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MSO Louisville

I know I probably repeat this disclaimer far to often, but please remember that  the bulk of this was writen nearly 20 years since leaving Marine Safety Office Louisville for the University of Virginia in the summer of 1991.  I have done my best to record the period accurately, but if you are reading this and find what you consider and error, please let me know so I can correct this chapter.  Since I speak somewhat poorly (and to me with good reason) about several people, I have completely dropped names and any other personal information.  I'm sure some of the people that I mention believe that they were great people (perhaps in their own minds ) but then again they still might believe in the Easter Bunny for all I know.  I need to say that I don't hold any grudges, you can learn a lot about leadership from poor leaders too.  In this case I learned a lot about what NOT to do as a leader.

People often talk about “the real Coast Guard.”  The Coast Guard Cutter Ironwood was about as real as you could get.  We pretty much put it all on the line just about every time we got underway.  I easily averaged a 16 hour day underway and certainly never less than 8 hours days in port.  I really wanted to get into the Marine Safety Field to use some of my formal education in engineering.  I'm not sure I got what I expected, but Marine Safety Office Louisville was not the real Coast Guard.

I reported to Marine Safety Office Louisville on August 31, 1987.  From the start, I knew that it was going to be a challenge.  I was coming off a high tempo cutter where the Coast Guard IS your life.  For two years I had always pretty much been in the “go-go” mode and that wouldn’t prove too popular with some (or should I say "most") in Louisville.  I reported in wearing Service Dress Blue.  I guess I just didn’t know any better.  I couldn’t imagine reporting to a ship in anything else.  Needless to say, this place was not a cutter and in fact, probably the slackest operation I was ever a part of.  The CO at the time was a nice enough fellow, but he spent the majority of his time reading the Wall Street Journal and was completely disconnected from the office and from the operation for that matter.  The Executive Officer actually thought he had a tough job.  His primary duty, however, was sloughing off what little work he actually had on the four Lieutenants assigned to the office.  He was a perfect example of a guy who would have been happy working as a field inspector forever, but got stuck in a leadership role that he never asked for and never wanted.  As a result, he really never fully engaged in the role.  I’m sure if he were to read this he’d puff out his chest and blather out something about how I know nothing about leadership.  The XO was addicted to the praise of the junior officers.  He must have lived a tough life because he looked at least 10 to 15 years older than he really was.  The thing was, both the CO and XO were very likable guys and if you knew them away from the office as say your next door neighbor you would certainly like them a lot.  They were very easy to manage, just stroke their collective ego, tell them what they wanted to hear to keep them happy and it was all good.  Don’t get me wrong, they were both very decent cats, but neither of them were what you would call your born leaders.

I found an apartment in Lyndon, just east of Louisville at a place called Woodbridge Apartments.  It was a nice place.  I’m not sure how, but I endeared myself to the women who worked in the rental office and they hooked me up with one of the better units in the project.  It had one bedroom with a loft and a deck that overlooked a small pond.  It was very peaceful.  The picture below was taken from my deck, most likely very shortly after I moved in as it was very dry in the summer and fall of 1987.  I was very happy in the apartment.  I had good neighbors and the staff there was very decent.  It often surprised visitors how well my apartment was furnished and that I actually had a “working” kitchen.  For some reason, I never took any pictures inside the apartment.  Oh well, I guess everyone knows what an apartment looks like!

I was initially assigned the job of planning officer.  What that meant was that I basically responsible for writing a lot of contingency plans that no one was ever going to use for events that were never going to happen.  We were pretty big on that as an organization at the time.  Admiral Paul Yost was the Commandant between 1986 and 1990 and all this Coastal Defense stuff was a big part of was often referred to as “The Yost Guard.”  An interesting aside here about Admiral Yost; our First Class Yeoman came to Louisville from the Commandant’s staff in Washington, DC.  He was a really decent guy who knew his admin stuff very well.  He really had the Executive Officer’s number and was an expert in manipulating the guy.  He wore thick glasses and we affectionately called him “Radar” after the M*A*S*H character (although he was a little older and had a family).  Anyway, he told a story that when Admiral Yost first took over in 1986, he was called to the White House to brief President Reagan.  He said the brief focused heavily on defense operations.  President Reagan was overheard asking his staff why he needed two navies.  Fortunately, some cooler heads prevailed and the Coast Guard continued on as a service.  He went on to become a Chief Warrant Officer.

