Monday, April 28, 2008

Finding Another Great Author: Leif Enger – “So Brave, Young and Handsome”

I love to discover wonderful new places to eat, exotic vacation spots to explore and interesting authors to read. Leif Enger has followed-up his best-selling debut novel, “Peace Like a River” with a gritty tale that took me back to the sparse romanticism of some of the classic Hollywood Westerns. When I am so caught up in the narrative of a book that I miss my stop on the subway, then I know the author as reached out and grabbed me in his vice-like grip. Enger did that to me as I plowed through the pages of “So Brave, Young and Handsome.”

The plot revolves around the travels of two unlikely companions who set out from Minnesota to find the wife that one of the travelers had abandoned twenty years before. Monte Becket, a failed novelist, is enticed to set out on a quixotic trek with Glendon Hale, an enigmatic hermit of a figure with a sketchy past. As the two make their way west and south, they encounter a stunning array of landscapes – some topographical, some relational and others deeply personal.

Each memorable character that they encounter along the way functions in some manner as a mirror to help Monte and Glendon to see themselves as they truly are or truly could be. It is a complex and beautifully told tale.

Enger has a unique voice, the rhythm and disarmingly elegant simplicity of which drew me in from the first paragraph. His phrases are as brittle as a hard tack biscuit and full of folk wisdom. In his style, Enger displays elements of Hemingway, Steinbeck and Zane Grey. I offer several extended samples to give you a feel for the notes that he strikes:

“That is how I came to be [ex-Pinkerton detective] Siringo’s keeper – I would say his nurse, only I served him little except as company. I suppose I felt partially responsible for his condition, though his pursuit of Glendon was his own choice. For two full days he was on precarious ground – he would wake and carry on, lucid a small percentage of the time. When he roared his gibberish the boardinghouse residents cowered in the hallways, but then for minutes together he might speak with urgent exactitude as though narrating a preposterous memoir. He revealed many pieces of his life, including an account of his first meeting with Darlys DeFoe that made me blush to the eyeballs. He told how he left off cowboying when the profession of detective was chosen for him at a public demonstration of phrenology. The phrenologist’s fingers strolled over his scalp like ten stubby prophets and he uttered the word ‘detective’ in a divine whisper, after which Siringo considered no other course. He talked about being dynamited out of his Chicago house by anarchists, landing literally in the street while pine shards and hot plumbing rained around him.” (Page 148)

As Becket prepares to be reunited with his wife, who is traveling from Minnesota to California by train to meet him, he and Glendon share their thoughts with one another:

“’What’s scratching at you, Becket?’ Glendon finally asked. ‘Your wife and boy are coming before long. This place is pretty and snug; there’s the river just paces away. You ought to be merry, that’s what you think.’

‘I’m nervous about seeing Susannah,’ I admitted.

‘Now, what kind of sense does that makes?’ he inquired. I guess it made none to Glendon, who in the name of atonement had braved an absence of decades. Compared with that, what cause had I to worry?

And yet I did. Recently it often seemed as if Susannah were looking at the moon while I looked somewhere else – say, at a lake. If I saw the moon in the lake I believed we were looking in the same place, but let anything disturb the water and we were two people standing alone. We needed to look at something the same way, as we once had, or as it seemed to me we once had. I didn’t know how to do it.

‘You will know what to say when you see her,’ Arandano told me, while I fretted on the porch the next evening.

‘No, that is not what will happen,’ said her husband. ‘No, Monte. You will be mute when you see her. Entirely lost for words! Speechless is what you will be.’

‘Contrary man,’ said Arandano.

‘I am never contrary. No. Because this silence itself will speak to her on his behalf. Words pile up like a wall, but quiet will win back her heart for him – can you see it, Becket?’” (Page 254)

That kind of writing and insight will cause me to go scrambling to lay hold of Enger’s first novel and read that, as well.

Although totally different in terms of the particulars of time, place and action, this novel shares with “The Kite Runner” the theme of traveling a great distance to seek atonement for a wrong committed many years before in another place.

