Classroom

[from the stabenow.com vaults, first posted February 10, 2004]

A boarding at first light, of 123-foot longliner fishing for Pacific cod. “This is the only place in the world you’d call that a small boat,” says XO Phil Thorne. “In any other fishery it would be illegal.” The swells were only five feet and the wind only 15, but people in Anchorage will understand when I tell them I thought I was in Portage–it was snowing hard and horizontally. We brought the boat and boat crew back on board while we waited for the boarding team to finish their inspection. One of Chief Jamison’s galley slaves, Dom Gallegos, went on his first boarding, and he was grinning all over his face the next time I saw him. The XO says we’ll put extra members on the boarding team as a matter of training. With half the boat rotating off in the next six months, the Alex Haley will need a cadre of qualified crew to train the newbies.

Photo B - 2/16/04

I’ve told you that the Alex Haley is a combination 911, OSHA and the cop on the beat for the Bering Sea. It is also a classroom. Someone is always being trained, on the bridge, on the flight deck, in damage control, in fire control, you name it. The corpsman is being trained as an HCO, or helo communications officer, and while he’s in training two other crew members are watching him to prepare to train as HCOs in their turn.

Opportunity is everywhere; you’re not going to be bored on board the Alex Haley unless you want to be. Take PO Crowe, who the first time I saw him was standing watch on the bridge. The next time I saw him he was LSO or Landing Signals Officer on the hangar deck, landing the helo. The next time I saw him he was a fireman responding to the engine room fire drill. The next time I saw him he was dressed out in a dry suit fixing to lead a boarding team over to a fishing vessel for a safety inspection. He’s been in the CG 16 years and he’s either twins or he never sleeps.

Seaman Dyer, on the other hand, has three months time served in the CG. He started this patrol getting qualified on the .50-caliber machine gun, has his name in with Ltjg. Nolan to become qualified as a boarding team member, and is already pumping aviator Lt. Eason on what he has to do to become a member of the air crew. He’s nineteen.

This afternoon Engineering Officer Tony Erickson invited me to a drill in the engine room. I had to wear two sets of ear protection. There are four humongous Caterpillar engines, and a sign on the bulkhead over the ladder that reads “Our Cats are bigger than your Cats.” I asked Tony whose Cats were ours bigger than, and he said, “Everyone’s.”

The drill was a simulated fire between two engines. One of the engineering guys whacked the metal deck plate with a hammer to simulate an explosion and started waving a black and red square around, and kept waving it around while the engineering crew responded, tried to put the fire out, failed, alerted the fire response team, which arrived all suited up and hauled hose down two ladders and successfully put out the fire. In the meantime the generators were shut down and we were adrift. I was glad there wasn’t much of a swell.

Later there was a debriefing in the wardroom, during which the training team led by Tony went around the room and said what they thought worked and didn’t. There was no finger pointing or blame gaming, everyone was so truthful it made my teeth hurt, and it was all in the spirit of “we’ll do it better next time.”

Oh, and guess what? The engines are named. Yes, really, or three of them: Fauntel, Zoe and Ginger, although Tony says that’s about to change, to Pigpen (because it always makes a mess), Eeyore (because sometimes it will and sometimes it won’t), and the other two with names in waiting.


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