Rendering Honors

[from the vaults, 2007]

April 13


Today’s photo is of another cutter rendering honors to Munro. This is a long-standing, time-honored maritime tradition between warships. The XO explained the process to me.

First the officer of the deck tells all stations to man the rail on the passing side. We were passing port side to port side.

As the ships approach, two whistles sound to bring the crew to attention.

When the bows cross, one whistle is given by the junior ship (the junior ship is under the command of the junior Captain) for hand salute. The senior ship responds in kind.

When the bridge wings pass, the senior ship gives two whistles indicating “ready to” (to drop the salute). The junior ship follows in kind.

When the sterns pass, three whistles are given by each ship indicating “carry on.”

This is a charming custom. It’s beautiful and full of grace, and it’s one of the few times the whole ship is quiet for long moments, which draws and holds your attention. I couldn’t help but think of Douglas Munro, that Coastie for whom the ship is named. Everytime Munro is rendered honors, so is he.


Courtesy of LTJG John Holderman, who found and forwarded me this list. I’m betting all Coasties and Coastie relatives and friends are familiar with it, but for those who aren’t, it’s a riot. It’s a long list, so I’ve edited it down.


How to simulate being a Coastie underway

Buy a steel dumpster, paint it white inside and out, and live in it for six months.

Repaint your entire house every month.

Run all the pipes and wires in your house exposed on the walls.

When you take showers, make sure you turn off the water while you soap down.

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, turn water heater temperature up to 300 degrees.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, turn water heater off.

On Saturdays and Sundays tell your family they use too much water during the week, so no bathing will be allowed.

Leave your lawn mower running in your living room 24 hours a day for proper noise level.

Once a month, disassemble all your major appliances and electric garden tools, inspect them and then reassemble them.

Do this every week with your lawnmower.

Raise the thresholds and lower the headers of your front and back doors, so that you either trip or bang your head every time you pass through them.

Sleep on the shelf in your closet. Replace the closet door with a curtain. Have your spouse whip open the curtain about 4 hours after you go to sleep, shine a flashlight in your eyes, and say “Sorry, wrong rack.”

Make your family qualify to operate each appliance in your house -dishwasher operator, blender technician, etc.

Have your neighbor come over each day at 5 am, blow a whistle so loud Helen Keller could hear it, and shout “Reveille, reveille, all hands heave out and trice up.”

Have your neighbor collect all your mail for a month, read your magazines, and randomly lose every 5th item before delivering it to you.

Have your family vote on which movie to watch, and then show a different one.

When your children are in bed, run into their room with a megaphone shouting that your home is under attack and order them to set GQ1.

Post a menu on the kitchen door informing your family that they are having steak for dinner. Then make them wait in line for an hour. When they finally get to the kitchen, tell them you are out of steak, but they can have dried ham or hot dogs. Repeat daily until they ignore the menu and just ask for hot dogs.

Bake a cake. Prop up one side of the pan so the cake bakes unevenly.
Spread icing real thick to level it off.

Every week or so, throw your cat or dog in the pool and shout, “Man overboard port side!” Rate your family members on how fast they respond.

Invite at least 100 people you don’t really like to come and live with you for about 6 months.

Have the paperboy give you a haircut with sheep shears.

Lock yourself and your family in the house for six weeks. Tell them that at the end of the 6th week you are going to take them to Disney World for “liberty.” At the end of the 6th week, inform them the trip to Disney World has been canceled because they need to get ready for an inspection, and it will be another week before they can leave the house.

And this is the book that came from that ridealong.

Prepared for Rage

The Writer’s Desk

[from the archives, February 10, 2008 ]

Okaaaaay, five days after publication of Prepared for Rage, I have received the first email wanting to know when the next Kate novel will be out.

Laurie King and I were talking about this yesterday. We’re pleased and flattered that you Just Can’t Wait for the next book, but understand that while it takes you a day or two to read one, it takes us a year to write one. Have a heart! We’re peddling as fast as we can!

I am, in fact, even as we speak thundering to the end of Whisper to the Blood, also known as Kate16. Today’s photo is the disaster area that is my desk at this point in the process. Let’s look at it counter clockwise, beginning middle left, shall we?
Continue reading

Here Endeth my Patrol on the USCG Cutter Munro

[from the vaults, 2007]

May 11

Munro from the helo.

