Posts Tagged ‘tests’

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The Chief Speaks: How Changes to the Coast Guard License Process has Ruined the Next Generation of Officers

June 13, 2013

The Chief just made his last phone call for the next 20 days. It was wonderful to hear his voice over the past few days. He was able to talk to his mother on her 70th birthday. I have the task of trying to find a domestic calling card so we can talk when he reaches his destination.

The following is a Guest Op Ed from the Chief. I’ve done minimal editing; his writing style is different from mine. I believe the background of what he calls a “rant” comes from supervising midshipmen/cadets recently and from personnel changes. I am assuming I have permission to post here as he said: “Wordsmith as you see fit, I could probably have gone on another page or two!”

How Changes to the Coast Guard License Process has Ruined the Next Generation of Officers

I can still remember the testing for my original Third Assistant Engineer license for Steam and Motor Vessels. Rows and rows of desks were lined up in the gymnasium, and 150 Midshipmen nervously worked their way through all the modules over the better part of a week. The lump in your throat as the proctor graded your exams, and the relief when he gave you the thumbs up that you passed all led up to the thrill of ringing the bell at the end of exams. I couldn’t wait to get my license in hand and get out to sea and sail on it.

As soon as I started working, I was already thinking about upgrading to my Second Engineer’s license. I was going to need my year of sea time before I could even think about upgrading. I was going to have a slightly longer time to sail, as I started out as a Pumpman, an unlicensed rating that was only going to earn me ½ of the time sailing on my license would have. I was just glad to have a job, and the experience I gained during those first 5 ½ months has served me well over the years.

During that time, new rules came into play, and new ‘user fees’ were instituted in the licensing process. Each time you upgraded, it became a significant financial event, with a couple of hundred dollars in evaluation, exam, and issuance fees. Still, as soon as I had enough time to get my Second Engineer’s Steam license, I was on my way to the Regional Exam Center to take my test. After a month of studying, I booked my hotel room down the street from the exam center and spent the next 2 days testing and earning my Second’s license.

It was 3 years after I started sailing that I finally had sailed on enough motor ships to meet the requirements for my Second’s Motor. This meant another application, another set of fees, and more hotel stays and testing. Having the license was worth it.

Back then, all the hassle to get your license seemed to separate those who had a strong desire to advance from those who were happy where they were at. If you didn’t bother to do the work on your license while on vacation, you didn’t advance. If you wanted to take a vacation or two off, then you might be a year or two behind your contemporaries.

The natural desire after all that work is to sail on that license, even before the ink is dry. After all you put in all that hard work and personal time to earn it you at least should be given a chance to sail on it!

After I was sailing Second Engineer, I kind of slowed down a bit. I was happy in my job, enjoyed it, and it didn’t look like there was any chance of promotion anytime soon, so let’s take a break. I had just gotten married a year or two before, and had better things to do on my time off. Then, I was on a ship where the First Engineer had to be relieved, and none of the junior engineers had the license to replace him… I missed my chance. That next vacation I received my First. At least this time I could take both tests at once, and get both halves at the same time. I cranked out all the modules in one day, a pretty big feat in my eyes.

I finally started sailing First Engineer around 2000, and I loved the job. To be honest, that is as high as I thought I would like to sail. I had no aspiration for promotion, so I sat on my license. I renewed it when it expired, and it wasn’t until it was about to expire again that I was pressured by some of my longtime shipmates to upgrade. I hadn’t taken a test in almost 10 years, and I was a bit nervous again. I studied for about 3 months, and planned on 2 days for the test. It was a bit unnerving that the time I was scheduled to test was a week AFTER my license was to expire, but the exam center said that this was not a big deal. (not having a valid license was a pretty big deal to me, especially if I didn’t pass this exam!) I took all but one exam the first day, and finished the second day by 9 in the morning and had my Chief’s license in hand by noon. I was so pleased that I would never have to test again. A total of 5 different series of tests over 15 years.

This test of an Officer’s desire to advance has been removed in the past decade. In the early 2000’s, the USCG decided that there were too many tests to be taken, and they simplified the process. Basically, they made it so that when you sat for your original Thirds license, you were also testing for your Second engineer’s license. This means that after you have sailed for 365 days, you just have to send in you r paperwork and you are given your license. They have done the same for the First engineer and Chief’s exam. Enough days at sea, you earn an automatic promotion.

This has removed the burden of the junior officers from having to put their own time and energy into planning their time off the vessel to work towards their advancement, but not the desire to sail on their license as soon as they get it. The combination of this and the instant gratification of current society have spawned a new generation of officers who are actually angry when they aren’t promoted instantly. I know I was probably not as ready as I should have been for my first job as Second Engineer, but I can guarantee that the majority of the younger guys today could do with another year’s experience under their belt before wanting to sail on their license.

This has mainly been prevalent in the junior officers, as they still have to apply and test for the First Engineer license. Since promotion to First Engineer can take a little while, there is not the instantaneous ability to get the time needed as First Engineer to qualify for Chief.

In a lot of ways I feel sorry for those under the new system. The sense of accomplishment of putting in your time, taking your tests and earning your license has been replaced with a ‘participation trophy’. The pride I have felt after each test (and relief) makes each license that much more special to me. The time I had to wait in each position made me that much more prepared (and mature) when I finally had the opportunity to sail at the next level. Hopefully the USCG will reevaluate this process in the future.