When I first reported to Louisville, I wasn’t even that sure that I would be in the Coast Guard that much longer.  Having graduated from OCS, I started out as a Reserve Officer on extended active duty.  In order to be “integrated” into the Coast Guard and achieve what is called “Permanent Commissioned Officer” status, you had to be promoted to Lieutenant and go through an Integration Board.  If you didn’t make Lieutenant, you were done, but even if you made O-3, the Integration Board could reject you.  If this happened, you would be released from active duty and go into the reserves.  For some reason, I was at the bottom of the 1987 Lieutenant Selection Board.  The Board met in November.  In those days, only 83% of O-2’s made O-3.  I thought I had a fairly solid background between Group Detroit and the Ironwood, but you never know.  I was super relieved when the Selection Board message came out and I was on it.  Of course, I still had to sweat out the Integration Board.  Although the Integration Board message appointing me a Permanent Commissioned Officer came out in August 1988, I did not get the actually letter notifying me of my status until late October 1988. 

In December 1987, I met Chandra through a mutual acquaintance,  a Chief Warrant Officer who was an inspector (more on that later).  We were having our office Christmas party and he set me up.  This guy turned out to be one of the sleaziest guys I ever met in the Coast Guard, but I can’t say too much bad about the guy for this reason.  What I can say is that he was a shady operator from day one.  He did a fair number of his inspections for a stool at either Donahue’s Beer Depot on Northwestern Parkway or The Tavern on South Fourth Street.  I was actually at his house one evening and he was as usual, loaded.  The phone rang and he got a report that the Big Four Railway Bridge was on fire.  I didn’t realize it at first, but he was the Duty Officer.  Somehow he managed to direct our response while completely wasted.  The guy was an experienced professional for sure.  

I did get to attend a fair number of schools, however (in those days any trip was better than being in the office).  In 1988, I attended three schools at what at the time was still called Reserve Training Center (RTC) Yorktown; the Port Readiness and Contingency Planner Course (April 11-22), the Port Physical Security Course (June 27-July 8), and the Coastal Defense Planning Course (November 7-16).  These courses taught me a lot of great information that I never really used.  For some reason, we never got around to a layered defense in Louisville.  Of course, it should have given everyone comfort to know that we were ready to go if needed.  The CO and XO weren’t too particularly interested in what I was doing with the contingency planning.  As long as I was satisfying the planning requirements that came down from the district office, everything was just fine.  Like I said, managing these guys wasn’t a heavy lift.

During my first trip to Yorktown in April 1988, I probably did the most immature thing I have ever done in my career and probably my life.  While driving from the barracks to the gate, I was stopped by base security for doing 19 in a 15 zone.  If you know anything about the Coast Guard Base at Yorktown, you know that in those days they hired some real wannabes as security officers.  If you looked in a dictionary, you would have found a picture of the guy who pulled me over right by the definition of wannabe.  Anyway, he pulls me over and starts lecturing me about safety and about how “you hot shots think you own this place well let’s see how you look walking from the front gate when the CO bans you from driving.”  Anyway, I had little choice other than to listen to his diatribe.  He “let me off” with a warning but told me that “he’d be watching me so I better watch it.”  I slowly coasted to the front gate with this guy following.  He stopped to talk to the guard on duty.  As I rolled across the base boundary line (yes, they actually had it painted on the road) there was no one behind me so I stopped.  The guard stuck his head out of the shack and asked if everything was alright.  I asked if I was off the base.  He said “yes, why?” At that point, I revved it up to about 5 grand, dumped the clutch and did the mother of burnouts.  I really had to watch my ass for the next week because they were watching it hard.  Would I do it again?  You bet I would.

I got involved in the largest drill in the history of the old Second Coast Guard District in Memphis in the summer of 1988.  In the late 80’s, the Coast Guard was really into having drills.  The Commanding Officer at MSO Memphis was the most gung-ho guy in the district.  He landed some DOD money and set off to have the largest inland security drill ever.  Needless to say, he was successful (at having a large drill, not much else).  He was a little ahead of his time.  With my “extensive” background in port security, I “volunteered” to attend the drill and was assigned as an exercise controller.  In some ways, it wasn’t that bad because I had never been to Memphis and I got to look around a bit when I was off duty.  I got to the hotel in Memphis and was stunned at the amount of MILES gear (MILES is short for Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System – basically what you would call LASER Tag today) and exercise weapons these guys had.  The hotel itself stunk, there was never enough hot water and the restaurant was awful.  Of course, we did get a great deal on the block of rooms, I suppose.  What you essentially had was a bunch of reservists in MILES Gear running around the Memphis waterfront shooting at each other and ignoring exercise scenarios and all other direction.  Of course, the pictures looked great and surprisingly no one got hurt, so the exercise was considered a stunning success.  Success at what I have no idea of to this day!