Things I won’t forget

The schizophrenic nature of an equatorial sunrise.
Sometimes it’s a bare, self-effacing minimum of pink pastels, peeping over the edge of the world with a diffident look, as if to say, “Oh, don’t mind me, I’ll just come up over here and you go on about your business.”
Other times it boils up over the ocean in a ferocious, frothing mass, beating its orange and gold chest, daring you to look away, and you don’t, for fear of what it might do when your back is turned.

Rolling out of my rack at 4am when I hear the pipe, “Now, set Flight Condition 1! Close all doors and hatches! The smoking lamp is out!”

the Darwin sorter

too little, too late

Being judged and found wanting in evolutionary excellence by the Darwin sorter.

EO Todd Raybonn’s description of the ballast evolution. “Every tank is only four valves away from sea water.” He makes the ship sound alive.


The way the flight deck seems to shrink in size the closer the helo gets to landing, whether I’m on board it or not.

me and the Twin Towers, aka Captain Barkley Lloyd and XO CDR Steve Rothchild

The absolutely unnecessary collective height of the Captain and the XO. They aren’t intimidating enough already? Sheesh.

The startling, over-the-cliff drop in crew energy and enthusiasm in mid-patrol. The grim, determined climb out of the pit, greatly aided by the crossing of the line festivities.

About which, I say only: Aaaarrrrrrrg. Though not as well as any one of the Chiefs.

Nicknames in the Chief’s Mess. I’m not telling who was called what, but they all fit. Nobody tell me what they’re calling me now that I’m gone.

The wonder in the eyes of my underway writers’ workshop as they learn what works and what doesn’t. I didn’t know I could do that.

the Captain and the kid

Our crew at that orphanage.

The pixie in the galley, aka FS2 Nicki Steele, serving midrats to the mid shift crew she treats like family. Also, her snickerdoodles.

Counting down the minutes left with the midnight-to-four watch on the bridge. Those guys are glad to see anybody.

Darkened ship, DIW, hove to beneath a moon so bright I can’t find my way home.

Things I won’t miss

Sea showers. I have too much hair for an EPAC patrol.

That’s all, really.

rendering honors

To the Captain and crew of the USCG cutter Munro,

Thank you for your tolerant acceptance of my presence among you. Thank you for your infinite patience in answering my endless questions. If I don’t get it right in the books, it won’t be your fault.

I will think of you all, I will miss you all, and I’m going to write about you all.

Now, set go fast red!

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Mess Bill

[from the vaults, 2007]

May 10

Munro's FS crew

I just got my mess bill from FS1 Kelly Napier. The total comes to $290.25 for March, April, & May. “Was it worth it?” she wants to know. “Not exactly cruise ship quality?”

Kelly breaks my mess bill down this way. “Breakfast is $1.65.
Lunch & Supper are $3.15 each. Everyone gets signed up for pizza night (no way of keeping good track of that night!). If someone doesn’t sign up for either a lunch or supper, we sign them up for one meal.
For all the snacks, espresso, and other items that are kept out to be consumed throughout the day, a ‘Coffee Mess’ is charged each officer, four if we are inport, eight if we are underway. If an officer isn’t with us the whole month, we estimate a number.”

Officers and guests are charged. Enlisted are not.

So I wrote my check and I marched it down the main deck to her office so I could say thank you in person for feeding me so well on this patrol. Let me just say one more time, everyone works hard on Munro, but the FS’s work hardest of all, in a grueling physical environment beneath the hypercritical view of their shipmates three and sometimes four times a day. FS2 Lee Schob, thank you again for the green chile stew. FS2 Nicki Steele, your snickerdoodles are divine, and your apple pie ambrosia. Captain, your egg yolks aren’t runny enough for over medium. See what you can do about that, will you?

Okay, maybe not cruise ship quality, but $290.25 for almost two months of meals that were pretty consistently tasty and for the most part pretty healthy? I lost weight on this patrol and I didn’t even work out (I figured I’d already hit this ship with my head once). If I ate this well at home where I get all the exercise in the world, all my pants would fit.

It was a bargain.