This is a writer whose voice and heart and pen are worth paying close attention to.



Stepping Out in Cambridge – Contrapose Dance Offers Their Inaugural Program: “Premiere”

The arts scene in and around Boston is so vibrant that we sometimes have trouble keeping up with all of the opportunities. For those of you who are interested in dance, you should be aware of Contrapose Dance, housed in the Green Street Studios in Central Square, Cambridge.

I get the sense that this company presents a nice fusion of modern dance built on a classical ballet foundation. Here is how they describe themselves in the Website:

Contrapose Dance is about challenge. We aim to bring a new energy to the theater scene, in Boston and beyond, by commissioning innovative works that challenge choreographers, dancers, and audiences alike.

Our diverse works challenge their choreographers, by pushing them to take creative risks; the dancers, by asking them to stretch their artistic and athletic abilities; and, finally, our audiences, by inviting them to set aside expectations and respond to the thrill of the new.

Building on a backbone of classical training, Contrapose Dance presents contemporary works designed to plumb deep emotions and celebrate the exhilaration of pure movement.

We seek not only to reach existing dance audiences but also to widen the circle by reaching out to communities that may never have attended dance concerts. By doing so, and eventually by touring nationally and internationally, we hope to bring a new generation of dance lovers along with us to a place where tradition and originality meet.

I guess that is where I come in – widening the circle of their audience. I do not regularly attend dance performances, although I have always enjoyed them in the past when I have gone. I plan to travel to Central Square this weekend for the Sunday evening performance of “Premiere.”

“Premiere”. This debut performance of the company will feature original work by Marcus Schulkind and Gianni Di Marco as well as two works from world renowned modern dance choreographer Anna Sokolow. Guest company Sokolow Now! will perform four sections from Sokolow’s masterpiece “Rooms” and “As I Remember”, a trio of solos which includes “Kaddish”. Guest artist Ruth Bronwen and company members Lucy Warren-Whitman and Courtney Peix will also present new choreography. This evening of dance will offer the audience an opportunity to experience a full range of emotions… from wit and lightness courtesy of Marcus Schulkind, to intense dark emotion, as seen in Anna Sokolow’s excerpts from “Rooms”.

Friday, May 2nd at 7:30pm Green Street Studios
Saturday, May 3rd at 7:30pm 185 Green Street
Sunday, May 4th at 7:00pm Cambridge, MA 02139

I am aware of this new and exciting dance company through my affiliation with Courtney Peix, one of the dancers in the Contrapose company.

I look forward to seeing some familiar faces joining me in the audience on Sunday evening.



Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Retrospective Look at a Birthday Celebration – Deconstructing the Wonders of Modern Communication

Last Tuesday, I celebrated the 31st anniversary of my 30th birthday. In the past, I have had many wonderful and elaborate birthday celebrations, but this one felt somehow different. It did not have the drama or intrigue of the big surprise parties that my family threw for me on my 40th and 50th birthdays. But this one had a special flavor to it, none the less. Over the past few days, I have tried to analyze what made this day feel special. So, I offer my reflections.

At first blush, the day felt special because the flow of birthday greetings came in waves throughout the day – beginning very early with communication from friends in Asia and Europe. The greetings continued to follow the sun as it made its quotidian commute across the sky to the Pacific Daylight Time Zone from whence I received the final greetings of the day from friends in the Bay area, LA, San Diego, and Seattle.

It occurred to me that the proliferation of social networking software is partly responsible for such a robust number of individuals reaching out to me on my birthday. In the past, it has been normal in the business world for a friend or acquaintance to learn after the fact about a birthday, and to respond with a comment like: “Why didn’t you tell me it was your birthday?” With electronic notification, it is easy now to keep abreast of the birthdays of relatives, close friends and even casual acquaintances. As I began to take inventory of the cornucopia of greetings and gifts I had received, I counted 10 different modes of transmission. I think it is worth cataloguing those means by which people reached out to me:

1) Personal, face-to-face greetings – A number of people stopped by the office, or invited me to join them for a meal, coffee or dessert to celebrate the day.

