a deep clean on the food storage spaces and planning out  an amazing menu for when the galley opens today!!! Biscuits and gravy on Thursday!! Yay!

GPOW in the Quarterdeck shack and
waterjetted superstructure waiting to be painted 
And last but not least, the Deckies have been cranking away at rescue and survival (R&S) system preventative maintenance and ground tackle (the anchors and equipment to work the anchors) PPPing. Deck Department has also contributed a number of members to the Tiger Army since their worklist has been shifted to the end of the yard period because of all the exterior PPPing going on by the Yard. The Boatswain’s Mates (BMs) are also the main inspectors for that work, making sure that the environmental tests were completed each morning so the paint will be solid for years. Too much humidity is bad for the new-fangled paint systems, and can cause massive failures. Paint falling off the hull while the ship is in the water = bad, bad, bad.

Yup, we’ve been busy. Folks have also gotten the opportunity to take some well-deserved leave, attend schools, go TAD on other ships, and get some required training knocked out.
The bright side of drydock -- props shining in the morning sun

I guess looking at all that good stuff that’s gone on during the yard period, I shouldn’t be so down on drydocks! The ship looks awesome and we got a ton of work done while we were here. And the best part is, we're back in the water as of this past Friday. Equipment testing today, fueling tomorrow, and closer every day to getting back underway!

Monday, August 11, 2014


Blog meet DILIGENCE:
I may have jumped the gun a little with my last post, and slacked with providing any context from where the post was coming from...but I was also so excited to have real live, exciting *boat stuff* to write about again! So here's the backstory:

USCGC DILIGENCE (WMEC 616) is a 210 foot medium endurance cutter homeported in Wilmington, NC. She has a crew of about 75-80 members (depending upon whether or not there's an aviation detachment onboard), that is mostly enlisted, with 13 officers onboard. DILIGENCE works for LANT Area (Atlantic Area -- covers, well, the Atlantic coast, from the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean all the way to the Northern Atlantic off of New England), and has done mostly fisheries enforcement patrols for the last year, but also goes south for AMIO (alien migrant interdiction operations) and counter-narcotics patrols. The ship is currently in drydock at the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore, MD (more on that later) to address scheduled maintenance required to keep a 50-year-old ship operational. DILIGENCE was commissioned on August 26, 1964...she really will be 50 years old in just a couple of weeks -- no hyperbole or exaggeration there! Her name is frequently and affectionately shortened to DILI.

XO of DILIGENCE was my first choice of billets upon leaving Headquarters. I knew I needed (and wanted!) to go back afloat after my staff tour, so it was really a matter of prioritizing which ships to ask for, and in what order. I looked at their maintenance schedule (so I willingly went into my sixth drydock with eyes wide open), their patrol history, who the CO was, when s/he was due to rotate, and geographic area before finalizing my list.

DILIGENCE came out on top based highly on her homeport. Wilmington is a super cool town...or so I remembered it as such. I lived in Wilmington before I joined the Coast Guard, having moved there after living in southwestern Virginia for almost a year, trying to make a go of living on someone else's farm and working for an organic farmers' cooperative. It was a good year, and I learned a lot, but there simply weren't many opportunities in Dungannon to earn enough of a living to buy my own farm. So I picked up and kind of randomly moved to Wilmington. I loved the beach, so why not?

I don't really remember having any sense of the Coast Guard before I moved to Wilmington. I mean, I'm sure I heard about it on news stories, like for big rescues or incidents, but I never had any personal exposure to anything Coast Guard. That changed when I got to Wilmington. It wasn't anything dramatic like a rescue at sea, but the Coast Guard has a pretty large presence in the town. I'd see the 47s and the 41s from Station Wrightsville Beach cruising along the beach front, and drove right by Station Oak Island if I ever headed down to Oak Island. There were a couple of prominently place advertising bill boards I would see also. And of course, there was DILIGENCE moored in all her glory *right* downtown. I'm fairly certain that my curiosity was wildly piqued when my boyfriend and I would go downtown for dinner out and we would see the ship there. All that drove me into the Wilmington Recruiting Office to find out what the Coast Guard was all about.


