Team Forward, Team Coast Guard©

By Lisa D. Healy
Soundings Staff

Reprinted By Permission Of The Author

 

Lisa is an accomplished professional writer who is able to write about the Coast Guard from first hand experience. Jack's Joint is proud to be able to post some of here excellent articles. In this article she writes of the unsung people who support the ship's front line personnel.

DO NOT REUSE THIS ARTICLE WITHOUT THE PERMISSION OF THE AUTHOR

It takes a lot of teamwork for Coast Guard cutters to successfully perform their missions. An important part of that team effort is the cutters’ support departments..

Coast Guardsmen on board cutters have the same needs as Coast Guardsmen on shore. They need to eat. They need medical care. And they want to be paid.

However, accomplishing those tasks under way is often challenging and sometimes nearly impossible for the Support Department.

Ships rock ’n‘ roll. That means so does everything else: the dishes, leave papers, people. And with that shuffling comes the obstacles that make life under way tough.

“It’s quite the challenge,” said Food Service Specialist 2nd Class Eddie Richardson, Jack of the Dust onboard the Coast Guard cutter Forward. “But we have fun at it.”

Richardson serves as Jack of the Dust on the Forward. “Jack of the Dust” is the traditional name for the person who tracks all the food consumed during a patrol, plans the menu for at least six weeks and organizes the ship’s cold storage spaces.

Preparing a meal for 100 people, three times a day, plus mid-rats (midnight rations) for watch standers would be a challenge for anyone. But when combined with seasickness and the number of continuous days underway on a 270-foot medium-endurance cutter — often compared to a cork in the water — the task is especially demanding on the seven food service specialists on board.

Food service specialists fortunate enough to be assigned to shore usually work at stations where they are responsible for cooking for a relatively small number of people. And most of those people are thankful for the meals they get. But on a cutter, it can be quite a different story for the cooks who work almost 24 hours a day to keep the crew fed. Fixing lasagna for a small family takes a lot of work and ingredients. For a crew of 100 it takes 6 pounds of pasta, 30 pounds of ground beef and 19 pounds of tomato sauce.

And, say the cooks, it’s inevitable that someone complains about every meal.

“We’re the only department that gets graded by the crew four times a day,” Richardson said.

But cooks aren’t the only ones on board who get frustrated. The storekeepers and yeomans are in tough positions, too.

Whenever parts are delayed reaching the boat or personnel have pay problems, crew members head for the ship’s office. And at the receiving end of a crew member’s frustration is a yeoman or storekeeper who feels just as frustrated.

“My biggest concern is making sure people are paid correctly, and that’s hard to do from here,” said Yeoman 1st Class Allison Chandler.

On shore, when there is a pay problem or a problem with a family member’s health insurance Coast Guardsmen can usually “reach out and touch someone” to get an answer to their dilemma. But under way, there are no easy fixes. Message traffic takes time to go from ship to shore and vice versa. And waiting for answers to serious personnel issues is difficult underway. It draws attention away from a job that requires constant vigilance to avoid accidents and mistakes at sea.

For storekeepers, it can be tough when the engineers or electronics technicians require a vital part to repair an equipment casualty on board. It’s not a matter of sending a message to the Maintenance and Logistics Command in Norfolk and asking that a part to be overnighted. Parts are stocked at various supply depots throughout the country. Storekeepers have to find that location and send a requisition message to the location that has the needed part. Next comes the obstacle of shipping the part once it’s found. In the message requesting the part, the storekeepers must tell where to have the part sent. If the equipment failure happens in the middle of the night 10 days before the next scheduled port call, that can be a difficult task. Immediate arrangements have to be made to pull into a port to pick up the part and if it’s a foreign port, a husbanding agent must be located to meet the ship. Or, if possible, it can be arranged to have a helo fly the part aboard the cutter.

As difficult as life is for the food service specialists and the storekeepers, life can be even tougher for the cutter’s corpsman. The “doc” onboard Coast Guard cutter Forward is Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Vincent Jones, and his job is an important one. There are two people a cutter can’t sail without: the captain and the corpsman. Jones works hard at keeping the crew healthy. There aren’t extra people onboard, so a healthy crew is vital.

Sick call is held twice daily: at 8 a.m. and at noon. The most common ailment Jones sees while underway is seasickness. But there are lots of cuts and bruises, too.

“It’s a constant effort to reinforce that you need to use safety equipment to prevent accidents,” Jones said.

One of the most challenging aspects of Jones’ job is getting people appointments to see specialists for eye exams and dental procedures. Just like the other support personnel onboard, he has to rely on message traffic to make appointments on shore. Because crew members are under way and can’t make an appointment around duty schedules because the schedules aren’t even prepared yet, there are often conflicts once they arrive home, causing them to have to cancel and possibly not be able to reschedule.

But what is most difficult about his job is being prepared for the worst. And no one knows better than Jones how important it is to have a quick-thinking, competent medical person onboard. Jones suffered a heart attack about 10 years ago and was fortunate enough to be on shore where he could receive proper care.

“The thing that really scares me is when there’s something I don’t know, and there’s not a medical officer to ask (like there is on the shore),” Jones said.

He says that so far there’s never been an emergency on board that he hasn’t been able to respond to, but there is always that fear in the back of his mind.

For everyone attached to a cutter’s support department, doing their rated job is only part of their shipboard duties. There are still billets to be filled during special evolutions and shipboard emergencies. Cutter personnel are also required to be damage-control qualified, which takes up a significant amount of time when first reporting aboard, especially for the Coast Guardsman new to an underway unit.

Every job onboard a cutter is vital. It takes engineers to make the screws turn to get the cutter to its assigned area of operation. It takes the operations department to locate suspect vessels within the operational area. The deck department, in addition to maintaining the ship’s exterior, drives the cutter’s small boats to take the boarding teams to the vessels located by the operators.

And a good support department keeps the cutter on an even keel by ensuring the other departments have the necessities required to perform the overall Coast Guard mission. Each department, while separate and different, are equally important in achieving the Coast Guard’s goal of Semper Paratus: Always Ready.

Contact Lisa Healy at lisa@militarynews.com

 

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