2) Phone calls – on my office phone, cell phone and Blackberry.

3) US Postal Service – traditional birthday cards arrived as always at my work address and my P.O. Box

4) FedEx – My son, Scott, sent a wonderful shirt with an impressive picture of a charging Rhino. How appropriate!

5) E-cards – several friends sent clever, animated cards that were suited to what they know of my interests and personality.

6) E-mail greetings – from many nations

7) Facebook greetings – from friends and family

8) LinkedIn messages – primarily from business connections

9) Skype messages and calls – from several countries

10) Instant messages – from those on-line at the same time I was

Rather than feel that the proliferation of electronic means of communication had depersonalized the process of expressing greetings, I had the opposite response. I felt the reality of the “High Tech – High Touch.” phenomenon. The overall effect was that at the end of the day, I felt that I had soaked in a day-long hot tub of warm greetings and expressions of love. To use a different metaphor, it was as if each means of communication represented a different frequency range in the spectrum of sound that the human ear is capable of hearing, and the combination was that of being surrounded by the high-fidelity, high-definition sound of a full symphony orchestra offering a beautifully transcribed rendition of “Happy Birthday to You”!

So, thank you to everyone who contributed a “note” in that symphonic opus of birthday greetings.


Upcoming appearance on WGBH-TV on Tuesday, April 29

Advance warning - Tuesday, April 29 at 7:00 PM and Midnight

I will be appearing as a guest of WGBH-TV (Channel 2 in Boston), the local PBS affiliate, on the show "Greater Boston" hosted by Emily Rooney. The topic will be the same as the recent Business Week articles I was involved with: "Transition from military leadership to business school." In the studio I will be joining Dr. Scott Snook of the Harvard Business School faculty, and Ann Gallo, a West Point graduate who is finishing her MBA at HBS.

The show will be available on-line for two weeks on the WGBH website.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Black Hawk Up - History Made at Harvard

If you were near Harvard Square yesterday afternoon, you may have seen and heard the unusual presence of two Army Black Hawk helicopters as they landed in the Harvard University soccer field just off of the aptly named Soldiers' Field Road. As far as anyone involved in the airlift is aware, it may have been the first landing by an Army helicopter on the campus in the university's rich history.

The occasion was a training activity being held by the Paul Revere Batallion - the ROTC unit that is composed of cadets from a consortium of Boston area schools - Harvard, MIT, Wellesley, Tufts, Salem State, Gordon and Endicott.

I am a friend of several of the members of the faculty of the Paul Revere Batallion, so I was pleased when Captain David Gowel gave me advance notice of the event. I was part of a small cadre of civilians who were present to watch the cadets of the Batallion airlifted to their training destination at Ft. Devens. Also present for the auspicious occasion were founding members of a new organization - Harvard Veterans Alumni Organization. One does not typically associate Harvard University with the military. In fact, those of us who lived through the era of the Viet Nam War recall military recruiters being banned from campus. There is a continuing imbroglio at the Law School about giving military recruiters access to Career Services facilities. But, despite the arms-length attitude of some of the university community to the presence of military on campus, there is a long and storied tradition of Harvard graduates serving with distinction in the military. It is the desire of this new organization to bring together those who stand in that tradition. According the the founding document, the purposes will be, in part to . . .

"Initiate programs to honor and perpetuate the memory ofHarvard Veterans; Develop and maintain a network of living Harvard Veterans, to promote a sense of community, friendship, and mutual activities."

If you are aware of anyone with Harvard connections who is also a veteran of the military, please help to pass the word to him or her about the formation of this new umbrella organization.


A New "Fixx" for Red Sox Fans - Introducing

Check out this new site that is in Beta mode. You may win some Red Sox tickets by signing up.

