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My Life In the Coast Guard
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Chapter 5

My Third Unit

Station Panama City, FL.

 

        I had accumulated four weeks of leave when I arrived in Florida. The best time to take leave is when a change of station takes place. The reason for this is that you're not attached to a unit at that time. You haven't been assigned to a duty section, so consequently they aren't going to miss you.  As the time for reporting aboard drew near I found myself not wanting to go back and I was seriously thinking of going AWOL.  I knew though, that they would only hunt me down, it would become a big mess and in the end I would be right back where I started from.  Besides going AWOL during peacetime really looks bad on a person's record.

        When I arrived at Coast Guard Station Panama City, Florida I was introduced to Senior Chief Fisch (aka The Flounder) who was the officer in charge. We went into his office for the cursory five-minute welcome aboard speech and then off to work I went. I was placed in Petty Officer Craig Sandefer's boat crew and we immediately hit it off. Craig was a take no shit common sense kind of guy. The kind of person I find it easy to get along with. I could be a human being with him instead of playing the toy soldier game. One of the first rescues we participated in together was a boat fire. We had received a call that a boat was on fire on the beach on the west side of Panama City Bay. This meant that the fire was not too far away from the station. We tore out of the dock and by the time we arrived on the scene our firefighting equipment was set up and we began putting fire out. I was on the fire monitor at the bow of our 41 foot utility boat when the five o'clock television news arrived to videotape the entire thing. This was something that I wasn't expecting although it was kind of nice to see myself on television in action.

Craig Sandefer
Craig Sandefer and Laura Linder

        After about two weeks at this unit we received notice that a new Boatswains Mate named Deborah Gorczyki was due to arrive. Seaman Gresham was in my duty section and told me that he remembered her from school. He had been stationed at Yorktown, VA. with her. He said that he also remembered me from school and pointed out the one time we came into contact with each other, so he had a good memory. Seaman Gresham was the officer of the deck in the barracks where I lived.

Gresham
Seaman Gresham on St. Patty's Day

This meant that he was also in charge of security for the barracks, which included letting people into their rooms when they lost their keys. He informed me that one day he was letting a student into his room who had lost his key and when the door opened Deborah Gorczyki was engaged in sex with the man's roommate. I'm not the kind of person who really cares whose screwing who, so his story didn't make any difference to me. It did raise an eyebrow, but I thought nothing further of it until Deborah Gorczyki arrived at the station and her welcome aboard speech in the Senior Chief's office took eight hours behind locked doors. Everyone at the station was perplexed. It was the strangest thing that anyone at the station had ever seen and we all wondered what was going on in there.  One day I asked Craig Sandefer why the station called the Senior Chief "The Flounder" and he said it was because The Flounder was a fish with two eyes on one side of it's head so it couldn't see straight and it was a bottom feeder that ate dead things.

        When Deborah Gorczyki arrived at the station I was immediately pulled from Petty Officer Sandefer's crew and put on hers. During her first search and rescue mission I was working the radio room while the other engineer got underway with her in charge. Petty Officer Mike Landis was also on board serving as an observer and crewmate. The mission was to tow a yacht that had become disabled in the Gulf of Mexico, in other words a common AAA tow job. I was monitoring the progress of the mission over the radio and as a result I knew that our 41 foot utility boat was almost on scene when I heard the vessel we were attempting to rescue broadcast over the radio, "Coast Guard, Coast Guard slowdown you're about to hit us!" After the mission had been completed I had a discussion with Petty Officer Landis and I asked him why the vessel we were trying to rescue said that. He told me that Debbie seemed to only know two speeds, idle and full power. He said that she was steaming toward the vessel we were trying to rescue at full power in the dark and got too close. It was then that he told me that no decent coxswain travels at full power unless he is out in the middle of open water and there are no other vessels for miles. When I asked him why he said, "That's so you have extra power in the event you need it when something you don't expect happens." Obviously Petty Officer Landis was speaking with tremendous wisdom and common sense.

        About a week after this mission we underwent a group inspection. This made my second group inspection in about three years so I knew what to expect. I knew that the inspection would consist of not only the cleanliness of the station, but it would also include fire drills on the station as well as a complete set of underway drills in our 41 footer. I was selected to be the engineer for our underway drills which we completed without a flaw. Whenever a Coast Guard vessel gets underway in the Gulf of Mexico the personnel are always armed. This includes a 12 gauge shotgun, M-16 and a sidearm which at the time was the 45 caliber pistol. In addition to this we also carried the M-60 machine gun when we went on law-enforcement patrol. As soon as we arrived at our boat dock and had the boat secured an announcement was made over the station's public address system, "This is a drill this is a drill fire fire fire in the parts room!" My coxswain for our underway drills immediately ran to the parts room to put out the fire which was a very long way to run. Unfortunately he forgot that he had a 45 caliber pistol on his belt. This resulted in a failing grade for our station drills and a failing grade overall. At the conclusion of our evaluation the officers from group mobile said that they were perplexed. They said that we were excellent and in fact the best that they had ever seen when it came to underway drills, but it appeared that we completely fell apart when it came to the station. They said that they couldn't understand it. I could! It was obvious to me by then that there was some seriously strange business going on between the Senior Chief and Deborah Gorczyki and that the crew found the whole thing completely distasteful.

