I'm just in from walking our english bulldog Delany through the woods that surround our little house here in Ballston Lake, New York. It's a beautiful day out--nearly 40f and sunny without a breath of wind, and what little snow remains in the open is disappearing quickly--and I enjoyed strolling alone beneath the bare branches (adjusting slowly--as always--to the uneven texture of ground beneath my boots after months of steel decking) while The Beast made a detailed study of last night's deer activity through examination of their tracks and spoor. The latter research was perhaps a little too extensive...
It is the third day of my leave, having shouldered my seabag and paid-off Supply on Friday afternoon. I have now a little less than four weeks to relax, recharge the batteries, and prepare for the next voyage. The relaxation sounds pretty good to me. Peace and quiet after desert heat and winter's icy storms @ sea.
Oh, who am I kidding? Lucy and I will spend the next month preparing for our impending Move back down to Virginia, a process mainly consisting of sorting, packing, and in a few cases selling our assembled belongings, plus making one or perhaps two runs down to the house in Newport News (a full day's drive each way) to prepare said dwelling for occupation. In other words, the next few weeks will be rather busy, if not chaotic!
As an aside, HOW on Earth did we ever accumulate all of this stuff?! 26 years ago, when I met the lovely Lucy Marie Prochazka in Philadelphia, nearly all of my worldly possessions fit in my seabag and a small case for my old Pentax 35mm SLR. Today, a mere quarter-century later the bulk of our personal property--furniture, books (and more books), telescopes, electronics and knick-knacks--will require a big truck and a few good men (well, strong ones, anyhow!) to transport back to the Commonwealth. I'd love to say that I plan on reducing our load, but I really don't know where to start.
Tacking Before the Wind
When my leave is done (on the 25th of March) I'll report back to MSC's Customer Service Unit-East--otherwise known as 'the Pool', placing myself again at the mercy of that bureaucracy for processing and assignment. But this time something will be different; instead of awaiting orders to report to a ship as an Able Seaman I will be sailing in a new capacity, that of an Operations Chief--at a considerable raise in pay.
Yes, a promotion, and a change in the course of my career in MSC. No longer will I stand watches, perform roving patrols of the vessel, scan the horizon as lookout or even man the helm with a warship alongside to take fuel; my new job will be different, definitely less physical but no less challenging--and I'll still be working on the bridge where I feel at home.
Operations Chiefs act as part of the ship's Executive staff, with one Chief usually assigned per vessel working directly for the Operations Officer and indirectly for the Captain. Their position as Assistant Ops, AOPS for short, involves operational and tactical communications, intelligence collection, control of close-in maneuvering situations, and managing the ship's scheduling and planning processes--in essence he is in charge of keeping the Captain in the loop, and effecting his orders.
Readers with a U.S. Navy background (I know you're out there, Shipmates!) will recognize similarities between this general description of my new position with that of my job in my previous career in uniform, that of Operations Specialist (OS). This is no co-incidence; the Operations Chief billet is modeled on the OS mission of collection, processing, display and dissemination of operational and tactical information for the use of the ship's Captain in making decisions, and so they are endeavoring to hire OSs for the job--or, as in my case, promoting from other ratings within the 'company'.
So, a major alteration in the course of my maritime career, but why? And why now? An obvious answer is an increase in basic pay, coupled with better quarters and the opportunity for overtime, but I have never been that ambitious about these things in the past and now is no exception.
The only real reply is that over the past few years I have become somewhat tired of the day to day routine of my job as an Able Seaman; the long watches (standing...always standing), the janitorial duties of cleaning, polishing and cleaning again, the sometimes less-than-stimulating intellectual environment, and the often arduous working conditions (I think that it was while hauling mooring lines for four hours last summer aboard Joshua Humphreys in the 120f heat of Djibouti that I reached "critical mass" on this factor--it turns out that I am no longer 25 years old, and it is about time to admit it).
Even so, my own lack of ambition would have had me hamstrung--at least until Captain Jason Ivey of Supply gave me the encouragement I needed to make my application. Over the years the Captain and I have been through a lot together, and I thank him here for seeing my need for a change in job description and for his assistance in preparing and transmitting my "package" to the promotion board. I'm proud to call him a true Shipmate and (if I may) friend.
So, a new job--still sailing the great ships that I love, but in a different capacity. Even with my Operations Specialist background I know that my new duties will be challenging; the learning-curve will be steep, but I'm looking forward to the experience. I'll certainly keep you informed of my progress thru this Blog, so stay tuned as the next voyage begins.
This ought to be fun!