Right around this time, we were directed to supply an O-1 through O-3 to the Seventh District in Miami for a six week stint to augment their staff.  There were four of us at who met the criteria.  I wasn’t all that keen on it, but I was so bored in Louisville that I “volunteered”, especially after the XO somewhat hinted that I was going anyway.  I actually ended up staying there from August 11 to October 4.  aside from being away from my fiance it wasn’t that bad.  I worked in an office basically doing a lot of data analysis.  My primary function was to generate a weekly situation report for the entire Seventh District.  Every Wednesday I hand carried the report to the Chief of Staff, who would review it line by line and about half the time take it in to the District Commander.  At first I was a little shocked at the attention this report got, but my boss there explained to me that the audience included the Commandant as well as members of congress and this was a key document.  I always wondered why if it was such a “key” document they had a guy like me working on it.  The Seventh District was a busy place and boiling down a week of activity into a neat package took some doing.  Still, I got the hang of it quickly and the time went fast.  After a couple weeks I pretty much had it wired so I went to my boss and asked if he had any other things that I could perhaps work on.  Looking back, I probably screwed future officers in this assignment by doing additional work, but I researched and answered several congressional inquiries and cleared pretty much the entire administrative backlog within the office of law enforcement.  Because I was getting a lot done, no one seemed to care about what hours I kept; that was probably because everyone else was so busy that they didn't have time to worry about anyone else.  This was a performance based operation and as long as you were producing (which I was) you were pretty much left alone.  Some days I would go in very early and others I wouldn’t show until 9 am or later.  I would work out at lunch almost daily.  I even made it out to Calder Race Course a couple times.

The hotel I stayed at was pretty nice too. I stayed at the Sheraton on Brickell Point.  I had a room with a balcony that overlooked the bay.  One incident let me know I was there too long.  A couple weeks before I left I was pulling out of the hotel garage to go eat and I realized I had left my pass key in my room.  As I rolled up to the gate, I started to explain to the guy in the booth what I had done and he cut me off saying “its ok Mr. Michalowski” as he opened the gate.  When the kid running the parking garage knows you by name, you’ve been at a hotel too long.

Remember, this was supposed to be a six week assignment and I should have left around September 25.  I ended up staying on another week and a half when the unit who was supposed to send someone kept balking.  I remember when I left I got in the car and didn't stop until I got close to Lake City.  What was funny was that the Division Chief asked me if I was interested in making this a Permanent Change of Station.  In those days I honestly thing the Seventh District had enough pull to get this done.  I think if I hadn't been in a relationship I might have taken the deal.  It would be interesting to see how that would have worked out if I had taken the deal and Chandra moved down with me in Miami.

On the heels of our success in Memphis, every Marine Safety Office was given money to have a similar exercise in the spring of 1989.  Naturally, I was in charge.  I booked several rooms at the Ramada Inn in Jeffersonville, IN and brought in 24 reservists.  We spent a lot of money to prove that we couldn’t really protect any asset from even a marginally determined adversary unless they announced in advance to us the exact time and location of their attack.  I did, however, learn an awful lot about how the hotel business works, particularly with regards to the Kentucky Derby and how you have to book the room for a full three nights at highly inflated rates.

Speaking of the Kentucky Derby, I should note that it didn’t take me long to find my way to Churchill Downs.  In fact, I visited Churchill the first time on November 7, 1987.  I recall it like it was yesterday.  I got there with about five minutes to first post.  I casually glanced at the program and found a horse called “Long of the Tee” in the first race.  One bet, one win.  I should have walked out right then!  At the time, post time during the spring meet was 2:30.  If I left the office at 3:30, I could make the third race.  I don’t know how many times I sat at my desk handicapping the afternoon’s card.

In the late 1980’s, we had a Republican President, George Bush, fighting with a Democratic Congress over the Federal Budget.  What that meant to us was a number of “Continuing Resolutions” being necessary to run the federal government.  The “CR” as they are called was so bad in 1988 that we pretty much couldn’t do anything other than sit around and watch the walls unless it was a genuine emergency.  We got so bored at one time that we stood out in the hall and bet on which elevator would come first.

