27 May 2009

Who is Flotilla 76 - 100th Post

Ryan Erickson, one of our fellow Coast Guard bloggers, posted on the US Naval Institute blog posing the question "Does the Coast Guard Auxiliary actually do anything?" which he then answers in a very generous manner by describing his interactions with our Auxiliary shipmates in Seattle.

I usually use this blog for communication with my team but Ryan has given me a great externally facing topic for our 100th post: What is Flotilla 76? A better question is "who is Flotilla 76?" since our strength is in our membership.

Our Flotilla is a multi-mission force multiplier for U.S. Coast Guard Sector Portland, Group/Air station Astoria, and Station Portland. We are currently 53 Auxiliarists located in and around Portland, Oregon who:

  • conduct recreational boating safety classes with 11 qualified instructors
  • conduct vessel examinations
  • operate two surface facilities with 5 coxswains and 13 boat crew
  • operate an air facility with 1 aircraft commander, one aircrew, and 2 observers
  • operate a number of fixed and land mobile radio facilities
  • conduct aids to navigation verifications with 11 aids verifiers
  • participate in numerous public affairs events each year teaching thousands about boating safety and life jacket wear
  • augment Sector Portland and Station Portland with administrative assistance, maintenance, and skilled work based on our qualifications and external skills
  • hold numerous Division, District and National staff roles helping guide the Auxiliary
  • and much more...

Name: Flotilla 76, District 13, "Swan Island"
Founded: 1957
Current membership: 53 Auxiliarists
Longest service: Earl Markham, 12-JUN-1952 (yes 57 years of service)

24 May 2009

This post originally appeared on on 07DEC2008. As we remember the fallen tomorrow I thought it appropriate to republish here. Please take time on Monday to reflect on the sacrifice of so many to secure the blessings of liberty for us and future generations.

In August I took my son Tim, 13 and daughter Charlotte 10 to the Arizona Memorial for the first time. As a teenager growing up on Oahu I'd been a number of times but there is something particularly poignant about returning with my children who may yet be called upon to make serve their country. I can only imagine the pride and fear I will feel when and if that day comes.
With profound respect and gratitude for those who have served, now serve and will serve in the years to come I offer three photos from our trip to the USS Arizona.
- Mainmast of the USS Arizona, flag pole USS Arizona Memorial, USCGC Rush

- The fallen of a grateful nation whom we would be proud to be allowed to call shipmates

- Flying proud over the USS Arizona

20 May 2009

Coast Guard Publication 1

Secretary Napolitano introduced a revised Coast Guard Publication 1 at the Coast Guard Academy graduation today. The Commandant produced a YouTube video describing Publication 1.

Please take the time over the next few days to review Publication 1. You will find it an excellent overview of our history combined with a trenchant review of our ethos, values and principles of operations.

We'll discuss the principles of operations at an upcoming member training. I look forward to your thoughts.

18 May 2009

A patrol story: Lessons learned

Repost of a blog post of mine on the D13 blog:

We do our very best to educate boaters before they get on the water but no matter how well trained or prepared you are sometimes things just happen, which is why we patrol and why we respond when the Search and Rescue alarm goes off. I spent the second day of National Safe Boating Week on Auxiliary Facility 181173 "Defiant".  Every day I'm on the water has lessons and today was no exception.

The first lesson is that, as boaters, we are a community. The first three boats we saw in trouble today were already being assisted and towed by fellow boaters. Good samaritans had broken away from their day on the water to help fellow boaters in need. As Guardians and as mariners it is very gratifying to see the fundamental rule of the sea, to render aid when able, in action. It was particularly gratifying to see a sailboat under power towing a power boat. Bravo Zulu (Coast Guard for "job well done") to all three skippers who rendered aid.

Lesson #2. If your vessel is giving you trouble it is best to test it at the dock. Our first tow was a personal watercraft (PWC). The owner indicated that he'd "been having trouble". The middle of the Columbia River channel is a very poor place for the "trouble" to manifest. If your vessel isn't operating well please just don't go out. The stakes can get very high, very quickly.

