12 December 2009

Reading List: “I’ve been to where bad is, and this is not it.”

Take a few minutes and read our shipmate Mario Vittone's article at Weekly Leader.

Mario relates an experience while serving as an Aviation Survival Technician which serves as a touchstone in his life and puts all the day-to-day challenges into perspective.

Mario's perspective has had a dramatic impact on my life in the months since it was posted. I've used the line in a number of circumstances...  "Mario has been to where bad is, and [whatever the current challenge] is not it." My personal "been where bad is" is some 30 years old and dulled by my youth at the time and the intervening three decades.

When I was seven we were entering a remote harbor in the Marquesas (part of French Polynesia) and my mother Nancy (bio) was putting down the anchor. We had a bullet-proof mechanical anchor windlass with the entire mechanism exposed and she accidentally hit the lift cam which caused one of the windlass handles to catch, rise and catch her across her face. I recall her glasses flying into the clear water. Her nose was almost completely separated and it was a nine hour voyage back to the nearest medical care. With only three of us aboard my dad got us there and my job was to keep my mom awake. I was seven so I ended up asleep.

So I guess I can also say from personal experience "I've been to where bad is and this is not it."

I was lucky enough to meet Mario at the Innovation Expo last month. He is a force of nature. It is very much worth keeping up with his writings.

CG-6505 Investigation and the importance of mishap investigations

On Friday the Commandant posted the final investigation documents on the loss of CG-6505 off Honolulu in September 2008. I encourage each of you to review the final investigation document as it identifies a number of important issues related to Crew Resource Management (CRM), risks of fouled trail lines and hoist cables during hoist operations, and the "task saturation" that can occur in times of high stress. We will review the report as part of an upcoming member training.

While we do not operate helicopters with hoists, our surface operations members may be on the other end of the hoist cable, operating on non-standard facilities with significant potential for hoist cable fouling. Both our surface and air operations members can find themselves confronted with CRM challenges and task saturation in high stress situations. I can identify a number of times I've been task saturated during surface operations. When operating as a new aircrew member I was task saturated much of the time we were in the air due to the workload and the unfamiliar environment.

Admiral Allen's iCommandant post:

Investigation document:

We can best honor the ultimate sacrifice of CAPT Thomas Nelson, LCDR Andrew Wischmeier, AMT1 Joshua Nichols and AST1 David Skimin by taking these lessons to heart, reviewing our own actions in light of the findings and looking to the safety of our shipmates.

These investigations, and the public and open way in which the Coast Guard leadership shares them, save lives of Guardians and those we serve. I am very thankful to work in a culture which rigorously examines mishaps for lessons which can be applied to prevent future mishaps. Our end of the bargain is to take the lessons to heart and apply them to our actions.

As you celebrate the holiday season please keep the families of CG-6505, CG-1705 and all of our Guardians who have given their lives in service to the nation in your thoughts.

Thank you for your service and commitment to the safety of your shipmates,

11 December 2009

Reflections on our families

I've been an Auxiliarist for six years now. I've joked with my kids, Tim and Charlotte, since fairly early in my Auxiliary career  that I can't wait until they can join up too, but they were little and it was a long, long way off. 

Last night I was gearing up for a Christmas Ships patrol and Tim is hanging out with me. He asked with anticipation in his voice to remind him, "When can I start going out with you?". I stopped, staggered realizing that he is only three years from 17. He just turned 14 last week but it had not really hit me until that moment.

Congrats boyo! I am so very proud of you.

Tonight I attended the Flotilla 73 Change of Watch. Brian Rollins' son was there to watch his father be sworn in as Flotilla Commander, as was his wife Elizabeth. My dear friend Peter Kirschner's wonderful wife Mary, his daughter and granddaughter were on hand for Peter's retirement from the Auxiliary. We were surrounded by those who sacrifice weekends and evenings so we can serve.

I simply could not do what I do without the incredible support of my wife Sarah and my children. On the flip side I think I am a better husband and father because of the opportunities the Coast Guard and my shipmates have given me to serve and to lead. Today when I look at myself I have no doubts about who I am. I am a husband, a father and a guardian....

...and perhaps soon to be a father of guardians too.

Be safe out there shipmates.

08 December 2009

ALCOAST 657/09 - Auxiliary Vessel Salvage Funding Procedures

This one is a bit obscure but very important to those members who generously offer their facilities for use in as operational facilities. The ALCOAST clarifies the salvage funding for Auxiliary facilities operating under orders. Previous policy addressed damage but did not clearly address salvage funding potentially exposing members and their insurers to liability for salvage.

The policy can be found here:

This was only a potential issue and once the gap was identified the Coast Guard acted to address the issue. We operate by policy in the Coast Guard and policies do not always anticipate every eventuality. I am heartened and I very much appreciate the commitment shown by our leadership on both the gold and silver sides to assure our members are protected in a salvage situation.

As operators (pilots and coxswains) and facility owners we have an obligation to operate our facilities with care and to operate within the capabilities of the crew and the facility. Most incidents which would require this policy are preventable and we all need to do our part in the prevention of salvage incidents.

The formal roles of the DIRAUX, Order Issuing Authority, facility owner, facility operator and Auxiliary staff/leaders are set out in the Auxiliary Operations Policy Manual. Broken down to everyday practice there are a number of steps we can take to prevent facility incidents:

  1. Talk about the potential risks and make such discussions part of a continuous ongoing dialog aboard, in the cockpit and ashore.
  2. Practice risk management in all aspects of the operations program.
  3. Use the TCT model and encourage all members of the program and your crew to participate through proper application of the model.
  4. Update your GAR as conditions change.
  5. Understand the capabilities of the crew and facility - don't ask more than can be given.
  6. Slow down or stand down. At times the pace of operations begins to exceed our ability to apply risk management. Learn to recognize these times and slow down or simply stand down for awhile. This applies to individual missions, to a multi-asset mission, an event and our whole operations program.
  7. Train, train, train. 
  8. Do not discount crew comfort. Fatigue is a major cause of incidents. We do not need to maximize the hours we spend on the water, in the air or on the road. We want to do what can be done safely.
  9. Our responsibility extends well beyond the time the mission is complete until everyone is home safely and rested. We are not taking care of our shipmates if they drive home to four hours of sleep and work the next day after eight hours on the water.

What other steps would you propose?

[Hat tip to Brian Rollins of for the reminder to post on this topic]

07 December 2009

December 7th 1941

I spent a fair bit of my youth in sight of the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. Last year I posted the following on and I wanted to share it with you today.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Posted by Daren Lewis
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