The Four to Eights

[from the vaults, 2007]

April 28

Chances are you go to work in the morning at 8am and knock off at 5pm, with an hour off for lunch.

ENS Dan Schrader's first watch

The Coast Guard stands watches. We stand watches on the bridge as OOD (Officer of the Deck), QMOW (Quartermaster of the Watch), BMOW (Bosun Mate of the Watch), plus helmsman and lookout. We stand watches in main control as throttlemen, oilers, and EOWs (Engineer of the Watch). We stand watches in Combat and in Radio.

PO Tim Stamm at navigation SNBM Chris Susalis and BM2 Tim Myers

We not only stand watches underway, we also stand them in port. OODs, engineers, operators, supply folks in an eighteen-man duty section stand a twenty-four hour watch. Which means, Ops LT Jimmy Terrell says, “the vast majority of the crew spends every fourth night in port on the ship.”

Underway, Jimmy writes the OOD watch schedule. Underway, operations can throw everything right out the window, which is why I regard Jimmy’s watch schedule as about as reliable as the XO’s Plan of the Day. But there has to be a schedule. “You don’t want to get in a spot where the XO stands watch,” Jimmy says. Although I’ve seen Munro’s XO take the conn at need. “If it gets to one in four or below, Weps (LTJG Kevin Beaudoin) and I stand in,” Jimmy says. “A lot of times I’ll just pull an OOD aside and tell him I got his watch, especially if there’s a break-in on the four to eight and I’m interested in seeing how they’re doing.” Munro’s OODs are flexible, Jimmy says. “Even the CO has stepped up, okay, you gotta go, I’ll take it.”

I like the four to eights myself. I’m an early riser and it’s fun to take my morning coffee up to the bridge and shoot the breeze with the OOD and QMOWs and get the sun out of bed.

ET2 Chris Leach at lee helm and BMC Wes Guilmartin OOD ENS Chris McGhee

Many of the QMOW watchstanders are also qualified to do many other things, coxswains, boat crew, BTMs, so they’re always changing out. We’re doing flight ops and BM3 Tim Stamm comes to the bridge to relieve BM3 Dario Garza at the nav station so Dario can go down to the boat deck to stand by with his boat crew.

ENS Gary Kim on watch in main control

We were launching the helo a couple of days ago and BMC Wes Gilmartin had the deck. “Hi, Dana,” he said. I turned to eavesdrop on something telepathic going on between the Captain and the XO and then I hear Suppo Tony Parker, HCO (the tower) that day, talking to the LSO on the radio. The LSO’s voice sounds awfully familiar. Wait a minute, isn’t that Wes? But he’s up here. No, he wasn’t. Practically before my back was turned he had been relieved by OOD ENS Chris McGhee and break-in OOD BM1 Terry Bailey so he could go be LSO on the flight deck. Try to keep track of what this crew is doing at any given moment, I dare you.

“On a 270 or a 210 there aren’t as many junior officers,” Wes says. “A one in four rotation is just a fact of life.” On Munro, “we’re fat for a couple of months.” There are enough qualified OODs (eleven not counting the Captain, although only five stand watch) to maintain a one in six, which means any OOD stands one four-hour watch in six four-hour watches total. So if an OOD stood this morning’s midwatch (four to eight), he won’t stand watch again until 0800 the following morning. You can actually get a night’s sleep on a watch schedule like that.

SN Bryson Oliveira ENS Jason Berger, headed back to work

Engineering watches are different than operations watches. A lot of times they are fixing as well as monitoring. “In engineering,” Jimmy says, “it’s make the pump work, make the screws turn. It’s only a regular watch for operations until we do a boarding.”

Becoming qualified to stand watch in engineering takes a while, on average six months. To become a watch stander, you must first become qualified in standing watches in security (MPA Andy Molnar is going to fix it so I get to follow one of these guys around, I’ll write about that later), machinery, throttles and EOW (engineer of the watch). After that, you have to stand six watches on your own to be fully qualified.

The neat thing about qualifying is you don’t ever lose it, Wes says. “You have to recertify at your next duty station, but you don’t have to start from scratch.”

And Jimmy says, “Actually part of the qualification and learning is to stand your own watches. Even after you get your letter, you’re learning.”

So I’ve noticed.

MK3 David Ochiai's marlin the Captain teaching David how to fillet


Ops permitted fish call this morning, first time in what feels like a long time. SN Bryson Oliveira was nice enough to pose for an action picture. Notice the radio in the foreground of the photo of ENS Jason Berger. It’s there so whoever gets lucky can tell the bridge “Fish on!” and we’ll slow down so they can reel in the prize. ENS Gary Kim landed a five foot mahi-mahi, after I left, naturally.

MK3 David Ochiai finally forwarded me a photo of his marlin. He protested a little (“It looks like that fish kicked my butt!”) but I’m here to tell you that it was very tasty. The Captain knows his way around a grill.

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