Lesson #3. PWCs don't transport three large men and a cooler well. Our major distress case today was again assisted by good samaritans - we got a call of a PWC in trouble from a power boat with a VHF-FM (see Chief Roszkowski's post on the importance of VHF-FM radios), and were on scene within 3 minutes where we found another PWC assisting and they had already taken on person aboard. There were two men in the water and the PWC was 90% submerged. Luckily the two men were wearing life jackets and has not been exposed to the 55 degree water for more than ten minutes. We were able to pull the PWC up partial out of the water and then dewater using our gas powered dewatering pump. Again a Bravo Zulu to the good samaritans who assisted. If the people aboard the PWC had not been wearing life jackets this case could have been tragic - the cold water of the Columbia can cause shock within minutes.

Lesson #4: Everyone gets a dead battery from time to time... and it always seems to happen at the worst possible time. As we were heading in this evening we passed a boat on the beach at Government Island about 500 yards off. The sun was setting and it just didn't feel right so we went over to check to make sure they were okay. At the same time they realized they had a dead battery, which isn't a good situation at sundown, on a remote island, with your seven year old son aboard. Tonight this family got home. Dead batteries happen to everyone. When teaching our classes we recommend that all boats have a multiple battery installation with a battery switch to assure you always have backup power.

Enough lessons for one day. Thank you to my shipmates Jon James and Ken Babick for another great day on the water. As we like to say, any day on the water is better than any day in the office. Please consider taking a boating safety class, get a vessel exam, continue to take care of your fellow boaters, wear your life jackets, and be safe.This is a repost of one of my stories that first appeared on the D13 Blog:

16 May 2009

Get the job done

Tom Peters tells a story of an experience 41 years ago in Vietnam:
When I got back from the field, covered with mud (it was rainy season), I was sent directly to the Commandant [of the Marine Corps General Chapman] with no time to change into a respectable uniform—a great embarrassment. General Chapman engaged in all of about 15 seconds of chitchat, and having done his duty to my aunt, sent me on my way. As I was literally walking out of his temporary field office, he summoned me back, and said, out of the blue, "Tom, are you taking care of your men?" (I had a little detachment, about 20 guys as I recall, doing the work described before.)
Yup, 40 years plus later, I remember his exact words—which is the point of this Post. I replied to the General, "I'm doing my best, sir." To this day, with a chill going up my spine (no kidding—as I type this), I can see his face darken, and his voice harden, "Mr Peters, General Walt and I and General Buse are not interested in whether or not you are 'doing your best.' We simply expect you to get the job done—and to take care of your sailors. Period. That will be all, Lieutenant." - Tom Peters in a blog post 06MAY2009
General Chapman's comment resonated deeply with me. Shipmates, your #1 job is to save lives. You save lives by teaching, doing vessel exams, public outreach, air and surface rescue, and by maintaining the watch for threats to our security. My #1 job, and that of all the leaders,  is to assure you have the tools, training, and support to get the job of saving lives done.

I've recently participated in a number of discussions around our funding model for the Auxiliary, perceived competition from other providers of boating education, the SAR assistance policy and commercial towing assistance providers, our district budget issues due to the District store, and how we recruit new members. Each of these discussions has been focused on a narrow set of concerns rather than the overall impact on our "job" of saving lives.

Do we look at other agencies that are funded to teach free boating education as competition or as partners in getting our job done? Sure it impacts our fund raising and potentially our recruiting, but do we teach to fund ourselves and recruit or do we teach to save lives? I'd suggest a better strategy is to reach out to our partners and assist while at the same time engage in a dialog around how the Coast Guard funds boater education.

Another example, do we look at commercial vessel assistance providers as competition or a more hulls and expertise on the water which saves lives? In my experience there is more work to be done out on the water than there is resource to do it. We get our job done when we have a healthy ecosystem of private sector and public sector partners to help. Occasionally this means we don't provide immediate assistance in a non-distress case but who knows what lives are saved because we then catch the big distress case or because the commercial provider comes upon a distress case on the way to the scene of the non-distress case.