In the photo, from left:

FS1 Kelly Napier (who is going to EMT school this summer and who also swings a mean paintbrush)
FS2 Moy Castillo (who turned me onto Sonora Santanera)
FS3 Matt Dulemba (who joins me in worshipping at the feet of Joss Whedon)
FS2 Lee Schob (who works out of Repair Locker 2 as well as the galley)
FS3 Shane Ayers (who is always smiling, even in the galley)
FS2 Nicki Steele (with whom I have a date sometime in the future to figure out my mom’s cinammon roll recipe)
FS3 Jake Barclay (He’s sure Snape is evil. Me? Not so much.)

Missing is FS1 Tracy Mellott (We shared a mutual affection for the espresso machine in the wardroom. Thanks for all the half and half, Tracy.).

Tomorrow, it’s goodbye, so long and thanks for all the fish. No, wait. Where was all the sushi I was promised, anyway?

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[from the vaults, 2007]

May 8

sanding port
sanding starboard
It’s called, in Coastie speak, a COMREL, short for community relations. Forty-five Munro crew members leave the ship at ten a.m. and present ourselves at a local orphanage for duty. We enter through a locked gate and are led to a courtyard occupying the center of a group of buildings that look as if they could have been picked up from Tucson, Arizona, and put down here.

men at work
shade gang
washing windows

We are taken in hand by a solid-looking, no-nonsense woman named Ruth, whose lack of English does not hamper her brisk ability to assign us tasks, washing windows, cleaning bathrooms and dormitories, scrubbing, sanding and painting walls both inside and out.
FN Sean Clark and the never-ending wall
LTJG Josh Dipietro with scaffolding
ENS Gary Kim in war paint

There is part of a scaffold that LTJG Josh Dipietro and crew loses no time in assembling to wash two stories’ worth of louvered windows on the auditorium. Inside, FN Sean Clark piles a small table on top of a large table, mickey-mouses a telescoping rod with a paint roller on the end of it, and starts painting up toward the ceiling while everyone else paints down toward the floor. The color is a brilliant teal green. “El color es muy bueno,” I say to one of the orphanage workers. “Muy bonito,” he says, grinning. Okay, so I don’t remember hardly any of my college Spanish, the color is gorgeous in any language.

SN Alex Trimble buried
HSC Gene Mason and friend

It is cooler in there than it is outside, where a gang of crew members dressed in everything from ship’s overalls to shorts and t-shirts is scraping paint. The work goes quicker when the Captain takes up a collection and sends out for more scrapers. The orphanage brings out buckets and buckets of paint, the exterior color a warm peach. Most of the walls require two and three coats. Ladders that would have registered 7 like a gong on a GAR assessment materialize and tall people climb them with safety spotters and paint loaders to paint up, while others climb up on the roof and paint down.
the kids
kid in wheelchair
short break
Nate Noyes and friend
HSC Gene Mason and friends
last arch
dead soldiers

SN Alex Trimble takes a break from cleaning to unwisely enter a room full of tiny tots, and disappears beneath the onslaught. SKC Heidi Eystadt, YNC Eve Helms and HSC Gene Mason clean bathrooms and are then hijacked by a roomful of little girls. I bring out my camera and am mobbed.
knocking off

Lunch arrives in the form of burgers, fries and cold drinks and we knock off for half an hour. Gene is very quiet. “You just want to take one home with you,” he says finally. “You want to take them all home with you,” I say.
piggy back

photo op

It’s not like the kids look hungry or mistreated, in fact, the opposite. They look healthy and most of them happy. They’re safe, they’re not on the streets. Some of them are handicapped, others low-functioning, and some are in wheelchairs, but the people who work there seem kind and capable and all the children help each other out. Kinda like Coasties on liberty, they all have buddies. goodbye

It’s just that there are so many of them, they are so responsive to any attention, and then here comes this big-hearted crew who haven’t seen their own kids (or any kids, really) in two months.

For those same two months, I’ve been listening to OSC Luke Cutburth talk about Zachary who wrote the essay on Thomas Edison (“But I call him Al”), XO Steve Rothchild about Chelsea’s saxophone playing and Erica’s singing, Gene Mason about Courtney, Kevin and Sarah, Todd Raybonn about his two girls and a third on the way (“Scarey,” one of them said when she saw the picture of Charlene on the blog), Matt Sayers about Little Man, the Captain about Matt, Emily and Miss Bridget and their lemonade stand in front of the Ballard Locks. I never again want to see anyone as unhappy as EMO Jimmy Olson was after our first port call, where he had talked to his kids for the first time in three weeks and knew he wouldn’t be talking to them again for at least that long.

