Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Standing on Cuban Soil-11 FEB 2010

Today I visited Cuba for the first time. I was selected as the boat officer to pick up parts from the USS CARTER HALL and transfer people around on shore. The captain selected me in the event that the motor boat had an issue so I could see what was wrong with it as the auxiliaries officer. The boat acted sluggish at first, but then we got some air out of the fuel system and were able to make 25 knots good. Getting into Guantanamo Bay is an interesting experience. There is a leeward side and a windward side. Viper boats from the coast guard escort everyone. In the base, there are migrants and detainees in different areas. You have to report to the port control when you are crossing the southern boundary, mooring, and leaving. I had an escort boat the entire time. This morning became an adventure when I found the USS CARTER HALL was already underway with a tug. I had to pull alongside her and transfer the part via a rope. Their supply officer was standing by to make sure I signed all the proper paperwork before issuing me the part. After receiving the part, I dropped my chief off on the pier and picked up 2 passengers. My chief is going home on emergency leave for a little while. Sadly, his father has liver and lung cancer and has been given only 3-6 months to live. I am glad my chief was able to go home. I am hoping he will make it back to New Jersey where he is from given the snow storms in Washington DC.

Happy Valentine's Day

Today was Valentine’s Day, and our first time shift. I stood the 22-02 watch last night,and at 0200, we shifted forward to 0300. I slept in until 0830 and then woke up and gave my division 2 bags of chocolate for Valentine’s Day. I went to church this morning, and then I went to brunch. This morning at church we watched a short film entitled “The Flame”. This film discussed 3 different types of love-friendship, commitment (action), and sexual. It talked about how all three loves can come together to be stronger and more meaningful. Relationships are more meaningful when you have all 3 loves together. It gives your relationship a deeper emotional, mental and spiritual connection. I think that many people miss out on true love because they don’t have all these elements. They only have 1. It is important to develop all three types of love, and in that order to the deepest possible spiritual relationship and truly become 1. I don’t like to think that sailors are having sex on deployment, but I know they are because unfortunately, I sometimes run into the evidence in out of the way spaces. I think it is a shame because they are missing out on all that true love has to offer by only exploring the physical aspect of love and not the other two.
At brunch, I had bagels and then tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. It was really good and relaxing. After lunch, I delivered Valentine’s to all the female officers on the ship and then I relaxed and took a nap. Someone taped a box of chocolates to my door with no To or From on it, and my roommates and I cannot figure out who it was--it’s a fun mystery, but I can almost guarantee you it was not a male. I have the 17-22 watch this evening. I am glad this ship embraces “Holiday Routine”. Sometimes you just need a day off to catch up on sleep and rejuvenate yourself.

Serving the Sailors-13 FEB 2010

This morning I stood the 02-07 watch, and then we had departmental quarters. I got a Navy Achievement Medal for all of my hard work during INSURV. It doesn’t make much difference now, but it feels good to be recognized and know that my command at least appreciates my efforts a little bit. Especially after all the hard work I put into that inspection. I was also glad that my division finally got the rewards they deserved. I did a couple spot checks with my division and then went to SWO engineering lecture in the afternoon. We discussed all the engineering casualties. I used to have them all memorized back when I went to the diesel engineering school, but now I have forgotten many of them. I am really going to have to study if I want to get an EOOW letter on this ship. After the training, I went for a run and then we had Khaki Pizza Night. I bussed the tables on the mess decks. It felt good to serve the sailors for once. The marines were very confused that we had a night where the officers cook, serve and do the dishes. Some of them didn’t feel right letting an officer bus their trays, but I think most people appreciated it. After dinner, I watched the movie Just Like Heaven, which was a relaxing chick flick.