        About 4 PM that day the group inspection was over and the officers held request complaint mast. Under normal circumstances request and  complaint mast for an entire unit rarely takes longer than hour. By 9 PM when I took radio watch it was obvious to me that this was not a normal unit and these were not normal circumstances, because a line of personnel had formed down the central hallway of the station and all of them were waiting for their conference with the group inspectors. It would be safe to say that minus one or two people the entire station had moans, groans, bitches and complaints and all of them were in regard to the Senior Chief. When Laura Linder relieved me of the radio watch she asked me, "Aren't you going into request and complaint mast?" I said, "Laura I haven't been here long enough to have a request or a complaint and I really don't want to get involved in the politics of the station." It wasn't long before the problems found me and I was forced to deal with them.

        It had been revealed to me by one of the inspectors that checked the financial records of the station that the charts that we had hanging on the wall in picture frames cost the station approximately $500 each for the framing.  the inspector was so angered by this discovery that he said he was going to press charges against Senior Chief Fisch for misappropriation of funds, but nothing ever resulted. This was something that I thought was very strange because having those charts framed was not something that any station really needed. The reason for this is that charts are updated on a regular basis. Consequently they have to be replaced and if they are framed it makes the job all that more difficult. In addition to this we had a wonderful chart cabinet and chart table in the radio room that many of us preferred to use rather than yank a picture frame off the wall. The fact that no charges were brought against the Senior Chief indicated to me this man had friends in high places. I never asked any of the people who went into request and complaint mast the nature of their visit. I figured that was their own personal business and I didn't want to know.

        As things turned out my first Christmas at the station I wound up having duty. A cold front had moved into the panhandle area and temperatures had dropped below zero. Just as a side note this was the day before the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up. We had been sent to Appalachicola for a boat fire which turned out to be the red fishing lights on the NOAH ship called the Chapman. We were returning to the station via the Gulf of Mexico and Deborah Gorczyki was at the helm when it became so cold that salt water began freezing on the windshield. The wind had picked up and we were in heavy seas. The ice buildup on the windshield had become so severe that we could no longer see outside. Regardless of these conditions we were proceeding at full power and is steering by the compass alone which confirmed everything that Petty Officer Landis had told me about her first mission. It was then that Deborah Gorczyki told me, "Get out there and scrape the ice off the windshield Coggy that's where you belong!" I was shocked by her statement and refused to comply. She then asked me, "Why aren't you doing what I told you?" I then said, "I'm waiting for you to come to a complete stop." She then told me that she wasn't going to stop and I said, "Then I'm not going outside the scrape the ice off the windshield, in my estimation the seas too heavy to put a man outside on an ice covered deck while you're traveling at top speed." It was then that she brought the engines to idle forward and I went outside and scraped the ice off the windshield. She really pissed me off that day because her statements indicated to me that she had no concern whatsoever for the safety of her crew and I lost all respect for her.

        One duty day I was about to assume the radio watch when a person I was relieving told me that the Senior Chief was on station. Due to the fact that it was late at night I asked him what he was doing here. His reply was, "He's down on one of the 41 footers with Debbie Gorczyki." I exclaimed, "At 2 o'clock in the morning?" He said that he was so curious about what was going on down there, but he was too afraid to go down there on his own because he had no reason to be there. I said, "I'm the engineer I can think of a 1000 legitimate reasons to go down there. If you will just give me ten minutes to check the boats I'll come back and let you know." He said, "Go." I took a flashlight and when I got down there I performed a bilge inspection to make sure that the boats weren't taking on water. It was obvious that my arrival had disturbed them, but I didn't see anything untoward going on. I returned to the radio room and informed the man I was relieving that sure enough they were both down there, but I didn't see anything unusual going on. Regardless this kind of activity raises questions and it is not the kind of thing that any decent officer would be doing because of that fact. Because it was happening it indicated to me and everyone else at the station that they didn't care. 

        Several weeks later one of my crewmates told me that he had returned from a weekend camping trip around 4 o'clock in the morning and saw the Senior Chief's car parked in the parking lot of Deborah Gorczyki's apartment complex. Then came the day that I was working and was paged to come to the radio room. The shortest distance from where I was to the radio room was through the rec. deck. When I opened the door and walked inside I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I had never been so shocked and all my life. The Senior Chief had Deborah Gorczyki on the floor with his arm up her blouse. I couldn't believe it, it was just too crazy to be true. I was so surprised by what I saw I could hardly move. Debbie saw me and said, "What!" I was so stunned that when I spoke I stuttered, "Wa, Wa, What are you doing!" Debbie said, "I stuck an ice cube down his shirt and now he's trying to put one in my bra." I just walked away shaking my head in total disbelief.

 

 

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