DILIGENCE meet my blog:
I learned a pretty important lesson about this blog when I was on KISKA. Back then, I was writing it, but I wasn't forthright with the crew about it. Not that I lied about it or anything, but I also didn't tell them about it. They were a little um...not quite offended, but maybe had their feelings hurt a little that they had to hear about stories I was telling about them from their friends. The Coast Guard is a small community. Word got back to the crew pretty fast that this blog thing was going on.

So when I decided to keep writing upon my transfer to DILI, I knew I had to be more straightforward in letting the crew know what I was doing. Here's the email I sent out to them:


I started writing a blog about my Coast Guard experiences about five years ago. I offer an explanation of why I write below. The short of it is that I get a lot of professional and personal satisfaction from sharing my CG experiences in this forum.

I plan to keep writing while I'm on DILIGENCE. I offer the following ground rules, based on my respect for you as individuals and professionals, that I will follow:
-- I will respect your privacy and not share details about any personnel issues. I may talk about personnel issues from a general standpoint, as they relate to challenges we face as a ship and I face as a leader.
-- I will not make fun of you. I will strive to describe the humor that keeps us sane throughout crazy days.
-- I will regularly mock myself. This does not give you permission to also make fun of me.
-- I will not play favorites, and will try to mention people, divisions, departments, and collaterals equally to the best of my ability, depending on whatever the topic is I'm writing about.
-- If you do not wish to be written about at all, I won't mention you. Please just send me an email, and I'll keep you out of any posts.
-- I will be relentlessly positive. There is plenty to complain about with the lifestyle we've chosen. I chose to focus on what I can do to keep moving things in the right direction, as opposed to whining about what sucks. One of my favorite quotes is "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness," from Eleanor Roosevelt.
-- I will write on my own time. This is not part of my official duties, and I will try to keep it from impinging on all the other things I have to do as your XO.

The link to the blog is Don’t be put off by the blog's title -- I rarely delve into strictly girly topics, mostly because I think being female is pretty irrelevant to how I do my job. Please feel free to share the link with your family and friends.

I'm also open to considering guest appearances if anyone is interested in submitting a post :)


So, introductions have now been officially made on both sides. I'm pretty excited to see how this all works out!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Fire Main

Fires are one of the most dangerous and common casualties that happen on ships. It's been that way since sailors started sailing. But because fires are so dangerous, we have many ways to combat them onboard. And we train relentlessly to get good at putting them out quickly and safely.

An interior fire plug -- freshly painted by the Tiger Army, 1st Regiment
One key component of our fire fighting capabilities, and really any kind of damage control, is the ship's fire main. The fire main is the system that carries sea water throughout the ship. It can also be used to dewater a space (I know -- it sounds counter-intuitive, but it works on the Venturi it, mostly because I suck at explaining physics), to desmoke a space, for cooling water to protect fire boundaries, and a host of other common and uncommon chores onboard, some of which are related to damage control, and some that are not (including flushing the sewage tanks, and providing a sea water supply to the refrigeration system).

So the fire main is *REALLY* important. Which is why every new crewmember has to draw it out on a piece of paper, with all the valves, fire stations and various accouterments their first month onboard. I can always tell when someone is working on their drawings, because their head is craned up, looking at the overhead, they have a pencil and pad of paper in their hands, and a somewhat frustrated and puzzled look on their face as they try to follow the pipes throughout the ship. I know this also because I was one of those folks these last few weeks.

Which brings me to a confession -- I took more than a month to get my fire main drawing done. I have excuse after excuse, but I'm definitely embarrassed and a little frustrated with myself that turned it in just today -- **five** weeks after reporting onboard. Absolutely not the example I wanted to set. Ugh. But it's done now. I handed it to DCA (the Damage Control Assistant, ENS Jon Sapundjieff) for his review. I expect to get it back tomorrow, hopefully without too many corrections required.