Caught Red Handed

Have you ever gotten in trouble for doing something that everyone does, you just happen to be the one that got caught? It’s like being that last car in a group of speeding cars, but the only 1 that gets pulled over. That happened to me today, and I was somewhat upset. It is the ship’s policy that you are not allowed to lock or store anything in fan rooms. We upheld this policy strictly through our certification cycle. However, space on the ship is very limited, especially with all the riders we have and spaces we had to give up to them. I asked my boss if my division could store some of their personal bags in the fan room if it was neat and out of the way, and he gave me permission. Many divisions stored gear in the fan rooms in the weeks leading up to deployment. This evening the executive officer caught me storing the gear in the fan room and gave me the “You know better than that lecture”. I was respectful and maturely had my division move their stuff, but I still felt somewhat bitter about it. My boss had given me permission to do it, but unfortunately the XO caught me. I know there are plenty of other divisions who store stuff in their fan rooms, but unfortunately, I’m the one who got caught. If you have been in a situation where everyone is breaking the rules, but you are the one that gets caught, you know that misery loves company. It makes you want to bring everyone else down with you, but you don’t because you know that wouldn’t be good policy. I haven’t quite decided the best way to handle these situations when they come up. My division did give me the, “But everyone else is doing it” line. I just had to tell them, “Yes, but we are the ones who got caught”.

Last Day in Haiti

Today I went ashore in Haiti for the last time. I walked around in the morning to see what there was to do. We dug a ditch and picked up trash. Then we helped move water off the M8 boat that had arrived from the Colombian ship. It was hot, and we palletized it. Just before lunch, we were almost done, when we were told to stop. There was an admiral coming in the afternoon, and we needed to by busy then. We waited for his helicopter to land, and then we started moving the water slowly. He didn’t end up walking down the pier, so it ended up being a waste of time, but hopefully it looked good from the air as he was flying in.

Angel Boats

Today I witnessed a sad but interesting incident from several perspectives. Yesterday, 2 children died on the USNS COMFORT. They were supposed to be returned on an “Angel Boat”, but it got rescheduled for this morning. The mother of the baby waited all night by herself. One of our warrant officers sat with her and comforted her in the morning. In the afternoon, the baby arrived, but they couldn’t find anyone to drive it home to be buried. They decided to place it in one of the tents nearby and wait. Unfortunately, the tent they placed it in belonged to the Haitian executive officer of the base. He was very upset because of the evil spirits in the body. In many cultures death is bad luck, and having a dead body in a tent like that, there is a big risk that evil spirits will get into the tent. In the end, the whole mess got sorted out, but I got to hear this story from several different people.
1. The Haitian Coast Guard officer was upset and talked to me about it because of the evil spirit situation. No cab driver would pick up the mother and dead baby, and the Haitian CG did not want to drive it because of the evil spirits either.
2. The warrant officer was upset because she wanted to advocate for the mother and felt that not enough was being done to comfort her and help her.
3. Later this evening, the chaplain talked with me concerning his frustrations with the warrant officer. He said the day before the mother was screaming and wailing by herself and going through the grieving process. When the warrant officer came to comfort her, the chaplain accused her of stalling the mother’s grieving process. Additionally, he was upset because she encroached on his territory--experience in death.

This incident was very interesting to me because 3 different people chose me to voice their opinions over the situation to me, and I was able to sympathize with all 3 viewpoints. It just goes to show, not everything is as it seems, and there are many angles of a story, even one that seems simple.

Training the Ensigns

Today the chief engineer asked me to develop a 2 week lecture series to teach all of our new officers the basics of diesel engineering. I consider training the new officers to get their surface warfare qualifications very important and valuable. I don’t feel that I had the most positive training experience as a new ensign, and I consider it my personal mission to ensure that the new officers here get more help than I did. I don’t want them to feel like they are just thrown on the ship alone for on the job training. Therefore, I submitted a training plan to the senior watch officer, and I am going to spend 1 hour each day explaining how the air conditioning, ballasting and other engineering systems on the ship work and taking them on tours around the ship. I think it will be very rewarding.