Friday, June 4, 2010

Houston Texas

Van Aller Residence, Houston Texas

I arrived in Houston Texas two days ago after my drive across the Bayous of Louisiana. This is my first time in Texas and am excited to check out the Lone Star State. I am staying with The Van Aller's who are a Coast Guard Family. I have somewhat of a sad story to tell.

The picture above was taken in Seattle in 1989. Pictured is Dan Adelsburger, Gary Van Aller and the kid. Gary passed away from Pancreatic cancer two years ago. He was 43. Tragic. He was my immediate supervisor aboard my first Coast Guard unit, USCGC Polar Sea, homeported in Seattle. He came into my life at a critical time. Only 2 or 3 years older than me, he had a maturity about him that I just lacked. He was a natural leader, very disciplined and intense. Of his subordinates Gary required the same work ethic and discipline. At the time this was a painful transition for me. He was not easy to work for, but you always knew where you stood and what was expected. He could be brutal sometimes and was relentless with me at a time when I was a directionless punk who needed his guidance. At the time I had no idea of the shaping that was going on and the deep impact he would have on me.

Gary would turn a painting detail into a space shuttle launch. This was serious business and not only would the end product be done correctly, but the process leading up to the painting had equal weight. The ends do not justify the means. For example, Gary would require of us to know all the nomenclature of a paint brush, understand the different types of hair on said brush and by god you never dip that brush move than 1/4 the length of the bristles into the paint bucket or you'd be cleaning all the brushes aboard ship in the paint locker. I always thought it a bit extreme that he would make me calculate the dew point daily and read the surface temperature of the bare metal to ensure we always painted 5 degree's above the dew point, in accordance with the Colors and Coatings Manual. I find it troubling that I still remember these details after 22 years. But as Gary would say, "details Allaire details."

I developed a somewhat different leadership style, less intense than Gary. But I was left with core traits passed down from him. Don't baby people, but treat them with respect. Don't abuse power, but use your power when appropriate, but sparingly. And sometimes, when in charge of many people, especially folks less than two years out of boot camp, you must set a strict tone or your division can and will descend into a range of disciplinary problems that will dominate all your attention. Not all people who join the military and make it through boot camp belong in the environment. A good leader will spot the ones who will thrive, but need direction and guidance, such as Gary did with me. Conversely, I could spot the ones who would not make it from miles away. I likely would not waste my time with them. The rub with this is, the ones that you care for and want to develop are the ones who likely will find you, say a little brash. They will think why is this guy riding me all the time. But after a period of time you end up with deep friendships. This is how things worked between Gary and I. After awhile, he eased up on me, kicked me out of the proverbial nest and watched me take on more and more responsibility.

Here is a lesson from all you boneheads like me. Gary called me and left a message on my work phone. I was constantly on the road and staying in hotels and when I received the message I failed to call him back. Just busy. He said, "hey scumbag, you forget where you come from?" He passed away maybe two months later. I had no idea how sick he was and certainly didn't volunteer this information. Not in his nature.

I am staying with Gary's wife Peggy and their two children, Eric and Alex. Gary met Peggy during  that era in Seattle. What a great era it was. I've never me their children before, but I surely can see he left his permanent stamp on them. Very respectful. A real chip off the old block. It is obvious that he prepared his life in such a way that his family will be well cared for once he crossed the bar.

The VA's and Me

So thank you to Peggy and the kids for hosting me on my journey west. It is greatly appreciated and I think Gary would be pleased know I stopped at the home he and Peggy build. RIP Gary!

Capt Chris

PS: Any and all comments are appreciated. Don't forget that I have to push the publish button on the comments, so they will post soon after you comment. Next stop Austin Texas!


Peggy said...


It was a complete joy to have you come and visit with us and stay a spell. We just truly enjoyed your company.

Your comments about Gary are to a tee and were great to reminisce about. He certainly expected a lot from those who worked from him and once in awhile they would realize the lessons he was trying to teach him. Inviting those of you that worked with him to spend a weekend at our place or come over for a BBQ was his way of showing you he wasn't always a hard a$$. He really did have a softer side to him.

I will be thinking about you as you travel on-ward to California and will keep up with your travels to make sure you arrived safely (sorry, its the mommy in me).

Take care and don't forget you always have a place to hang when in Texas.

Hugs ~ Peg :^)

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post about your friend and supervisor. I'm sure is proud to know his impact on your life. Trac