Hydroplane racing/major marine events.

The office was responsible for several big marine events every year including “The Great Steamboat Race”, Unlimited Hydroplane races in Madison and Evansville and a bunch fireworks shows.  Since we had four junior officers on the staff, we typically were assigned one big event each for the year.  I arrived too late in 1987 as most of the big events were already complete for the year.

1988 Great Steamboat Race

I was assigned as Patrol Commander for the 1988 Great Steamboat Race.  This was my first major marine event of my tour.  The race at that time consisted of the Belle of Louisville “racing” the Delta Queen from the Kennedy (I-65) Bridge to 12 Mile Island and back.  The event was a big part of the annual Kentucky Derby Festival.  The Belle was allowed a helper boat to turn.  Anyone with any sense would realize that the Great Steamboat Race and your average professional wrestling match had a lot in common.  There was no way that the race should have ever even been close, much less the Belle win.  Nevertheless, the trophy, the “Golden Antlers” routinely changed hands.  To this day I still think that a lot of otherwise smart people actually think it’s a fair race.

This is a good time to talk just a little about the Kentucky Derby Festival.  In case you were born on another planet, the Kentucky Derby was (and still is) held every year on the first Saturday in May.  The race lasts for right around two minutes.  The city of Louisville holds a two week party prior to the race.  There is an air show, massive fireworks displays, top of the line nationally known entertainment and all sorts of other activities all around town.  It is quite an elaborate annual affair and I considered it quite an honor to be a part of it.  20 plus years later it has only gotten bigger if you can believe that. 

It was right before the first preliminary planning meeting for the event that I met Michael C. “Mick” Coleman.  (I am using his name since I don't think if I thought about it for a long time I could utter a bad word about the man).  He was the Division Operations Officer for Auxiliary Division 4 in Louisville.  Mick turned out to be the finest member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary I ever had the privilege of meeting an working with.  He ran the Auxiliary operations with an iron fist.  He was in charge and the people knew it.  Knowing that he had that end firmly under control freed me up to work with the state and local law enforcement agencies.  The event ran very well.  I don’t remember who won but does it really matter?  Mick actually passed away a few years ago.  I had the privilege and honor to be invited to his funeral. I haven't been to many funerals that had an open bar but his did.  His son said that's what he wanted and I absolutely believe it.

1989 Evansville Hydroplane Race (June 23-25)

When I first reported to MSO Louisville, we had a detachment in Evansville, IN.  In October 1988, the detachment was closed as part of a Coast Guard wide cost saving initiative.  Although they really did have very little work to do in Evansville, one thing they did handle annually was the hydroplane race that happened every June.  With no detachment to handle the load, I was assigned Patrol Commander for the 1989 race.  Never mind that I got married two weeks the event (thanks XO!).  Anyway, since none of us knew anything about the event, we were forced to rely on “local indigenous personnel”, in this case, the Coast Guard Auxiliary and in particular, Division 22.  The Division Operations Officer was a bit of a nut.  I was going to meet him for the first time at an early organizational meeting.  The day before the meeting, I received a cold call from the Division Captain, a fellow named Walt Day (another fine gentleman who sadly passed away not to long ago) asking me to meet with him first.  I met Walt at the hotel I would be staying at that evening prior to the meeting.  I took an instant liking to Walt.  He was a genuine good guy and the kind of Auxiliary member that everyone should strive to be more like.  Walt warned me that the ops guy was a little different, but a good Operations Officer.  I sure was glad I met Walt first.  To the uninitiated, the ops officer came off as a weirdo.  That probably had a lot to do with the fact he was a bit of a freak.  To give you an idea as to how much of a freak the guy was, he took great delight in showing my wife of a couple weeks that he had a mirror over the bed on his boat.  Thankfully, he was somewhat devoted to a woman who was as weird as he was.  Still, Chandra expressed a certain degree of uneasiness about being anywhere near the guy despite my assurances that he really was quite harmless.

The event itself was a challenge.  It turned out that the previous Detachment Supervisor spent most of his time shaking down the organizers for free tickets and other perks for himself and the other Coast Guard people.  The event organizers were somewhat startled that I and the MSO Louisville guys actually planned on fulfilling the role as Coast Guard Patrol Commander.  About the only group happy with us was the Auxiliary.  We treated them with some respect and a little dignity. 