Far too often we let the tail wag the dog when faced with change.

If we evaluate every situation against our primary mission of saving lives, our "job", the Coast Guard will find the funding for us because we are effective and new members will seek us out because we represent a dynamic and exciting opportunity to serve. We may not be funded in our traditional manner or recruit in our traditional ways but I'm willing to bet we will be in a better position to get the job done if we focus on the core mission and are willing to adapt to, and in some cases demand, change.

14 May 2009

@iCommandantUSCG - More Social Media: The Commandant in the Twitterverse

I've been spending a fair amount of my energy on our social media initiatives. While I do some of it for fun it does have a very important objective. Effective leaders communicate constantly and recognize that often the most important part of leading by communicating is listening. The Commandant speaks continually of the need to modernize our organization to confront the challenges and threats faced by the nation:

The Coast Guard cannot expect to continue operating strictly in the hierarchical, top-down fashion, but must also adapt to be more horizontal and collaborative or face organizational obsolescence. This is a significant cultural change for us, but I am confident that our outstanding people possess the knowledge and judgment to be able to more efficiently monitor and evaluate the information environment they operate in and effectively and deliberately engage in the dialogue to further Coast Guard strategic objectives and benefit mission execution and support. - Admiral Allen in a interview with Christiaan Conver May 2009
These social media initiatives are about creating the collaborative environment that we need to maximize our individual and collective impact, what the Commandant would call our mission execution.

While we hear many leaders discuss the need for openness, communication and listening, Admiral Allen really walks the walk. The iCommandant Blog has given us an incredible view into the thinking of the Commandant and other guest bloggers. The Commandant has extended this effort to Twitter. You can follow the Commandant @iCommandantUSCG or

[You can follow me at @veryuseful or and check out the folks I follow for many other Coasties.]