The site compiles stories and discussion about the Red Sox - from print journalists, bloggers and other sources. Check out the story I just posted (that also appeared on this Blog) You can vote for the most popular stories by clicking on the Up or Down arrow that appears next to the baseball to the left of each listed article.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Two Bronx Tales – From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

In the space of a few hours, I became aware of two very different stories – both emanating from the Bronx, but remarkable in their diversity. Juxtaposed, the two tales strike me as very poignant.

Bronx Tale #1 – The Curse of Big Papi’s Jersey

Red Sox Nation is atwitter – chortling over the recent shenanigans on the construction site of the new Yankee Stadium. A Bronx resident, Gino Castignoli, a die-hard Red Sox fan, thought he might be able to conjure up a curse against the hated Yankees. His plan was to bury a David Ortiz #34 Red Sox jersey in the concrete being poured for a restaurant that will be part of the new Yankee Stadium complex, being constructed just north of the site of the present “House That Ruth Built.” Apparently, Castignoli - who is reputed to have ties to New York area families that can best be described as “well organized” – thought it would be a good idea to add to the bill of fare of the new restaurant a little Voodoo to go with the Veal Piccata! So, he used his nefarious connections to sign on for a day as part of the construction crew, and mixed in the Ortiz jersey with the concrete that was being poured that day. He “cemented” his place in baseball lore by documenting his act with some digital photos.

When informed of this heinous crime, Yankee officials at first dismissed it as a hoax. But after being presented with “concrete” evidence that something was afoot in the footings of the new Stadium, Hank Steinbrenner sprang into action. He ordered a work crew to take jack hammers to the voodoo shrine, and the offending jersey was disinterred. It has been donated to the Dana Farber Children’s Hospital, to be auctioned off as a fund raising item.

What have we come to when an inert and inanimate jersey strikes more fear into the heart of the Bronx Bombers than the equally inert bat of Big Papi, who remains as firmly mired in the throes of a baffling batting slump as his shirt had been entombed in the soil of the new Stadium!

Eric Wilbur, writing in the Boston Sports Blog, gives a more complete version of this “disorganized crime”!

Wilbur Sports Blog

Bronx Tale #2 – A Matter of Principal at Junior High School #22

Not far from the scene of the aborted Jinx Gate – only a few Manny Ramirez moon shots away in the South Bronx – a more inspiring Bronx story is playing itself out. I just learned of this amazing story when my friend, Marv Goldschmitt, forwarded a link to the recent MSNBC story.

Here is the gist of the story. One of the most violent schools in New York City has been transformed – against all odds – under the visionary leadership of rookie principal, Shimon Waronker. Waronker is a Hassidic Jew, a Lubavitcher whose heritage and demeanor seem on the surface to be completely out of synch with the largely Black and Hispanic population of the school and surrounding neighborhood. Faculty, students and parents were skeptical when the new principal arrived on the Scene.


Elissa Gootman, writing for the New York Times, sheds even more light on this shocking transformation.

Gootman New York Times Story

“The principal enlisted teachers in an effort to ‘take back the hallways’ from students who seemed to have no fear of authority. He enlisted the students, too, by creating a democratically elected student congress.

‘It’s just textbook counterinsurgency,’ he said. ‘The first thing you have to do is you have to invite the insurgents into the government.’ He added, ‘I wanted to have influence over the popular kids.’

Gesturing in his school at a class full of students, he said, ‘I feel the hand of the Lord here all the time.’

What a thrilling transformation! As I read and watch and listen, what strikes me as most inspiring is the willingness of this “principled principal” to stand at the intersection of faith, visionary leadership, counterinsurgency tactics and cross-cultural communication to forge a coalition of teachers, students and parents willing to create an expectation of excellence. It is clearly his dream to lay a new foundation, if you will, for an edifice of life-long learning and success for his students. He wants to construct a new “House That Ruth Built” Not Babe Ruth, for whom they built the original Yankee Stadium, but the Old Testament figure, Ruth! That Ruth, a young widow, in addressing the unlikely prospect of making a life with her mother-in-law, Naomi - ethnically different and of a different faith - spoke these timeless words that seem to have inspired Waronker:

