Monday, March 16, 2015

PATSUM, aka Patrol Summary

We got back from our patrol nearly two weeks ago. If two weeks has gone by that quickly, we're gonna be back underway before I realize it! And I have to offer an excuse up front -- I don't have any good photos from the patrol. Something about keeping my camera in an a/c'd space and then taking it out into the Caribbean humidity just doesn't work too well. I thought about keeping it up on the bridge, but they really don't need extra clutter up there...so no pictures. I'll see if I  can figure out how to post the patrol video from the previous patrol. They showed a bunch of clips from it at the 2015 CO's Conference. Videos from that are on You Tube, but I couldn't find them easily.

This patrol we were working for Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-S, pronounced gee-a-tif south) doing counternarcotic detection and monitoring off the Caribbean coast of Central America, mostly Panama, Honduras and Nicaragua. We had a Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON) helicopter deploy with us from Jacksonville, FL so they could use Airborne Use of Force (AUF). From HITRON's website:

In support of our counter narcotics mission, armed helicopters will intercept suspect targets, use appropriate force to interdict vessels, and vector Over the Horizon Cutter Boats (OTH-CB) and cutters to the scene for apprehension.

It is a mission set that takes lots of coordination among at least five different units and sub-units, and sometimes can include six or more units depending on the situation. Closely following standard operating procedures and maintaining clear and concise communications are key factors in being successful with the AUF mission -- but when it works, it works really, really well at stopping go-fast vessels that are used by transnational criminal organizations to traffic narcotics, mostly cocaine, between South America and Central America on its way to the US and Europe.

Our HITRON crew included: CDR Walter Horne, LCDR Jess Davila, LT Ryan Hawn (Aircraft Commander), AMT1 Travis Francisco, AMT1 Ryan Theobald, AMT2 Mark Trice, AND AET2 Cameron Jones. When they weren't flying, they pitched in with talking to a good number of our non-rated personnel about the aviation community to prepare them for aviation A schools, maintaining their helicopter, walking through pre-inspections for our upcoming Security and Independent Duty Health Services (IDHS) inspections, helping out with clean-ups and field day, and even cooked us pizza one Saturday night for dinner.

But they weren't able to fly as much as anyone wanted. The weather was really crappy for a lot of the patrol. For about two weeks solid at the beginning of the patrol, we had 20-25 knots of wind from the east or northeast, which kicked up the seas to a solid 6-8 feet and sometimes built to 8-10 feet. It's really hard to give the helo a stable enough platform from which to launch when it's that bumpy and roll-y out there. And then we broke the helo. Thankfully no one was hurt, but the maintenance that was required was extensive, including getting extra parts from stateside, and we couldn't fly in the meantime. Wouldn't you know it, the week the helo was broken was when the weather was best -- only 2-4 foot swells and light winds. Once the helo was fixed, the weather went back to snotty and we couldn't launch them again. It was pretty much beyond frustrating, and almost insult to injury. But that's the shit that just sometimes happens on patrol.

We did have a few moments of excitement here and there. My last post described one of the most useful things we did on patrol by rescuing the German-flagged sailing vessel with four Italians onboard off the coast of Panama. True story, I swear! Even though it sounds like the start of a bad joke.

We also did lots of training and got lots of people qualified. Here's the list:
From  1LT, ENS JD Decastra:
Helm/Lookout: SA Nate Emborski, SA Sean Roten, SA Avery Trombley
Aft Steering: SN William Ball (who also made E3 a few days ago), SA Tyler Fields
Master Helm: SN Chris Kingsley
Boatswains Mate of the Watch (BMOW): IT2 Jason Mansfield
Landing Signals Officer (LSO): SK1 Bismarck Miranda
Helicopter Control Officer (HCO): ME1 Jason Pratt
Boat Engineer: MK3 Charles Murray, MK3 Christopher Carpenter, MK2 Andrew Fraizer
Boat Coxswain: BM3 Anthony Sanabria