I'm expecting there won't be too many corrections because I definitely learned from the best. DILIGENCE's MPA (Main Propulsion Assistant, CWO Andy Molnar) walked me through the fire main about four times (mostly because it took that long for some of the intricacies of the system to start sinking into my little pea brain -- it had nothing to do with his teaching skills). MPA knows the fire main from memory. He can (and does, regularly, for all the new folks) draw it without hesitation, on the glass of the framed chart of the Caribbean that we have hanging in the wardroom. He sketches it out to give an idea of how it's laid out and then leaves it up to the crewmember to walk around, trace the pipes, label the valves and find the fire stations. Which was hugely helpful -- but only once I realized that he was performing fire main magic. He was making 90 degree turns in the actual pipe into straight lines on his drawing. Once I got that little trick through my head, the drawing became a lot simpler!

I said lots of times during the probably eight hours I spent crawling all through the ship working on my drawing that it was like a massive treasure hunt. I'd get so excited when I got to the end of a branch and find a fire plug, or a cut off valve for the countermeasure washdown system, or the magazine sprinkler, or...anything! that meant I didn't have to keep following that particular branch of pipe and could go find the next branch.

A naked fire plug on the exterior of the main deck (starboard side)
One funny story about my adventures tracing the fire main: on 3 Jul, the Yard needed to move DILIGENCE on their ship rail system to bring another ship out of the water. I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to work on my fire main drawing. There wouldn't be any power to the ship because they had to disconnect all the shore ties while they moved us, so I couldn't work on the computer. I'd be a captive audience for the move because the brow wouldn't be attached. What a great use of my time -- throw on some coveralls, grab my flashlight, and go work on my fire main. It was a fantastic plan. I got a ton done on the drawing, even though it was mostly pitch black in the interior spaces. The battle lanterns were working, but there's just not that many of them to supply emergency lighting. There was one known flaw in my plan -- the very fact that we're in drydock. A goodly number of valves, all the strainers, and all the exterior fire stations have been removed as part of work items. Needless to say, that just added an extra bit of challenge to the whole process.
The other flaw I wasn't really expecting. I was down in the deepest belly of the engine room, all the way forward, just outside of the forward auxiliary space, and the ship started to move on the rails.

So...ships are meant to move smoothly *through the water,* NOT on land, and NOT on some rail system. It was creepy as creepy could be. I'm pretty sure I ran screaming from the engine room like the worst actress in a B-grade horror flick -- you know, the one who leaves the house, or answers the phone when everyone in the audience is hollering at her not to. But the room was moving, it was dark (and ghastly hot), and I didn't have any frame of reference *at all!* Newly reported OS3 Joseph Sanchez and BM3 Andrew McLellan were in the engine room doing their drawings at the same time (they'd been onboard for four days), and I'm pretty sure they chortled aloud as I stumbled in a mad panic out of the space. They calmly continued working. I crept back in a few embarrassed minutes later, to take another whack at it. Thankfully, moving on the rails took less than 10 minutes, so I didn't lose too much time being a complete wuss.

After spending about five hours on the day we shifted on the rails working on my drawing, I had to take a break. When I went back to work on it again a couple of days later, MPA was busy doing other DC training for unqualified members on the messdeck. He recommended I ask SA Christopher Kingsley to help guide me through what I had left. Kingsley was a huge help, knew how the fire main came together in the uptake space, and was wonderfully patient walking back and forth with me while I tried to wrap my head around the tangle of pipes. Imagine my surprise the next day when, talking with MPA about how helpful Kingsley was, I found out he had been onboard for less than four months. Holy moly! I was sure he had been here at least twice that, given how well he knew the system!

My fire main drawing -- signed off by DCA
I realized I still had a little more work to do after I transferred my working copy to a clean copy, so I went down to the log office, where there are a set of DC plates that show how all the piping runs through the ship for the fire main. MK1 Bobby Messick was working peacefully on the laptop in the space, and noticed me rifling through the DC plates. Jokingly, he asked me where the drawing was that got passed from XO to XO. It's a totally legitimate question -- why *did* I spend so much time hot and sweaty, frustrated and confused, bashing my head (a few times literally bashing my head --ouch!! I still have the bump on my forehead from cracking my noggin on a pipe trying to get a visual on that one valve just forward of the number one fire pump that's tucked oh so sweet and cozily behind the hot water tank) against the fire main?