The evening before the event, all of us were sitting in our hotel room drinking when there was a knock on the door.  It was the head of the local EMS.  They had run me down to discuss some arrangements for the event.  I guess they were also happy that the event would actually be run professionally.

There was one event that set the tone for the whole thing on opening day.  At the end of the day, I found myself all alone in the control toward.  All of the event people were below me having some beers.  Although I knew the event really wasn’t quite ready to secure, I dismissed all Coast Guard assets.  The next morning I was accosted by the event manager asking me what I thought I was doing.  He was genuinely startled that a young Lieutenant got right up in his face and made it perfectly clear how it was going to go from this moment onward.  I think they really missed the detachment.

1990 Madison Regatta

The 1990 Madison Regatta would be my last major marine event as Patrol Commander during my tenure at MSO Louisville.  Again, Mick Coleman was on board to organize the Auxiliary and did his typical outstanding job.  The event itself was actually a bit boring.  I ran the PATCOM from a Sea Scout boat called the Zachery Taylor.  It was run by a guy named “Skipper” Huffman.  I can’t recall his real first name (Theodore I think), but I suspect he may not have even answered to it.  Skipper passed away sometime between my times in Louisville.  The most exciting moment was when the owner of the “Miss Budweiser”, Bernie Little, got underway in a jet boat he had brought with him during a lull in the action.  Apparently he had rubbed the Indiana Water Patrol guys the wrong way because they called me to report “we have Mr. Little in custody, what would you like us to do with him?”  Bernie was a big Budweiser distributor from Lakeland, FL. I had met him the year before in Evansville.  He had a big ego but in my mind was an ok guy who really enjoyed whole scene and understood that hydroplane racing was primarily entertainment (and he was a good entertainer).  Bernie and his team always treated the Coast Guard guys alright and had a habit of extend “hospitality” to us.  I asked the Indiana guys to just warn him not to do it again.  After we secured for the day, I paid Mr. Little a visit at the Budweiser trailer and told him next time, I’ll let the Indiana cops cuff and stuff you.  We enjoyed a nice laugh along with a couple of his sponsor’s products.  Mr. Little passed away in 2003.  I will always remember him as a character and a decent guy.

A sad note here while we are talking about the marine events.  Both Walt Day and Mick Coleman passed away while I was assigned as Director of Auxiliary in Louisville. between 2006 and my retirement in 2009.  Walt died in 2006 and Mick in 2007.  They were both truly great people and I am proud that I had a chance to know and work with them.  I found out about Walt’s death somewhat after the fact; however I was honored to be invited to Mick’s funeral.  It was the only funeral I ever have attended with an open bar.  When his kids told me that was how dad wanted it I sure did believe them.

High Water/Low Water/Ice

The summer of 1987 left the Ohio Valley in a severe drought.  I wouldn’t care except that the river level was very low all summer and into the winter.  While low water is a pain in the butt, flooding really messes things up.  The spring of 1989 was not kind to downtown Louisville.  As you might guess, the water normally isn’t several feet deep across River Road!  What was worse than the flooding was the clean up.  Click here to see some high water pictures.

The winter of 1990 was one of the coldest on record.  The result was something you don’t see very often, bank to bank ice.  Click here to check out some great freeze photos.

Getting Trained Up (Even More)

Having attended three two week schools about Port Security in 1988 was ok, but that was just the beginning of my training process.

Spending six weeks during the summer at Yorktown is not my idea of a good time.  It should be noted that I got married on June 17th, 1989.  I was the patrol commander for the Evansville Hydroplane race the following weekend.  Less than a month later I was off to Yorktown for six weeks (July 24 to September 7, 1989).  Chandra came with me for the first week.  We stayed in the “Guest House” rooms in Cain Hall.  I should have stayed in a local hotel.  Chandra had to return to Louisville to start nursing school in early August, so she flew back after a week.  I actually flew home for the Labor Day weekend even though I would be home one week later done with the course.  The course itself was ok, although it was boring since it was aimed at people that were completely new to the program.  Still, I did learn a lot and it wasn’t a waste of time.

I attended the Safety and Occupational Health Coordinators course at Yorktown from 26-30 Nov 1990.  I really enjoyed this class and learned a lot of actually useful things like how to fit test a respirator and how to use OSHA Guides.  Besides, you can easily handle Yorktown for a week.

