Welcome to Retroman40's World!


Due to a series of unfortunate events, I found myself transferred from the Marine Safety Center to Coast Guard Headquarters in July 2001.  At the MSC I was (as Big Ernie McCracken in "Kingpin" - played by the ever funny Bill Murray - would say) "riding the gravy train with biscuit wheels".  Well, that train didn't only derail, but it rolled over, leaked and started on fire with my assignment to USCGHQ.  I suppose I shouldn't complain too much, my assignment as Chief of the Hazardous Materials Standards Branch on the surface wasn't all that bad.  In fact, as HQ goes it was pretty darn good.  I had my own office with a door (most HQ staff lived in cubical land).  I even had a window (although there wasn't much to look out at).  From top to bottom every member of my staff was a top notch expert in their specialty.  It was a branch that no one really wanted to mess with since most people were clueless as to the properties of hazardous materials.  Basically what we said was the way it was since no one wanted to second guess us and take the risk of a serious incident.

It wasn't even so much the location of the building - which sucked and from I can tell isn't really going to get much better when HQ moves - it was the whole atmosphere in the building.

I guess the best way to describe how the place operated is with a story.  One of my duties was Executive Secretary of the Chemical Transportation Advisory Committee.  We were holding a meeting at Headquarters.  We wanted to provide some refreshments for our guests.  What we would typically do is everyone in the branch would kick in 5 bucks and we'd order up coffee and donuts from the building cafeteria (which by the way was pretty good).  I'd cover any overage which usually wasn't more than 5 or 10 bucks extra.  One of my guys suggested that we try to get 50 bucks from some semi-secret fund the Admiral's office maintained.  They called it the "xxx" fund (it even sounded secret!).  Well, he drafted up a memo which I signed and forwarded to my Division Chief (a Captain).  He reviewed it and forwarded to our Director (a member of the Senior Executive Service).  He reviewed it a forwarded it to the "front office" where it went through a thorough review prior to us receiving the 50 bucks.  On that same day, we received a request to classify two new bulk liquid cargoes for transport on tank ships in the United States.  After thoroughly reviewing the chemical characteristics of the compounds we determined they should be classified as Category A Noxious Liquid Substances.  We determined some other carriage requirements.  Category A NLS's are the most dangerous chemicals carried in bulk.  Let's just say that any discharges of Cat A NLS's is not a good thing.  Being new to the office, I forwarded the approval letter to my Division Chief.  He called me into his office and handed me back the letter while informing me that this was my job and to sign "by direction" of the Commandant.  Bottom line, it took a multilayer review to get some donuts and coffee, but a lowly Commander can sign off on something that if we screwed it up could result in serious environmental damage as well as human injury or even death.  Yep, that's how HQ functioned!

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