In a slightly more elegant manner than this, I told him that I felt like I had gypped myself on my last big ship. I was OPS, and I could get away with not taking the time to draw out the 378's fire main. And I always regretted it. I felt like I didn't know the ship as well as I could have. I simply don't want to feel that way again. I *want* to know how things work on the ship. I *want* to know exactly what it means when something breaks, if for no other reason than to gain a very visceral understanding of where the line that shan't be crossed actually is. 

We have lots and lots and lots of safety margin built into a lot of what we do on a day to day basis. But when the shit hits the fan, I want to know exactly how hard I can push -- our equipment and our people -- to effectively complete the mission without permanently damaging something or someone beyond repair. And the only way to know that is to be completely familiar with the ship. Drawing the fire main is a great place to start, and is in no way an end to my desire to learn about the ship.

One final thought on the fire main (sung to the tune of "12 Days of Christmas," of course -- with a few extra syllables crammed in): six interior jumper stations, five motor operated valves, four main deck fire plugs, three remote starts, two fire pumps, and one zebra valve in the uptake space.

PS - I did get my drawing back, with four corrections I had to chase down. The re-submission after corrections was successful! I got it back in my inbox today, signed off on by DCA!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Next Step

I don't even know where to start. It's been a whirlwind month. I'm not sure when things will settle down, but I vaguely remember this feeling from previous transfers...where I'm waiting and waiting and then all of a sudden the time comes, and I fall over the precipice into transitional chaos. There's only so much preparation that can be done beforehand, and the rest is just trying to keep all the details from flying off to boomerang back to slap me upside the head.

It's not too hard to pinpoint when things started to go slightly awry. I originally scheduled my household goods (HHG) pick up for the Tuesday, three days after I got back from two weeks at PXO school. Unfortunately, I've collected too much crap, and the movers needed two days to pack and move me. So, they scheduled my pack out day for Saturday...the very day after I got back from being gone for two weeks. Which meant that before going to school, I had to be mostly ready to live the next three-ish months with whatever I separated out from being packed. The week before school was busy, dividing stuff into piles: one pile for two weeks of school, one pile for three months until my stuff gets delivered, and everything else.

The movers came. My stuff is gone to storage, and I hope that whatever I forgot to separate out is either not too critical or not to expensive. Things are still spread out...a pile of stuff where I'm staying, my Service Dress Blues (SDBs) are at another friend's house, my car has some bags of crap, and The Old Man and some gear is still at my old house. One day it'll all meet back up again.

PXO school was a great opportunity to scrub off some of the rust accumulated from four years ashore. I felt for the JGs and ENS that were coming from ships because there was *a lot* of simulator time -- and they've likely all stood a lot of watch lately. My group got run over by a 900 foot container ship headed inbound under the Golden Gate bridge...whoops! But better in the simulator than in real life.

The discussions in class were good also, even it if was kind of like pulling teeth to get more than one or two people in the class to talk (needless to say, I was not one of those people that had a hard time talking -- pretty sure folks got sick of hearing my nattering). More on those discussions in a few...

I have officially departed from CG-821. Friday, 30 May was my last day, and oh what a day! I was the third person to leave the office this summer, and it felt like I lingered around like the stench of all the bags of popcorn I burned in the microwave over the last two years. My accounts have been in the very capable hands of my relief since a while before I went to PXO school, so all I really had to do was checkout.

Umm -- so, ahh, I never got back to finishing this post in a timely manner. Which is really a shame, since by now I've forgotten all the stuff I was going to say a month and a half ago.

So to catch up my readers -- here's the rundown since I last wrote in this post: I  closed on selling my house in DC, rode The Old Man down to North Carolina, stopping to see my aunt and the black and whites (aka my cats, Lucy and Harry) on my way to Wilmington, reported to my ship (USCGC DILIGENCE (WMEC 616)), rode the ship up to Baltimore, Maryland by way of Little Creak, Virginia, took over as XO, drydocked the ship, and made an offer on a beach house in Carolina Beach, NC that was accepted by the builder. No big.