In January 1990, we received two quotas for a course on how to use Computer Aided Management of Emergency Operations/Aerial Location of Hazardous Atmospheres School.  The class was held in of all places, Detroit.  I flew up on a Sunday evening.  I was attending the class with our BM1.  Well, the BM1 shows up at the airport completely wasted.  His wife (who was driving) isn’t even sure how much he had consumed that afternoon.  We got to Detroit and I got our rental car.  We hooked up with another Coast Guard Officer and the three of us drove to the hotel.  It was a good thing I had been stationed in Detroit for a while as the directions we had were awful.  Anyway, the class was pretty good.  The class was about 30% Coast Guard people and 70% firefighters.  I found it odd that they catered in lunch every day and questioned the lead instructor.  She explained that they found out through experience that emergency response people, when not on duty, had a habit of either coming back from lunch intoxicated or not coming back at all.  They also can’t resist a free lunch.  It all made sense to me.  Considering that the hotel had a free breakfast and served food during their afternoon happy hour, the only thing we had to spend our per diem on was liquor.  The bar at the hotel wasn’t very pricy, so we all did very well on this trip.  As for the actual class, the CAMEO/ALOHA software was way ahead of its time.  In order to work, CAMEO would require a database of all your facilities and response capabilities.  The problem was that the way that database would get populated was someone manually inputting all the information.  It was also Apple Macintosh based.  Apples may have been popular in the academic community, but they never have caught on with the government.  We basically determined that in order for CAMEO to be a viable program, it would take a full time person to maintain all the required information.  The trip back to Louisville was also an adventure.  We got done with the class on Friday at about 1130.  We had lunch (catered in, naturally) and with nothing else to do, got to the airport at around 2.  Our flight was at 4, so Tommy and I bellied up to the bar.  We didn’t quite drink that much, but were still in pretty good form when we headed over toward the gate at around 3:20.  When we got there, the lounge was empty.  I thought we had missed our flight, but a gate agent quickly asked us our names.  We nodded and were hustled onto the plane.  As soon as we got on the otherwise full flight, we rolled back and took off over 30 minutes ahead of schedule.  I wish they had paged us!  Of course, I didn’t have time to even call Chandra.

I attended the EPA Response course in Edison, NJ from January 29th to February 2, 1990.  It was a great school and I learned a lot.  In particular, I learned to respect guys who have to work in Level “A” (totally encapsulated) response gear.  It was winter in Jersey, I was in excellent shape at the time, and I started to get worn out walking around in that stuff after a very short time.  I can’t imagine wearing that gear in a high temperature hazardous environment. 

From March 19-23, 1990, I attend the National Spill Control School in Corpus Christi.  The school was taught at the local campus of Texas A&M University.   The trip down was just that, a trip.  I had to change planes at Dallas-Fort Worth airport.  It never crossed my mind that it was spring break and that South Padre Island in Texas was the central U. S. equivalent to Daytona Beach.  When I got on the plane and to my seat, there was a very attractive young lady sitting there.  I politely told her I thought she sitting in my seat.  Without even looking at her ticket, she told me that it was her seat.  When I asked her to check her boarding pass, she repeated that it was her seat.  I went back to the flight attendant to explain my dilemma.  She asked me to wait in the forward galley area.  There was another guy in there who had the window seat (I had the aisle) in the same row.  About the time, a guy in a suit came on the plane and walked back to talk to the two girls.  I strained to eavesdrop on the conversation.  He explained quite clearly that the two girls knew they were on standby from Dallas to Corpus Christi and that they were either going to walk off the plane on their own or in handcuffs.  As the two girls walked by the galley, one of them looked over at me and said “ass hole.”  I mumbled just loud enough for her to hear “at least this ass hole will be in Corpus in an hour.”  I was only a little surprised by the “f-bomb” that was then dropped.  The course itself was much more directed toward coastal type response, but it was very interesting to me.  By Thursday however, I was ready to leave.  The only thing on the schedule for Friday was an address and discussion with the CO of the Marine Safety Office in Corpus Christi.  The problem was that there were three flights out of Corpus Christi; 7 am, noon and 5 pm.  If I stayed for the talk, I would have to take the 5 pm flight and get into Louisville around 11:30 at night.  I was sitting in the hotel bar having a drink when the bartender noticed I was looking a little sad.  He asked what was wrong and I explained the situation.  He told me to blow Friday off and leave early.  I said I didn’t know the airline phone number and would have to go find it.  Without hesitation, he pulled the phone up from under the bar and put it in front of me.  He then pulled out a list he had of airline numbers.  A couple minutes later I hung up.  He came over and said “well?”  “I’m on the 7:00 am flight, let me have another beer.”  That guy was a true bartender, not a guy serving drinks – a bartender.