Whither thou goest, I will go . . . Thy people shall be my people. . .” (Ruth 1:16-17)

I find great personal inspiration and motivation from meeting and learning about courageous individuals, like Shimon Waronker, who step out the silos that entomb so many of us. How often are we trapped in the concrete tombs of our small worlds, defined and delimited by our race, religion, geographic location, schooling, language, profession or socio-economic condition? Waronker is demonstrating to his students and faculty – and the broader student body of those of us who are learning his story – that it is possible to break those bonds and dream larger dreams. That is a Bronx tale worth admiring and emulating.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Two Worlds Collide - "Adam Has Been Called Up!"

One of the realities of my life is that I have friends and network connections in a number of worlds that are very different from each other. These disparate connections and friendships add layers of richness to my life that I would never want to change. But, that same multi-faceted dimension of my life can sometime lead to some interesting confusion and collisions. Just such a collision of my worlds took place in the past few weeks.

While I was traveling, I received an urgent text message on my cell phone. The message read:

"Adam wants you to know he has just been called up!"

I began to wrack my brain to figure out which of my many military friends may have just been told he was heading to Iraq. It was definitely a moment of anxiety. Then I began to realize that none of the people I know who are named Adam are currently in the military. So, I took a closer look at the text message and realized that it had been sent by the fiancee of Adam Pinaeult. Adam had been playing in the American Hockey League for the Syracuse Crunch, a minor league affiliate of the NHL Columbus Blue Jackets.

With that new context in mind, I re-read the message:

"Adam wants you to know he has just been called up!"

Now I was excited! My friend, Adam, a young professional hockey player, was being called up to the parent club in Columbus for the last few games of the NHL regular season. That certainly bodes well for his prospects in the future as a potential rising star in the National Hockey League.

I am not sure there is a real morale to my quick story, other than to reinforce the reality of the principle of communication that the interpretation of words and content is dramatically impacted by one's frame of reference in hearing/reading those words and processing them. In the space of a few moments, the same words - seen through different mental screens of interpretation - took me on a journey of imagination from the sweltering heat and the danger of the sand box that is Iraq to the frozen surface and opportunity of an NHL rink. Message received is not always the same as message sent, especially in the realm of electronic communication in which tone of voice may not be readily apparant.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Saving the Rain Forest . . . with Toys?

My friend, Craig Doescher, is pursuing his MBA degree at MIT’s Sloan School of Business. A few weeks ago, Craig visited Honduras to work on a project that means a lot to him - encouraging the responsible and sustainable harvesting of wood from the Honduran rain forest. Here are some excerpts from a recent article by David Chandler that ran on the MIT Website:

“Villagers in tiny communities including Guayabo, Sawacito and Mahor, in the rainforest of northeastern Honduras, used to take part in the rampant illegal trade in mahogany, but recently they have formed a cooperative and learned to harvest the prized wood in sustainable ways. Now, they mostly use trees that have fallen naturally or harvest them in a sustainable way from around the fringes of the nearby Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve, and remove planks from the forest, first on their backs, then on muleback to avoid the disruption caused by heavy machinery. . .

. . . [Craig]Doescher, who is entering the Tegu Toyworks project in MIT's 100K Business Plan Competition, visited Honduras . . . thanks to a small grant from the Legatum Center to help lay the groundwork for the project. He hopes that over time the company can ‘migrate as much of the value added as possible to Honduras. If we can ultimately transition the marketing and design to Honduras, that would be a home run for us.’”

It is exciting to see some of our best and brightest minds turning their energies, training and innovative ideas towards solving challenging global problems.