At the orphanage that day, I am glad I am wearing sunglasses. Can’t have these big strong Coasties see me cry.

After lunch, the orphanage workers seem to wake up to what a good thing they are on to here, and more exterior walls are discovered to be in need of paint. In the auditorium, FN Sean Clark is still painting up. The scaffolding has been reassembled inside to get at the really high spaces. ENS Gary Kim, who has donned war paint, climbs up to paint the last arch. People are knocking off, stacking brushes, rollers and empty buckets of paint, and gathering on the steps leading up to the auditorium to pound back bottles of water and pop. A soccer ball appears and our crew members start kicking it around.

“We’ve gotta go,” the Captain says, and then they turn the kids loose. They swarm down into the courtyard and mob the crew members and it’s pandemonium. Our crew has kids riding on their shoulders, kids swinging on their hands, kids playing soccer with them, kids playing tag and airplane and hide and seek with them. There is no language barrier here.

Crew and kids assemble on the stairs for a photo op, and then it really is time to leave. Two toddlers almost make it out to the bus with us, cut off at the pass by two laughing workers. The kids and staff are still waving and calling “Adios!” as we climb on board for the ride back to Munro.

Overheard in the bus coming home:

“That’s the coolest thing we’ve done on this patrol.”

“I’ve never been so excited to go anywhere as I was this morning.”

“And it was manual labor. That’s just wrong.”

These people have been at sea for two months. This is only their second port call. Port call is only three days long, and this time, due to heightened security concerns in this particular country, they have to return each night to the ship, no hotel stays. They voluntarily gave up one of these precious days to public service, and it wasn’t even our public.

No. That’s just right.

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Underway Writers Workshop 3

[from the vaults, 2007]

May 7

Relieving the Watch
LTJG Josh Dipietro

Mr D's Last Day

“Why’s this engine overloaded? What the hell you been doing all watch?”
“Overload, what the hell are you talking about, look at the rack reading, look at the scav air. We are acting perfectly within published parameters, the only thing wrong here is you can’t figure out how to fix your stupid overload light. Huh, freaking overload.”
“When’s the last time you checked the scav air? Have you made any adjustments? What are you gonna just ignore that light? Damn, Lumpy, just drive it like you stole it. Don’t worry, Main Prop will spend hours fixing our shit cause you don’t feel like standing a competent watch.”
“At least I stand a watch and don’t get everyone to relieve me to smoke and joke. So, what’s for lunch?”
“Oh, its chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks and corn on the cob and they actually cooked it right this time so its isn’t all mushy or raw. You better get up there while they still have the pie, too!”
“Alright, Andy, take the pass down real quick so I can go get some.”
“In the booth, MPA has the EOW.”
“See ya in the gym at 1900.”
“See ya, Lump.”

Port Call
SN Caleb Critchfield

SN Caleb Critchfield

“Liberty, liberty, liberty! Liberty is hereby granted to expire in accordance with the plan of the day! Now, liberty!”
These are, without a doubt, the sweetest words ever heard aboard USCGC Munro. After three straight weeks underway we finally pulled into our first official port call. The weather was hot and sunny, there was a mountainous jungle looming over the pier, and several hotels and bars waited to be occupied.
A small group of us went to a local hotel to get rooms. After about an hour there admiring the room and the small jungle in the courtyard, complete with aviary, we hopped a cab to the bar.
If avoiding contact with anyone from the boat had been our goal that night, we would have failed completely. Every department and every rank on the ship was represented by at least one bar patron that first night.
At the end of the evening many bowed out gracefully. Some went kicking and screaming, but no one was left behind. After a day of Powerpoint presentations on the dangers of drinking too much and the sudden reversal of a strict liberty policy, none of us were willing to risk the wrath of command. We may have been relaxing, we may have been trying to escape the pressures and responsibilities of underway life, but we all looked out for one another. Everyone made it back to the boat, or the hotel, and lived to regret the previous night.
The next morning twenty-two of us woke up early to go on a horseback ride. It took us through town and deep into the jungle to a small open air restaurant. There we dined on local cuisine, met large barking rodents, and set out on a hike through the jungle. Three streams, a large jungle swing and one rest stop later we reached the falls.
Here we luxuriated in a deep pool fed by cascading water and zipped through the trees on suspended wires. We made our way back to the restaurant and mounted up. Not even halfway back the sky opened up. The rain dissolved one camera and almost dissolved pockets full of money.
There was more revelry that evening, but not so much as the previous night. The crew had hit their stride and settled in and there was a much more relaxed air about the entire crowd. That night was all about slowing down and enjoying the remaining time in port.
Imagine being at work twenty four hours a day seven days a week. You work and eat and work and sleep and work some more. You don’t get to go home. You don’t get to see your friends or your family. You live at work.
Port calls give the crew a chance to get away from work. They allow all of us, from the Commanding Officer to the lowest ranking Seaman Apprentice to take some time off and relax.