From SUPPO, LTJG Joe Smith:
Quartermaster of the Watch: SK1 Bismarck Miranda
Lee Helm: HS2 Todd Wilson

From OPS, LCDR Jim Pafford:
Underway Officer of the Deck (OOD): LCDR Todd DeVries, ENS Aaron Corn*, ENS John Benedict*, LTJG John Sapundjieff*, BMC Robert Vanlandingham*
* These are all initial qualifications -- a huge professional accomplishment for each of them!
Navigation Plotter: BM2 Christopher Jozan, SN Rick McCabe
Bridge recorder: BM2 Christopher Jozan, SN Rick McCabe
Inport Officer of the Deck: ME1 Jason Pratt, SK1 Bismark Miranda
NCV Pursuit Crewman: BMC Robert Vanlandingham, BM2 Christopher Jozan, BM3 Jake Rorabeck, MK3 Charles Murray
Boarding Team Member (BTM): MK3 Charles Murray


From EO, LCDR Todd DeVries:
Underway and inport Engineer of the Watch (EOW): DC1 Jeremy Salinas*, MK2 Michael Peets (only about three weeks after making Petty Officer Second Class!)
Auxiliary Watchstander (AUX): EM3 Jabari Nelson, FA Alex Howard, FA David Yobp (who also became a new dad to a beautiful daughter just before we sailed on patrol -- Congratulations Yobp family!)
Security and Sounding Watchstander (SSW): SA Sean Roten, SA Avery Trombley
Fuel Oil and Water King (FOWK): MK2 Andrew Frazier, MK3 Christopher Carpenter
Basic Damage Control (DC) Watch Qualification Standard (WQS): SA Sean Roten, SA Nate Emborski, SA Robert Morse, SN William Ball, SA Avery Trombley, FA David Yobp, FA Alex Howard
Advanced DC WQS: BMC Robert Vanlandingham


Pretty darn good list this far from transfer season! Congrats to you all!!

We moved from Training mode to Evaluation mode for many of our planned, full Training Team drills. And to keep things from getting boring, I added in some unannounced drills that could happen anytime between the beginning of Personal Development Time (PDT) and one hour before Evening Reports. I couldn't be more specific with the times because we did a lot of shifting the workday around to make sure we were ready and awake enough to launch the helo in the middle of the night in case a suspected bad guy came our way. I didn't realize I was as sneaky as I was either. I put the note in the POD early in the patrol, just to let people know to be ready. But I didn't actually get to getting a drill done until nearly two weeks later -- just about at the point where people had forgotten about me saying we were going to do some unannounced drills. The crew's response to the man overboard (MOB) pipe for the EO falling overboard pipe was phenomenal. The man (we used Oscar, our man overboard dummy -- the EO didn't really fall over) was recovered in less than five minutes with a shipboard pickup. And we got some good training in with the rescue swimmer going to pick up all four of the life rings that were thrown over to help the man. BM3 Jake Rorabeck was the rescue swimmer, and he swam off into the pitch black, to attach his tending line to one life ring while he swam out another 200 yards to get the next one. The deckies got good hands-on training for working the davit used to deploy the swimmer.

A few days later, EO rigged a smoke machine in his stateroom just after lunch. Once again the response was great. ENS JD Decastra took initial action to put out the fire with a nearby CO2 extinguisher, and was ably assisted by the other junior officers that live in staterooms nearby the EO. In order to get the full training value, we didn't let them "win" with initial actions, but I'm sure they would have been effective in a real situation. We manned up Repair III and Fire Team 1 was able to put the fire out, set the reflash watch and overhaul the space, ensuring there were no burning embers. EO took a little bit of hassle for smoking in his stateroom and "lighting" the fire in the first place.