A Gracious Opening at Fenway

The Red Sox easily handled the shockingly hapless and fangless Detroit Tigers this afternoon at Fenway Park. The score was 5-0, with Dice-K Matsuzaka baffling the Bengal batters, but that was not the real story of the day. The real drama occurred before the game as the Red Sox, in a cavalcade of showmanship and class, celebrated their Word Series Championship of 2007 – and laid to rest the ghosts of the one that got away in 1986. The 2007 Red Sox received their World Series rings - amidst a sea of former Boston championship athletes from the Sox, Celtics, Patriots and Bruins. Championship trophies from all four Boston professional teams caught the afternoon sun and reflected it into the wide eyes of the sellout crowd. The World Series banner was lowered from the wall and the pennant hoisted up the center field flagpole.

And then came the most moving moment of the day. To thunderous applause – atonement being poured out like a healing balm from the throats and the hearts of true baseball fans – ambled Bill Buckner, wiping tears from his eyes. No fan of Red Sox baseball needs to be reminded that Buckner had unfairly been fitted with the goat horns as a result of the stunning collapse in Game 6 of the 1986 Series, allowing the Mets to come roaring back in the 10th inning. Buckner had finally come home from his exile in Boise, Idaho. He had come to face his demons, and found himself enfolded in the loving, decibel drenched angelic embrace of a forgiving Nation. He threw out the ceremonial first pitch, aptly caught by is old teammate, Dwight Evans. In a mid-game interview on WRKO radio, the former Sox first baseman called that walk from the outfield “a healing moment.”

The cry of “Play ball” was uttered by the venerable Johnny Pesky, a living Red Sox icon.

It was a moving and memorable day orchestrated by a franchise that has taught us how to win with elan and dignity and how to celebrate with class and grace.

Go Sox!


Saturday, April 05, 2008

Dave Fetherston Shares a Harrowing Sea Story

I am always eager to hear stories of military leaders who have learned valuable skills that are directly applicable to the challenges of the private sector. The ability to remain calm under pressure and duress is just such a transferable skill. When Dave Fetherston first told me the amazing story of the naval vessel that almost sank in Boston Harbor, I knew I wanted to share the story with the readers of The White Rhino Report. So, Dave has kindly taken the time to summarize this amazing story.

A Sea Story From A Shipyard


David Fetherston

During the summer of 1984, I was the Main Propulsion Assistant (MPA) aboard the USS Valdez (FF1096), a fast frigate that was reaching the completion of an overhaul availability at the General Shipyard facility in South Boston. The ship had been in a dry dock for several months in order to perform major hull and superstructure modifications as well as the repair of many thru-hull valves. This was my first major overhaul and I clearly remember buzzing needle guns, the smell of burning metal, minimal ventilation and dust everywhere.

As the MPA, I had overall responsibility for the crew and main engineering spaces that housed the boilers, ships service turbo generators (SSTGs), the main engine and a variety of other auxiliary equipment. Main Control was in the engine room and was the central location for managing the engineering plant operation while underway and “steaming” in port. The Engineering Officer of the Watch (EOOW) is responsible for running the plant and directing casualty control procedures. Typically about six officers and senior enlisted men were qualified to serve as EOOW during my tour.

During our shipyard project, ship’s force had to interact with several outside parties. The shipyard was the general contractor that provided all the skilled labor and materials for the overhaul and had financial incentives to get the ship out of the maintenance period at or ahead of schedule. The Department of the Navy had supervision over shipbuilding teams that served as project managers and had government authority to pay the contractor(s) and approve additional working. The Squadron to which our ship was attached was responsible for providing combat-ready resources to the Atlantic Fleet. In our case, the Squadron was comprised of a comparatively small fleet of antisubmarine and mine warfare assets stationed in Newport, Rhode Island. Typically, the Squadron wants to make sure that ships complete all maintenance availabilities on time in order to participate in important fleet operations and training exercises. The officers and crew of the ship arguably have the most vested interests in ensuring that all projects were performed correctly and completely, since they need to live with the quality of the work that had been performed when underway.