OS3 Carson Russell

Carson's Pollywogs
Carson Russell wrote a very nice piece about the metamorphosis from pollywog to shellback, and then discovered to both his and my dismay that the time-honored, purely voluntary and entirely safe ceremony is undertaken beneath an oath of secrecy.
“There are ceremonies for crossing many different parts of the ocean,” he says. “On Munro we did the crossing of the line ceremony for crossing the equator into Davy Jones’ territory. We started as pollywogs and became Honorable Shellbacks. We had an excellent time with it, and we’re anxiously waiting to do the other line crossing ceremonies sometime in our Coast Guard careers.”
In the meantime, here’s a photo of Carson, his fellow pollywogs, and their Honorable Shellback sponsor, EMO Jimmy Olson.

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Underway Writers Workshop 2

[from the vaults, 2007]

May 6

SN Dennis R Gordon III

SN Dennis Gordon
I have been on watch for five minutes.
It feels like three hours.
The ocean rocks the 378 like a cradle. Water against the hull, wind whistling through the antenna, the occasional unrecognizable clank or thud.
It is dark. The moon and stars peek from behind the clouds every so often to cast beams of glorious white light on the surface of the water.
The green vision of the NVGs fabricates a world of light in the darkness, mocking me. “Found a go fast yet?”
I check my watch.


Way Down in the Hole
DC2 Shawn Milton

DC2 Shawn Milton

Just when I was getting my sleep on, 0330 I get woke up out of a pretty cool dream.
Great, another call. “What was it this time?” I said, as I put on my overalls.
I take a moment to calm down. Have you have ever slept in a space the size of your average middle income kitchen with 14 other guys? You hear everything in my berthing area, snoring, groaning, and farting. I swear, this place smells like ass and feet. I don’t know sometimes how I ever get any sleep.
I walk the darkened passageway down to the guts of the ship. Yes, my friends, where all the sewage pipes dead end. I climb down the ladder, the dull light trying to penetrate the darkness, reddish brown decks and the grey sides of the ever-loving VCT.
Finally, I’m here, someplace I don’t want to be, Forward Sewage. I try and drain the VCT tank down below halfway before opening the sucker up. Don’t even think of the glass half full on this job.
I put on my glasses and gloves and start to release the vacuum pressure from the tank. Opening one of these suckers up is kind of like opening a Cracker Jack box. You never know what kind of prize is clogging up the system.
I just hope its something different this time, other than the usual paper towels, green pads, or feminine hygiene products.

We are ETs
ET3 Dea Lang

PO Dea Lang
They call us passengers.
They call us Rec Deck 8.
We don’t stand watch. We don’t work in the engine room. We don’t work on the bridge. We don’t clean out forward sewage.
We are ETs. Our real name is Electronics Technicians, but the ones who know us well call us the Everything Techs.
Every BM knows that the boat can function without radars and positioning equipment. But what would happen if our ability to find go-fasts disappeared? What would happen if communications with aircraft, other ships, stations, or the beach went down?
Every ET knows that there are many more important jobs all around us, engineers, support, even deckies, but we take pride in what we do. Every day we deal with our number one problem, operator error. Equipment breaks, we fix it. We set up network LANs, so that the ship can participate in gaming.
We go to school for eight months just to learn the basics. In port, we stay late to update, fix, and install equipment that betters the ship and her crew. We know what we do, and we do it the best we can.
We are ETs.

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