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Her Hero

September 18, 2012

T2’s appointment went well. I love, LOVE her doctor. He answered all my questions about what the results mean and what tests would be next. He took such a thorough family history–even still I think Mom and I forgot some things (makes you want to go write everything down for the future and keep it on hand at all times!). And he was so nice to ask Mom about her upcoming treatments for her breast cancer.

Anyway, I’m happy to report that two of T2’s abnormals have already come back normal. We have to wait about 24 hours for the results of the other repeated test. He explained to me what happens next: if normal, “Thanks for playing!”; if not normal, they do what is called a mixed study–to see how her abnormal blood reacts to normal blood. The results tell us which factors or inhibitors are at play. He ordered an additional test to see if she has a syndrome so common most people do not know they have it.

If normal, it was just a virus that she had and I just didn’t wait long enough for it to be completely out of her system. The virus just thinned her blood out a little too much over the summer. She makes platelets and clots so that is okay.

If it is this syndrome, we decide if we need to be a little more proactive when she has viruses or dental work, and we’ll need to monitor “Aunt Flo” when that happens.

If it is this syndrome, it explains a LOT in me!

Okay, so to the hero part. T2’s first writing assignment (yeah, I LOVE this teacher!) was to write about your hero. T2 chose the Chief. I haven’t read it but because I’ve been having conversations with my spoiled princesses about selfishness vs. sacrifices lately, she has snagged on to this idea of the sacrifices the Chief makes for us.

On our way home last night, I got a call from the ship’s number. The Chief was using the expensive SAT phone to call. He did not want to wait until they were in port. He really wanted assurance (as did I) that we were not dealing with a cancer of the blood. I am fairly certain we are not (there is an acquired form of the syndrome that is linked to cancers but she does not have enough other symptoms to lead us in that direction and therefore it is probably the inherited or genetic form). My heart was aching for the Chief. I can’t imagine what he has been dealing with. Did he jump on WebMD like I did? He doesn’t exactly have the support group I have shouting at me to get off there (BTW, I wasn’t supposed to look up information on the syndrome per the doctor’s advice… but I did anyway :P). Staying off WebMD and venting to my friends via FB and requesting prayers helped keep me calm when I really didn’t feel calm. Poor Chief.

So when I hung up I told T2, “Do you realize he called on the SAT phone–we have to pay for that expensive phone call? He wanted to know how you are doing.”

“That’s why he’s my hero.”

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It is another thing entirely…

August 1, 2012

I’m worried about T2’s health. I’m worried about mine. Strange symptoms. What do they mean? It is time for everyone’s annual physical, eye appointments, dentists, etc. I’m just going to ask for some tests for my peace of mind to show I’m just being paranoid.

It is a whole other thing entirely when the doctor orders the test you were going to request before you even get the chance to ask or discuss your symptoms.

Now this was also a doctor not familiar with me or my physiology and he assures me it is just precautionary.

I just didn’t even get to tell him why I would have asked for the test.

I have to put on a brave face for the next week. I have my quarterly check-up for the PsA next week. T2 and T1 both have their physical next week–I find T2’s unusual bruising disconcerting.

Only got to speak to the Chief for a minute when he called to respond to my frantic text “My doc is out on an emergency! Have to see a new one!” Sent him a text about the scheduled tests next week–he’ll get that when he comes out of the “hole” in about 8 hours.

Faithful readers know the struggle of what to share and when. I did hesitate but in the end I need his prayers and support.

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E.o.t.T.: I may complain…

July 15, 2011

…but the Torturer is worth every penny I pay him.

Now I have mystery swelling in my left hand. Pretty much exactly what has been going on in my left foot. And I was told no weight-lifting now. Okay, I’m already up a good 5 pounds easy from not running for the past 6 weeks (and cheating on the diet; I know, I know, I get it.) and now you want me not to “pump iron”?

While we try to figure out these mystery symptoms, the Torturer has already begun to modify my exercises to protect the hand but still allow me to weight-lift. I benched 95 lbs. today! And in between sets, I hold the offending hand up in the air to relieve the swelling.

X-rays are negative–no breaks, no dislocations.

Waiting on blood work.

Symptoms that I believe are all related:
1. right middle finger started hurting after lifting T1’s mattress off loft; swelling on and off for the past year; general “arthritic pain”*
2. chest wall inflammation from Dec. 2010 to March 2011; made me believe I had asthma; I had begun bench pressing and dumbbell flies in late November 2010 when symptoms started.
3. Left foot injured playing Wii at end of April; note both feet were injured but left shoe has a 12 mm heel lift to help even out my hips so it is like wearing a low heel all the time; ran on it for a month before crying “uncle.” Has a permanent bruise color on the top of the foot.
4. July 1st felt arthritic achy feeling in left hand pinky. Bench pressed that day, felt a little pain in knuckle from that; by Sunday July 3rd finger swollen like a sausage and could no longer bend it. It is hot to the touch and is reddish/purple like foot.

Being test for lyme (* not sure if the right hand problem was before or after I had been to Bible camp in 2010; two other teachers have had lyme disease), rheumatoid arthritis, and other general inflammatory diseases/illness. Will ask for the more accurate lyme test to be sure; will ask about fibromyalgia though I don’t believe I have the pressure point pains.

I’m trying not to worry it is more than just arthritis. I’m trying to leave it up to God. I’m going to power through my workouts but be realistic about the pain–no need to injure myself further. I’m having good days and bad days. Today was a good day.

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