Steam driven engineer plants are complicated and very dangerous. Our plant had a pair of Combustion Engineering 1200-psi uncontrollable superheat boilers that produced invisible, moisture-free steam that averaged 985 degrees. The inside casing temperature of the boilers could exceed 3000 degrees generated by a high pressure mixture of fuel oil and compressed air through four large injector ports. The steam that was generated propelled a variety of turbines, including the main engines and the turbo generators that provided high voltage power to the main electrical distribution system. The boilers used a closed-loop boiler water system, meaning that after steam passed through a turbine and expended all its energy, the vapor was condensed back into water and returned to a storage tank for steam regeneration. Keeping a steam plant in equilibrium requires a lot of highly trained and talented professionals.

A few days prior to re-floating the ship in the dry dock, the contractor had reinstalled a 36-inch wide butterfly valve located at the bottom of the hull in the middle of the night in order to make the scheduled launch time. The valve controlled the flow of seawater through the main condenser that housed over 4000 cooling tubes in a two level high structure underneath the low-pressure turbine. The opening of the valve was approximately 17 feet below the waterline. The normal protocol was to have someone from ship’s force, either the Chief Engineering Officer or Division Officer inspect a critical installation prior to signing off on the job. In this case, for reasons that remain unclear, the job was signed off without representation from the Engineering Department.

On July 31st, the ship’s crew was performing a dock trial that involved testing the main engine along side the pier with tugboats alongside to prevent forward movement. I was the Engineering Officer of the Watch and had representatives from the Squadron, the contractor and SUPSHIP Boston in the control booth with me. All valves were aligned properly, according to the valve indicators and I gave the order to open the throttle valve to begin spinning the main engine. Almost immediately, the main condenser overheated and we lost vacuum in the condensation system, rendering the main engine inoperable. After consulting with the representatives in the booth, we believed that something had been sucked into the main condenser that was preventing cooling water from passing through the system. The recommendation was to drain and open the main condenser and inspect the inside of the housing for debris. I agreed and notified the Commanding Officer of my intentions and he agreed.

I pulled out a casualty procedure card and proceeded to go through the checklist with my Chief Petty Officer. All valves were closed, according to the valve indicators, and red tags were affixed to the value wheels. Also, all valve wheels were wired closed as required for any thru-hull fittings. Once all required steps were completed, my Chief and three petty officers began draining the main condenser. When the water level indicator showed that the condenser was nearly empty, the Chief opened up the access cover to inspect the inside of the housing. The time was 0852.

When the access cover was removed, the hot steam from the overheated chamber was released which created a sudden loss of pressure inside the condenser. Before the chamber was opened, the stream pressure held two flapper valves closed which were preventing seawater from outside the ship to enter into the condenser chamber. When the Chief removed the bolts, the flapper valves slammed open, and the ship began flooding at an estimated rate of 22,000 gallons a minute. The heavy access port cover threw the Chief onto the deck plates and then hit two other men, throwing them into the bilge pockets. In the control booth, we heard frantic screaming and the sound of rushing water. My MM1 came running up the ladder, soaking wet, and said something had ruptured below. I called the Commanding Officer on the bridge, reported uncontrollable flooding and requested that we go to General Quarters. Within minutes, the Coast Guard was notified and the police closed Boston Harbor to all shipping.

All three men had sustained serious injuries and the water was rising very quickly. I recognized that we had only minutes to get them out of the space or they would likely drown. All the pumps and machinery on the lower level were powered by 440V electricity and there was little time before the seawater would hit the circuitry. If that happened, the men and the rescue team would all be electrocuted and the ship would lose critical electrical power that was needed to energize emergency dewatering equipment. I ordered Electrical Central to secure power to the lower level of Main Control and shift the electrical load back aft to the emergency diesel generators. Damage Control Central began to move all available dewatering equipment into main control in an attempt to hold back the volume of seawater pouring into the space. Emergency rescue teams then entered the space to move the injured men out of the rising water. It was clear to me that the emergency dewatering equipment could not keep up with the volume of water shooting out of the condenser. So when the last injured man was removed on a vertical stretcher, we evacuated the space and moved the watch over to the Fire Room.