Here are some of the Commandant's first tweets so you can get a feel for the flow. Please note these are in reverse order (most recent first). A few hints to decode what your are seeing: @nnnnn = some twitter user; RT = Retweet, to republish another users tweet; #nnnn = a hash tag which we use to identify a topic or family of tweets (I use #IGetPaid to acknowledge how much I get out of the Auxiliary).
RT @simplydan: CG-8: Nothing more fundamental to modern'n of CG than getting logistics transformation right. #logmod
about 2 hours ago from HootSuite
RT @simplydan: VADM Pearson: If you think everything is smooth & comfortable, you're not going fast enough. #logmod
about 2 hours ago from HootSuite
Affinity Group Participation -- "Not just a check in the box": ANSO ConferenceOriginally uploaded by icommandant..
about 8 hours ago from twitterfeed
RT @CoastGuardNews: Photo - Coast Guard and Navy Capture Pirates
about 8 hours ago from HootSuite
RT @picanyc: Life Jackets! thinking about boating safety - which starts with life jackets!
about 14 hours ago from HootSuite
Fairwinds, Bernie Webber: Former Coast Guard Station, Nauset, Cape Cod National SeashoreOriginally uploaded by u..
about 23 hours ago from twitterfeed
#CoastGuard Rep. Coble: would reauth of PPV be an important first step for impoving qual of life? MCPOCG: affirmative
1:44 PM May 13th from txt
#CoastGuard Rep. Lobiondo: Need to know what we can fix this year to improve member/family support parity with DOD. USCG will provide.
1:26 PM May 13th from txt
#CoastGuard the way to control costs in acquisition is through 1. Open competiton, 2. Fixed price 3. Remove risk from govt.
1:20 PM May 13th from txt
Floor-level funding for shore-infrastructure ought to be $100mil annually. Rcvd shore AC&I funds in ARRA and $270+ mil in CSDACAA funding.
1:19 PM May 13th from txt
#CoastGuard PPV potential for housing program is more about authorization than appropriation.
1:19 PM May 13th from txt
#CoastGuard MCPOCG talking about CG housing problems and potential of PPV program as a solutions
1:13 PM May 13th from txt
#CoastGuard Critical to controlling NSC costs is to not allow a break in the production line between hulls 4 & 5
1:10 PM May 13th from txt
#CoastGuard Rep Fazio concerned about MMC medical backlog. Comdt: Fix is in place and backlog being reduced. NMC will benefit Merchant ...
1:10 PM May 13th from txt
#CoastGuard NSC Project costs are under control. NSC #4 and beyond will be fixed-price contracts, signif reduce cost variability and risk.
1:06 PM May 13th from txt
#CoastGuard good discussion on security requirements and LNG facilities and vessels and who bares that cost? Mandated CG security erode ...
12:43 PM May 13th from txt
#CoastGuard Congess concerned with CG's $1Bill shore infrastructure backlog.
11:53 AM May 13th from txt
#CoastGuard Marine Transportation System is lifeblood of our national economy. Carries 78% of intl trade and activity trends on increase.
11:42 AM May 13th from txt
#CoastGuard FY10 Funding request will provide an additional 74 marine safety positions.
11:33 AM May 13th from txt
#CoastGuard Met yesterday with MARAD, TRANSCOM, 5th Fleet & US shippers yest to discuss new MSD for operating off HOA.
11:27 AM May 13th from txt
#CoastGuard Signing of Arctic NSPD sets interagency policy. National efforts would be enhanced with UNCLOS ratification. http://ow.ly6Es9
11:23 AM May 13th from txt
#CoastGuard We can no longer do more with less. Instead we will allocate our resources to buy down risk in the most vulnerable areas.
11:18 AM May 13th from txt
#CoastGuard Modernization remains Job #1
11:17 AM May 13th from txt
#CoastGuard Written statement available
11:05 AM May 13th from txt
#Coast Guard Subject matter for today's hearing available online You may be able to watch live from this site at 2 p.m.
9:17 AM May 13th from HootSuite
Good read ahead for hearing:
7:01 AM May 13th from txt
MOTR was a valuable tool in Maersk Alabama Read about it in this month's Seapower (P.48-50)
5:50 AM May 13th from HootSuite
iCommandant on Twitter: We are going to try tweeting on the FY-2010 budget hearing with the House Transportation..
7:14 PM May 12th from twitterfeed
Hope you follow our tweets from our FY2010 budget hearing tomorrow with the CG&MT Subcommittee.
3:22 PM May 12th from web

09 May 2009

SafeKids Day at the Oregon Zoo

On May 2, 2009 Earl, Tim (both pictured here) and I participated in the annual SafeKids Day at the Oregon Zoo. I took some video at the event and posted a video on fitting life jackets to kids on the D13 Blog .

Yesterday I got the final zoo event numbers from our SafeKids partners:

  • Zoo Attendance: 9,984 (up from 9368 last year)
  • Safety Professionals and volunteers: 250 (up from 156) -- way to go!
  • Due to the generous contributions of our Safe Kids partners, thousands of prizes were distributed.
I estimate we saw over 3,000 kids and parents at the booth and fitted many of the kids for life jackets.

Bravo Zulu Tim & Earl!

The long version of the video can be seen here (if you cannot see the video please visit the blog post directly, it may not play in your RSS reader or email client.)

Brief: Columbia Bar Pilots

The Portland Monthly has an article and slideshow on the Columbia Bar Pilots. It is a great story on how the Bar Pilot operation works. The thing that always surprises me in these stories is the lack of sufficient cold water PPE worn by the pilots, and the boat and helo crews. I don't know about you but I certainly would not want to be making transfers off the coast during the winter in jeans.

What's your number? How we describe the Flotilla

The following comes from Bill Sorrentino one of my colleagues in the I-Department. The final takeaway is that we are Flotilla 76, not:

  • Flotilla 130-07-06
  • Flotilla 07-06
  • Flotilla 7-6


Because of computerization, members of the Auxiliary seem to be using Auxdata entry format and computer sorting as a formal way of identifying their flotilla, division and district. An inspection of various websites, plus the numerous e-mails I get with incorrect unit identification placed after a signature, confirms this.