And the last impromptu drill was just after the helo took off on a patrol flight. We threw Oscar overboard again to simulate MKC Jason Newby falling overboard after refueling the helo. We always lower a small boat to the rail (secure it over the side, so people can step from the boat deck into the boat) for flight ops for just the eventuality of a MOB during flight ops or a crash on deck, so this was determined to be a small boat pick up. In a real situation, the helo would have stayed on scene to help make sure we recovered the man, but they went ahead on their patrol. We did have some trouble vectoring the small boat to the man and with all the turning actually lost sight of Oscar for a few seconds (this is where having the helo overhead in a real emergency would have been critical), but we were in the training environment, and this was definitely a case where we learned a lot from our failures.

We also made port calls in Key West, FL and Bocas del Toro, Panama. And we made a couple brief stops for logistics (BSLs) in Colon, Panama. There were exciting moments for each one. We got underway from the first Key West stop with a 25-knot on the dock wind in the dark. We had to use a lot of power to get away from the pier and not get blown back on to it with the wind. On our second Colon BSL, the pilots weren't quite ready for us even though they told us they were, and we had to turn around about 600 yards from the breakwall and wait. Getting underway from that BSL, we had a 25 knot wind that we had to twist the stern into and through, with shoal water about 150 yards off our stern. There was *lots* of power used to get oriented the right way in the channel to head outbound. We entered Bocas del Drago enroute Bocas del Toro with a strong set of waves quartering us off the stern as we were turning and almost ended up perpendicular to the trackline before the helmsman got control of the rudder again. A few minutes later, visibility reduced from a passing squall to about 500 yards just about the point in Bahia de Almirante where water taxis start transiting between Bocas del Toro and Almirante or Chirique Grande. We had to come to all stop once to let one pass in front of us at about 300 yards. The second port call in Key West got delayed a few times due to a fuel barge casualty where we were meant to moor. And then when we did make it in, visibility fluctuated between 200 to 1000 yards for most of the transit. Thankfully it opened up as we were making our approach on the pier.

But the port calls were all tons of fun and relaxing. We were in Bocas del Toro for the start of Carnivale which entails a huge street fair and party there. Guys enjoyed surfing, ATV rides on the beach, zip-lining, and generally relaxing away from the ship. I forgot how many people I know in Key West until I was there for a few days. I visited CDR Adam Morrison and LCDR Justin Nadolny on the MOHAWK, had lunch with LT Ginny Nadolny, CO of the soon to be commissioned ISAAC MAYO, and dinner with CDR Kathy Felger from THETIS. It was great to get to see them all, hear their stories, commiserate on the challenges and celebrate the successes.

The day before we returned to homeport (RTHP), we had Quarters on the flight deck to present temporary cutterman pins to LTJG Jon Sapundjieff, ENS John Benedict, ENS Aaron Corn, BM2 Christopher Jozan, FS3 Billy Shuck, FN Christian Sekula, and a permanent cutterman pin to EM2 Tony Bennett. CDR Randall gathered everybody close in (it's loud out there on the flight deck underway, and it was damn cold), and talked to us about the patrol. We all know we didn't get any drug busts, we all know we were frustrated and sick of the weather. He said he had been asking himself what he could say to the crew was the point of a relatively unproductive patrol. He had talked to other COs and people with JIATF-South experience, and they all said it's all about luck down there. Either you've got good luck and you get busts, or you have crappy luck and you don't.

CDR Randall went on to ponder, what makes luck? Luck is the combination of readiness and opportunity. We were ready! for that patrol. We *rocked* the AUF work ups. Our non-compliant vessel (NCV) teams are well-trained, motivated and enthusiastic. Our watchstanders are well-versed in policy and practice good watchstanding techniques. What we lacked this patrol was the opportunity of a bust either because the drug runners simply weren't there, the weather was too snotty, or we weren't positioned where they were -- which are all things that are out of our control. And while yes, it does kinda suck to be away from home for 45 days and have nothing definitive to show for it, we did what we did safely, with integrity geared towards proficiency and moving the ship forward, and we lived to fight another day. May the opportunities next patrol be many and fruitful!

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