Actually, that's *so not true!* The last month and a half has been chaos :) A good, maybe great, kind of chaos, but ridiculously busy all the same. But I am back to posting. I'm not sure how this is going to work beyond having *way* better stories to tell about what's going on with the ship than I ever had from my time in the office! I may post in fits and starts for a while -- at least until I get my fire main drawing done and pass my DCPQS test. I mean, a Girl has to have her priorities straight!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Disentangling, Control Freak-Style

It's a control freak's nightmare...having to slowly and inexorably release the grip on the helm and allow someone else to take over steering the ship. Never mind how competent, capable, energetic, and excited the new helmsman is (which he totally is!), it is still a very difficult thing to do. I only hope I can do it with grace and humor.

My Body Shop relief (BSR) showed up at the beginning of February. He's coming from grad school, an off-season transfer. Serendipitiously, he also took over from me on MAUI, so we've worked together (briefly) before. I'm just glad he wasn't so put off my whatever messes I left on MAUI (because inevitably, there were some) that he ran screaming into the night when he heard he'd be relieving me again.

It has been *great* to have this relief time with him -- we have an almost four month turnover period. BSR took the first few weeks to find his way around the building and attend some useful DHS budgeting training, which will serve him well. We also spent a bit of that time going over the basics about Body Shop issues. My (old) account (good grief, I can't even seem to talk about in a way that is not deeply imbued with ownership) is complicated and technical: FTP and FTE, actuals, enacted, PresBud levels, all slightly different; mandatory appropriations versus discretionary appropriations versus supplemental appropriations, and how they each affect the FTP/FTE numbers; military, civilian (temp, term and permanent) and SELRES workforces, all with different management strategies; PPA structure; how OE is different from AC&I is different from the other minors; Balanced Workforce Strategy (BWS) and the Balanced Workforce Assessment Tool (BWAT); the details go on and on.

One of the hardest things I've been trying to do since BSR took over (officially on 7 Mar) is to listen to a conversation and not jump in with my opinion, and instead let him form and communicate his own opinion. I've pretty much sucked at it. I'm trying to tell myself it's still ok...the subtleties of many of these issues took me more than a year to understand, so BSR is continuing to learn about the connections while I spout out the details.

But I think I know how he's feeling...or at least I remember how I felt after about two months with these there was a mountain of information I was trying to dig through with a teaspoon, looking for gold nuggets of relevancy, but I didn't know what gold looked like -- and it was dark anyway. I spent many, many days wondering when I was going to get fired for being the dumbest person in the room.

So I'm trying to be encouraging, reminding BSR that this is complicated stuff, that I've been working with it for over two years, and I still get taken by surprise by nuances.

Another hard thing about any kind of relief is that new issues will continue to crop up even as others quiet down and return to their graves (sometimes to churn back up like zombies a couple weeks or months later). The bureaucracy chugs along. I joke that I have left BSR a bakery case full of shit-filled twinkies (thanks to my Company Commander from Boot Camp for that lovely twinkie analogy :)). I don't know what all the issues are; I know, or can guess, what some of them might be. But I can only do my best to give him the information and background to react to anything new that comes up.

With schools and leave (trip to Hawaii!!! Yay :D), I have about 18 days left in the office. I'm definitely ready to go on to the next adventure...but I'm not sure I'm ready to leave this challenge yet. Definitely the good kind of problem to have.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Selectively Direct

I'm going to tell two stories in this post; one is umm, shameful, if not sad and mortifying, and the other is exactly how things should be.

The summer my mother passed away, I was one of her primary caregivers when her health deteriorated to the point she could not do things for herself. My sister was her other primary caregiver. Towards the end, she was wheel-chair bound (but thankfully not for years and years and years like her own mother), and the circulation in her extremities was very poor. We put cloths on her legs to protect her skin. We had a process, and it was very particular. Cloths had to be set in just the right places to make sure Mom was comfortable. Getting her into and out of bed had to be done "just so." 