Even as late as 1990, it was ok to have a beer or two during lunch – maybe even a few more on Friday.  Our favorite hangout was Donohue’s Beer Depot on Northwestern Parkway.  The place was a dive and had no redeeming features other than cheap food and beer and no one who cared about you being there in uniform drinking.  Donohue’s was the satellite office for one of our inspectors. I have a real hard time saying too much bad about the guy since he is responsible for introducing me to my wife.  Before our 1987 Christmas party, I really hadn’t met too many people in the few months I had been in Louisville.  His daughter had been having trouble with math and he was too cheap to pay for a professional tutor so he asked me if I would help.  I was tutoring as a volunteer at a halfway house at the time so I said yes.  His daughter was a kind of cute High School Junior and was dating a kid (now my brother in law) named Jamie.  He knew that Jamie had an older sister so he hooked us up for a blind date.  At the time, Chandra lived with her folks on Grand Avenue in Jeffersontown.  Naturally, I blew right by the place the first time I met her.  We went to a place called “Rumors” on Shelbyville Road.  The place is still there and really hasn’t changed at all over the years.

Our annual Christmas party was an event to look forward to.  For years, our Morale Officer, the same lazy bum that introduced me to Chandra, organized the unit Christmas Party.  His idea of organizing was making reservations at a restaurant and covering the first 30 dollars of your tab.  He was a master of organization - not.  After two years of this and the bum having retired, I proposed having the Christmas party at the party room at my apartment complex.  We had this real smart ass BM2 who sat back in his chair and said “all this means is that the enlisted will have to do all the work.”  Needless to say, I was slightly pissed.  I looked at him and said “the only thing you need to do involving work is to work up an appetite.”  The party went off very well with Chandra doing the bulk of the work.

Although I can’t say too much bad about the guy who introduced me to my wife, the guy was in fact a small time petty operator.  He used to do a fair number of his inspections from a bar stool either at Donohue’s or at The Tavern on South Fourth Street.  He accepted “gifts”, mostly consisting of liquor, from several local marine interests.  I have to believe that this behavior was known by the command.  Of course, knowing how disconnected the CO and XO were from the operation of the unit, I can’t rule out ignorance or maybe just apathy.

New Commanding Officer/Executive Officer

The CO left us in the summer of 1988 to head for bigger and better things at Coast Guard Headquarters.  Our new CO turned out to be a pretty decent guy.  Our Change of Command “ceremony” was actually held in the office.  There were no guests other than the two CO’s spouses.  It took about ten minutes and it was over.  Looking back, I almost wish I could have done that myself.  He was a much more personable guy than the former CO.  To this day I still wonder how I didn't end up "Project Officer" for the Change of Command.  Of course, it wouldn't have been too much or a project!

While the previous CO didn’t want to talk to anyone other than the Executive Officer, the new guy wanted the officers to come in to his office and brief him.  Later on as the Commanding Officer of a Marine Safety Office, I much more followed that model somewhat closely.  The new CO even wanted to go out into the field to see what kind of operations we had going on.  One of his first trips was with me and two of the petty officer over to the Ashland facility that was almost under the Clark Memorial Bridge.  I suppose CO liked this one because it was only a five minute drive from the office.  I noted a problem with one of the Pressure/Vacuum relief valves.  I probably wouldn’t have written it up except that I was quite sure the CO saw it also.  I should note that he was wearing a plain coverall with no indication of rank.  Of course, the facility manager was a bit ticked off when I gave him his copy of the inspection report.  He told me that it was crap and that he would be called the Captain of the Port.  “Might as well tell me now,” was CO’s response.  It was a fun moment.  Needless to say, you can only do that once.  Of course, our change of command was held in the office.  The only guests were CO’s wife and kids.  Somehow, changes of command, even for small units, have become much more elaborate over the years.