Chapter 4, Section A.3 (“Flotilla Identification”) of the Auxiliary Manual states how to properly identify an Auxiliary unit.

These are the basics of Auxiliary Unit Identification for verbal, written and website posting (DO NOT CONFUSE THIS WITH AUXDATA ENTRY OR COMPUTER SORTING FORMATS WHICH REQUIRES THE USE OF ZEROS AND HYPHENS):

A flotilla’s numerical has two or three digits only.

There are no zeros in a flotilla number unless the number has a “10,” “20,” “30,” etc., in it.

There are no hyphens in a flotilla number unless the flotilla’s numerical has three digits, i.e. Flotilla 4-11, or 11-4.

The district number is never part of the flotilla number, nor is the division number separated from the flotilla number. A correct flotilla number consists of a division number and a flotilla number. Both are used together and never separated for routine verbal, written or website posting.

The only time a district number is added to a flotilla number would be in written correspondence to someone outside the writer’s district. In doing so, the correct district identification (i.e. 1S, 7, 9ER, 11SR, 17) should be inserted AFTER the flotilla number, not the data entry formats of 013, 054, 070, 170, etc. Example: Flotilla 44, (D7) or Flotilla 44, 7th CG District Aux. Do not write a flotilla number as: 070 0404.

There are no district numbers that contain a zero. We have sixteen districts, not one hundred seventy (170 for 17th District). The use of 013, 054, 140 and 170, for example, are computer sorting and input formats. They should not be used when spoken, written or posted. Example, I live in District 7, not District 070. I used to live in District 1S, not 014.


Wrong Way:
Bill Sorrentino, IPFC
070 04-04

Wrong Way:
Bill Sorrentino, FSO-IS
Flotilla 4-4

Correct Way:
Bill Sorrentino, IPFC
Flotilla 44

Correct Way:
Bill Sorrentino, IPFC
Flotilla 44 (D7)

Correct Way:
Bill Sorrentino, SO-CS
Division 4, 7th CG District Aux.

Please assist me in getting the word out. Thank you.
Bill Sorrentino, BC-IAH

06 May 2009

Fitting life jackets for kids

A repost from the D13 blog:

As we enter the boating season and get life jackets out of storage for the first time since last season it is important to pay particular attention to the fit of the life jackets for the kids on our boats. As all parents know, growing out of clothes and shoes is a constant challenge. Children grow out of life jackets too. Life jackets need to be carefully fitted to children in order to be effective. Children can fall out of life jackets that are too large or improperly fastened and may not receive sufficient flotation from a life jacket that is too small. Even a life jacket that appears to fit may allow a child to shift downward so that their face is immersed once they enter the water.
  • Choose the right size.
  • Make sure it is in serviceable condition.
  • Buckle all the buckles, tie the ties, zip the zippers, and use the straps... including the crotch strap if equipped.
  • Tighten the straps, the life jacket should be snug as it will loosen in the water.
  • Pick the child up with the life jacket, vest types should not pull up above the ears.
  • Make sure kids wear the life jacket and wear yours. You are not only modeling good behavior but you will also be able to assist your kids if everyone ends up in the water. WEAR IT!

This last weekend U.S.C.G. Auxiliary Flotilla 76 participated in the annual SafeKids day at the Oregon Zoo. Along with our partners, AMR River Rescue, Oregon Parks and Recreation, and the Army Corps of Engineers we talk to thousands of parents and kids. We fit many of the kids with life jackets and show parents the key elements of proper life jacket wear. In this video Taneka Means of AMR River Rescue and Robert Smith of Oregon Parks and Recreation demonstrate fitting a life jacket:

For a longer version, with more information on fitting a life jacket from Melissa Rinehart of the Army Corps of Engineers, Tim Young and Earl Markham of the USCG Auxiliary as well as beach safety from Robert Smith watch this (5 mins):