Got questions? These operations specialists have answers.

We asked our Facebook fans if they could ask an operations specialist anything, what would it be? And with nearly 200 questions asked, it was clear you were all eager to hear more about the men and women who make up the operations specialist rate. We picked the top five most “liked” questions and asked two operations specialists to help answer them: Petty Officer 1st Class Jeremy Young from Sector Columbia River’s operations center located near one of the most treacherous waters in the U.S. and Petty Officer 2nd Class Brandon Daves aboard one of the Coast Guard’s newest national security cutters, Waesche.

Operations specialist aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Gallatin work in the ship's combat information center analyzing information and assisting in this ship's navigation.  U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class NyxoLyno Cangemi.

Operations specialist aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Gallatin work in the ship’s combat information center analyzing information and assisting in the ship’s navigation. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class NyxoLyno Cangemi.

What are some of the most challenging situations an operations specialist can come across for each type of unit? – Kari Sjolin

At a sector or group as an operations specialist you will have to answer radio calls from both professional and recreational boaters. Most calls are non-distress, but when someone is in distress and they need help from someone in the Coast Guard they will call you and they will most likely be a little high-strung. Calming a boater down who has their spouse and children aboard when they are taking on water, or disabled in 4-foot seas, is difficult. You have to have answers to them in a timely manner so that their confidence level in you and more importantly the Coast Guard is reassured. – Petty Officer 1st Class Jeremy Young

The operations specialist rate in general is full of situations where you are forced to make split second decisions with extremely powerful consequences. Whether working search-and-rescue cases at a sector command center or conducting missions at sea, you can count on the fact that your decision-making skills will be tested. As an OS currently stationed aboard a national security cutter, I can tell you that some of our most challenging situations often involve the Coast Guard’s various law enforcement missions. As a watch supervisor I must know when a certain law or agreement between nations is applicable and the steps we as the enforcer must take to remain within our jurisdiction. During boardings, OSs control all communications between the ship and the boarding team, which may not sound like a huge task but can become tough. Many boardings involve several assets and it isn’t unusual to be speaking with three units at a time. – Petty Officer 2nd Class Brandon Daves

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job if you have to choose one? – Juls LaRue

The most rewarding part of my job is helping people, as well as junior members that I lead. When someone in distress is on the radio or phone with you and you are able to get a Coast Guard asset to them and keep them safe, it’s extremely rewarding. Watching junior watchstanders realize they have made a difference and their job is important, makes coming to work fun and rewarding. – Young

One of the most rewarding aspects of being an OS is knowing that whether you are at a sector command center or a billet afloat, you are the instrument that makes accomplishing the mission possible. OSs are essentially information hubs; we are primarily responsible for taking in information and retransmitting it to the right person, command or group to create a favorable outcome. When I was stationed at Sector Puget Sound as a communications watchstander, I used to pride myself on how quickly and accurately I could gather and re-transmit the information I received during a distress call. It is very rewarding knowing that although you might not have physically rescued a person, you did make the rescue possible. Although successfully conducting a law enforcement mission isn’t the same as saving a life, I would argue that the feeling of accomplishment is still there in a very real way. – Daves

How are you able to stare at a computer screen, radar and other assorted screens without getting tunnel vision or cross-eyed? – Stephen Drown

You know, I have no idea. Your eyes get dry and stressed out, but you power through it. You don’t literally stare at a computer screen for eight to twelve hours; you talk to watchstanders, read a pub or manual so you can be that subject expert. On a ship, the good watch supervisor’s will relieve the radar watchstander for a break as needed. – Young

Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Komrosky, a Sector Anchorage operations specialist, gives the morning situation brief to the Captain of the Port for western Alaska.  U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Komrosky, a Sector Anchorage operations specialist, gives the morning situation brief to the Captain of the Port for western Alaska. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley.

I had to laugh when I read that one…honestly, it is really not much different from any other businesses nowadays. I guess I probably spend about as much time staring at my various screens as any office worker does, although I suppose the intensity of my purpose is different than theirs. The short answer is that you get used to it. The hardest part is actually maintaining your focus while the ship feels like it is doing barrel rolls. Once our ship was transiting through the South China Sea on our way to Japan and we were sandwiched between two typhoons one coming at us from behind and one heading directly toward us. We suffered through rough seas for three days. There is a saying, “one hand for the ship, one hand for you.” On that transit it became “two hands for the ship.” – Daves

Tell us about answering your first “mayday.” – Cliff Simonsen

My first mayday, or the first one I remember, was when I was stationed in Valdez, Alaska. A rental boat, if I remember correctly, from another small town on Prince William Sound ran out of gas and was drifting to a glacier that was calving. Calving is where part of the glacial ice on the water breaks off and falls into the water. They can be up to a hundred or so feet, so I’m told. Everyone loves to see this when it happens in the summer time. This particular boat had some tourists who ran out of gas and where drifting to the glacier. I was an OS3 at the time and took as much information as I could and sent out an urgent marine information broadcast. In this case another civilian was able to take the boat in tow and bring them to a port. It felt like it was over in about 10 seconds but lasted about 10 minutes before someone could help them. – Young

My first Mayday call happened while I was stationed at Sector Puget Sound. I had only been on watch for two hours or so and it had, up until then, been extremely quiet. Then the radio crackled, “Coast Guard Sector Seattle this is _________, a plane has just crashed in Elliot Bay.” At first I just had no idea what to say and I honestly thought that it had to be a hoax. The image in my head was of a huge Boeing 747 hitting the water with a hundred passengers onboard. As it turned out though, it wasn’t. A small sea plane, which is common in Seattle, had made a poor landing on the Bay and upended itself. I can remember how panicked I felt; I mean it was my first case and a plane crash! The information just started pouring in from all kinds of boaters on the water because Elliot Bay is full of boating traffic. I did my best to stay composed and get all the information I could. My portion of the case actually only lasted for about an hour or so, and it didn’t even really come close to the severity of some others I’ve worked. As it happened on that day, there were enough boaters present on Elliot Bay that they affected their own rescue. The pilot was uninjured, save a small bump on his head and the other boaters managed to tow his semi-submerged plane to a dock where it was later retrieved. I learned more in that hour about how to do my job then I had ever imagined. It is different when you realize that you aren’t conducting a training exercise; that lives actually hang in the balance and your actions could very well make the difference. It is humbling and it makes you want to be the best at what you do. – Daves

What kind of watch rotation are you standing? As a retired communicator I enjoyed 12 hour watches with sliding weekends. It was nice having every other weekend off either as a 72 or 96. – Lin Toland

I have worked every watch rotation you can think of in nine years. Right now I am working a three days on three days off, with 12 hour shifts. – Young

My watch rotation varies depending on the number of qualified personnel we have available to us. We are most often on four hour watches with eight hours between them, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. followed by 12 a.m. to 4 a.m. A schedule we refer to as “doubles.” While underway we have a regular workday in addition to scheduled watches, which can be difficult. For instance, if you are standing double four to eights, then you’re in for a long day. Being underway is a different sort of lifestyle and can be extremely challenging to get used to. At Sector Puget Sound we stood 12-hour watches, usually three days in a row followed by two days off. – Daves

Petty Officer 3rd Class Danielle Tatum works in the combat information center aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Dallas.  U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Danielle Tatum works in the combat information center aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Dallas. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Are there any Coast Guard missions you want to know more about? Or is there a specific job you find fascinating? Leave your ideas in the comments below so we can feature it in a future “Got questions?”

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