Not long after the new CO arrived, the XO retired with exactly 20 years service.  I don’t think he wanted to retire, but the new CO actually expected him to do something besides drink coffee and tell the same sea stories over and over again.  One time, I was working on our civilian secretary’s annual evaluation when the new CO stuck his head in my office and asked what I was up to.  When I told him, he went ballistic on the XO and made him come over and do the evaluation himself.  In a way, I felt bad for our secretary since I was a much better writer than the XO.  The new CO really beat the XO up over things like the unit budget and personnel issues.  If you asked the XO, he would tell you he was a master of delegation; everyone else would just say he was good at getting other people to do his work while he goofed off.  Of course, these were his jobs that he had pawned off on assorted unit staff.  After the new CO actually started making the XO actually do his job, all of us had a lot more time on our hands.  Our new Executive Officer was a completely different animal.  He was a punk with a Napoleon complex out his butt.  He liked to walk around with his arms crossed with a smug look and try to look down on people.  That was tough considering he was about 5’ 4” tall.  I have to say that sadly he is one of a very select group of people that I wish I could have just hauled off and cold cocked one time.  The fancied himself as somewhat of a jock.  He overheard one of my fellow Lieutenants and me discussing a 5K road race from downtown Louisville to the Zorn Avenue Water Tower and announced he was entering to “show us how it was done.”  Well, both of us were in pretty good shape and pretty much ran away from the XO in the first mile.  My buddy laid a kick on me with about a half mile to go that I just couldn’t answer and he beat me by about 20 seconds.  The XO limped in about two minutes later (two minutes is a pretty good whipping in a 5 K).  I can’t remember what pathetic excuse he had, but he never ran with us again.    Between these two guys I learned everything I needed to know to be a good Executive Officer.  Basically, I had to be nothing like either of these guys.  Both these guys wanted to still be field inspectors or operators.

I guess there is one good thing I learned from my first XO.  The same smart ass from the Christmas party was visiting his brother who was also in the Coast Guard stationed in Seattle.  He got a little ahead of himself and let his big mouth get him into a bit of a tight spot with the command in Seattle.  The fact that he was loaded probably didn’t help.  Anyway, the Base in Seattle sends a 4910 (a Report of Offense and Disposition – commonly called a “booking chit”) to us to handle.  After a couple long discussions with the guy, the XO dismissed the charges.  Of course, this enraged the command in Seattle, but the XO didn’t care.  He made the right call; the guy really straightened up and eventually made Chief Petty Officer.  

At the time, we had a sub unit located in Cincinnati.  I actually had a bit of a run in with the first XO over two women who were stationed there.  As non-rates, I one time referred to one of them by her last name.  The XO called me out on it and told me I was out of line.  I asked him if referring to a MK1 with 16 years in by his last name only a couple young women non-rates by first name didn’t seem out of line.  The old XO never really liked me and I guess I can see why.

The first detachment supervisor was a creep.  I should name him but won't.  He was relieved as supervisor for sexually harassing the women at his unit.  He lost his career even after being warned by the command in Louisville.  Of course, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.  Look up asshole in any dictionary and you may see his picture.  Any officer who hits on non-rated females needs to be taken out and whipped.  I ran into Mr. Wonderful at Headquarters later in my career and really wanted to ask him if he realized these two girls were gay.  Of course, knowing him, he might have made a big deal out of my knowing about them and not saying anything.  I decided that this creep was bad news and one of those toxic guys that you were better off staying as far from as possible.  This guy goes down in my book as one of the top ten ass holes I ever met in the Coast Guard.

The guy who replaced him was a complete opposite.  He was one of the finest guys I have ever met. He was a prior enlisted DC.  This guy had been a SR-DCCS, a CWO2-3 and a LT-CDR.  He had held 13 different ranks.

Overall, I liked my time in Louisville.  The job itself wasn’t that difficult and there was enough going on to stay busy but not be running around with your hair on fire.  I had been accepted to Post Graduate School and departed in the spring of 1991.  The XO was not happy that I had a June 1 reporting date for graduate school and just like my XO in Detroit, he tried to pull some crap that I could leave the minimum five days travel and proceed time before my reporting date.  Fortunately, just like in Detroit, the CO provided the “adult supervision” and we got a couple weeks to move and find a house in Charlottesville.  In those days, you still didn’t get “end of tour” awards.  In fact, neither XO nor CO got awards when they left Louisville so it was a sure thing a LT heading to graduate school would get nothing.  While I have no complaints, I was happy that we were moving on.

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