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.

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