One day, I was helping Mom get settled for a nap. I was tired. Tired because I not slept well the night before; tired because I had been helping her for months by this point; and tired because I didn't know how much longer I was going to have to do this. Just tired. I was having trouble getting the cloths set right, and she was telling me how I was doing it wrong. Rather than jokingly saying, "I *know* how to do this!" and laughing about it, I became curt, barely giving one word responses. I'm sure I had a painfully pinched scowl on my face, and anything I said to her was spare and only exactly what had to be said. 

I made my mom cry. My sister told me later I had scared them both by being so icy. 


When KISKA was attempting to return to homeport after spending an extra few days in Honolulu unsuccessfully chasing that damn shaft vibration gremlin, it was a snotty, snotty day. Winds were howling at 20 knots sustained, gusting to 30-35 knots from the northeast. The Alenuihaha channel was 12 to 15 feet with wind blown waves. I was not really looking forward to the trip, but we were all ready to go home. We got about half-way through the Kaiwi Channel between Oahu and Molokai, special sea detail was secured, and most people had laid below to secure themselves for a shitty transit. There were probably four or five people on the bridge, watchstanders, break-ins and maybe one or two folks who just weren't ready to rack out yet. As we pounded through the waves, with the waves spraying over the mast, the gremlin came back with a crazed vengeance. 

The engineers made a mad scramble for the engine room, while we shut down the starboard engine from the bridge. Nobody on the crew could have missed the noise and feeling of the vibration, so they trickled up to the bridge to find out what was going on, and what they could do to help. Within about seven minutes, we had about 10 to 12 people on the bridge. The radios were turned up to hear any local traffic and comms with Sector about what had happened. There was traffic around us, a tug maybe, that we needed to figure out what we were doing with it, since we had come about so precipitously to provide a better course for the troubleshooting ninjaneers. People were all talking at once. We were losing the bubble. *I* was losing the bubble.

"SILENCE ON THE BRIDGE!" I commanded. 

Yes, it was a command, given with authority and directness. Everyone immediately shut their mouth. The radios got turned down. XO started sending people below, to make preps for returning to Honolulu. Movement returned to normal speed.

But for that split second, there was *silence* on the bridge. 

In both these stories, I fell back on what I think of as my training -- which was, at the time 12 years of military service where orders are given and received with minimal need for anything extra. The operational community of which I am part values directness...maybe more than values, maybe actually survives and thrives on directness. 

But Sheryl Sandburg in Lean In talks about how women who are direct tend to be thought of as bitchy and mean (I'm paraphrasing here since I don't have a copy of the book in front of me). Women are supposed to be nice and non-confrontational, empathetic and supportive. And anytime we step away from those characteristics, we risk being labeled "ball-busters." 

I'm ok with that. But I'd like to have my cake and eat it too. Because I think that I should play to my strengths, get as much value as possible out of being supportive and nice. There is no better way to build a strong team than having a team-member in a leadership position who visibly cares about and values the other people as individuals. The individuals are the building blocks of the team, and when they feel valued, it just makes sense to me that the team is better at what it does. 

I also want to have access to the power of that "silence on the bridge" moment. I want to know that I can be stunningly direct to achieve immediate results. No one on that bridge thought I was harsh or bitchy for cutting through the chaos that morning. In some ways, I think they may have been grateful for being given direction and a sense of purpose.

But in between those two ends of the spectrum is a whole lot of space. A close friend sent me a text a few days ago, "How do I stop being a pushover without becoming a mean, nasty person?" I think she is struggling with how to energize her apathetic team. My half-asleep answer was, "Set expectations and hold people to them. Including yourself." After thinking about it a little more, I would refine it to "Communicate clear expectations, and hold people to them. Including yourself." 

My expectation for myself is to be a caring person with strongly-held high standards. I think that works in both personal and professional settings. There is definitely a personal aspect to this, especially having opened with the story about my mom. But I've also been reminded lately that I can be direct in just daily interactions, especially if I haven't eaten in longer than I should have. So step one for success in meeting my own expectation is to not get hangry. Hangry or tired directness is the bad kind. Clear-eyed, know-thyself directness is the good kind. In my mind anyway.