Upon arrival in the control booth of the Fire Room, I was told that water was pouring in through cableways in the lower level of the space. We got the damage control teams to move all dewatering equipment into the lower level of the Fire Room where the flooding was running at about 4,000 gallons minute. My leading petty officer and I went down to the lower level toward the bulkhead that separated Main Control from the Fire Room and we could see that the weld in the middle of the wall was beginning to crack from the water pressure on the other side. If the bulkhead failed and seawater rushed in and hit the boilers, the ship would have exploded and settled in Boston Harbor. My crew immediately began to build supports using 6”x6” shoring and metal screw jacks, supported against the boiler casing, to hold back the pressure of 17 feet of flood water on the other side of the bulkhead. Simultaneously, my Fire Room watch team shut down the boilers using an emergency procedure and released steam pressure from the system. With the help of divers from the Boston Harbor Police and the Coast Guard, steel plates were secured to the thru-hull valve openings and the seawater was pumped out of the space before the bulkhead failed. We were able to save the Fire Room, but Main Control had sustained millions of dollars in damage. The flood line was over the top of the main engine turbine casings.

Shortly thereafter, a very long and painful investigation was conducted that initially pitted the contractor(s) and Department of the Navy against the Commanding Officer, the Chief Engineering Officer, my crew and me. From the outset, it appeared that the strategy was to focus on my actions taken as the EOOW during the flooding casualty and not look into the root cause of the casualty. After many months of depositions and even an Admiral’s Mast aboard the USS Mount Whitney before the Commander of the Atlantic Fleet, it was determined that a shipyard contractor had installed the 36” butterfly valve incorrectly. When the valve controller indicated the valve was closed, it was in fact all the way open. There was no way to know this until the housing was removed. In the end, the contractors and supervisors of ship building were held responsible and the Commanding Officer, Chief Engineer and I were all cleared of any wrong doing. A little over a year later, I was promoted to the role of Chief Engineering Officer, the department head position with responsibility for the entire engineering department.

I often think of that day as a defining moment in my professional maturity that was unlike any other experience in the career. As with most people with whom I have spoken who have been on active duty, I learned how to quickly prioritize and compartmentalize critical issues, make decisions with the best information available, delegate responsibility and accountability, and then move on to the next problem.

The best interview I have had in my career was with an executive who was a former Damage Control Assistant on a destroyer. When he asked me to describe my toughest day at work, I told him about this day in Boston Harbor. When I finished, he smiled and said, “I can promise you, you’ll never have a day like that here. Welcome aboard.” For all of us who have served, I hope there are many more people out there just like him!

After completing his career in the US Navy, Dave Fetherston earned an MBA from Babson College, and has carved out an impressive career in the private sector. He lives in the Boston/Providence area and is looking for his next leadership opportunity in the areas of business development, client relationship management or sales management. If you know of a company that could use his clear-headed ability to solve complex problems under enormous pressure, I will be happy to put you in touch with David. He is eager to help make his next company “ship shape”!


Friday, April 04, 2008

Fenway “Falcon” Attacks “A-Rod” – A Story Too Good to Ignore

My friend, Chris Tashjian has an eagle's eye for irony, so he sent me the news about today’s attack on a student visiting Fenway Park by a red tailed hawk – a bird that apparently has managed to feather her nest with season tickets to the Red Sox. The girl was not seriously injured, but the story is worth sharing.

A thirteen year-old student, named Alexa Rodriquez, was part of a school tour group seeing the nooks and crannies of Fenway Park. Alexa’s coach calls her “A-Rod”! As the tour was winding up, “A-Rod” was attacked by the bird that was protecting its egg-bearing nest about 40 feet away from where the students were seated in the upper deck behind home plate.

The Boston Herald and Boston Globe both gave breaking news coverage to the avian attack:

Boston Herald story

Boston Globe pictures

And so it seems that even Mother Nature has weighed in as a Citizen of Red Sox Nation and made her Red Sox vs. Yankees preferences known. Take that, Hank Steinbrenner!