Thursday, October 30, 2014

Initiative

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 beckies...one 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 situation...how 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.

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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! :)

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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.