Friday, January 10, 2014

Change of Command Ceremony at the SL Coast Guard

On Saturday January 4rth, I was able to attend a special ceremony of the Second Life Coast Guard (SLCG). I had gotten an invitation from KariaKae Wroth (Kariakae Karu), a vice-admiral at the SLCG headquarters. For those whom weren't able to attend, the chat was copy-pasted into the group-chats, but being there, one could see the ships and scenery. Several were seated on stage in front of the seating. Most were in uniform, though there were a few in civilian dress. There was also a Coast Guard cutter nearby, with a line of one officer and seven shipmen, standing guard onto the deck with rifles.

The event was supposed to take place at Noon SL time, but they waited a while for people whom were late. KariaKae apologized, "For reasons that escape me, we are never able to start these events on time..." Sanstrom Laxness, the outgoing commander, tried to put her at ease with a chuckle, "being late is called a 'fashion statement' I think." A few more dropped in, but not everyone. Finally they decided they had waited long enough, "what the heck, let's get this show on the road."

KariaKae gave the opening speech, "First of all I would like to thank you all for taking the time to be here today, I know it means a lot to both of our honorees. The SL Coast Guard started 8 years ago with a view to enhance boating safety. We are after all 'A Virtual World’s Safe Boating Lifeline.' Since our inception, we’ve stressed training, professionalism, and a commitment to excellence. Most of you know that before any of our members are allowed to be out in a boat with our logo, they have to prove their proficiency in boating safety knowledge. Recruits take numerous classes both self paced and in person before they graduate. The training does not stop at graduation. We do a joint training with the Marines before any new Guardian is allowed to use any of our aircraft. We train divers, and rescue personnel. We continue to create new courses. The most recent course focuses on Race Security. Any member of SLCG doing security for your event will now be trained in procedures and protocols to help you ensure the success of your event. Our personnel can be seen in every corner of the grid patrolling, and offering assistance and/or education. You all know our reputation and you support our mission. Some of you offer lands or equipment. Some of you offer your time, and serve in our organization. We respectfully and humbly thank all of you."

It was at this point the shadow of aircraft passed over us. By the time I looked up, the pilots had already moved on. KariaKae continued, "The precision fight team that we are witnessing is a tribute to our combined efforts. This team flies to commemorate and celebrate various events. They flew as a tribute to one of our fallen comrades. They flew to celebrate the birthday of the US Coast Guard. And, they fly today in honor of this ceremony."

The vice-admiral continued, "Today is more than a celebration of the great things that the SLCG has done in the past, and more than a celebration of what we hope to do in the future. Today is the celebration of a very important instant in time. It is a time when we bid a tearful farewell to that which was, and a warm welcome to that which will be. It is all together fitting and proper that we should do this standing in the threshold of a new year. In a few moments we will hear from one of the folks who have known our outgoing Commandant, Admiral Sanstrom Laxness, the longest, and then being the fair minded creature that I am, I’m going to give him a chance to defend himself."

There were several chuckles from the audience and others on the stage, then she continued, "Seriously, Admiral Laxness has been a good friend and a mentor. When I first met him, he absolutely terrified me! As I got to know him better, I discovered that a very warm, caring man lived under that crusty, brusque exterior. Sometime later, he asked me to serve as a part of his personal staff. I was surprised and honored! Of course, I accepted. Serving as his Chief of Staff has been an incredible opportunity for me. Through watching him, I’ve learned how to be gracious to those being unkind. I’ve learned the art of tolerance to those being intentionally obtuse. And I learned, perhaps more importantly, when to draw a firm line and not deviate from it. I’ve learned that good decisions are not always popular. And that even a good leader is not always liked by everyone. I’ve learned that what you know of your self is more important that what anyone says. And that true friends may question your decisions, but they will never question your integrity. I hope to someday be the genuinely kind, humble, strong person that he is. I hope to emulate the leadership skills I see in him, and I hope be the role model he has always been."

KariaKae then looked to the only one on stage in civilian dress, And with that comment, I’d like to call up MarkTwain White to say a few words. Mr. White, the deck is yours." MarkTwain, whom dressed like the real-life Samuel Clemens, got up to the podium, "Thank you. Before I make some remarks about out honorees here today I want to underline, a comment that Karia made a few moments ago. I want to thank each and everyone of you that have served on security details for sailboat races. That service alone has made the jobs of countless race directors in SL so much easier. Thank you all."

MarkTwain continued, "I am so pleased to be asked to say a few words today about my good friend Sanstrom and about the ongoing role of leading this sterling organization in Second Life. The SLCG has always been close to my heart because I have served in leadership postions in the USCG Auxiliary (the silver side) For those of you that don’t know, in real-life the silver side is the nickname of the Auxilary which is made up of volunteers just like here in the SLCG. The gold side refers to the professional military organization known simply as the United States Coast Guard. The distinction between the Silver Side and the Gold Side is an important one here today, as it points out an important reason that the SLCG is such an amazing organization and has had such amazing leadership since the start."

MarkTwain explained, "In the real-life Silver Side we do not have a 'Chain of Command,' rather we have a 'Chain of Communications.' This reflects the real-life issue that Auxiliarists are volunteers, not paid staff who can be subject to commands. And that is very much like the SLCG. You that serve in the SLCG are voulnteers.  BUT, you choose to behave as paid staff. You have a chain of command' and you choose to take orders just as if you were Gold Side. The fact that your leadership, best embodied in your retiring Commandant, can instill in this organization the kind of professional efforts normally associated with being paid. And knowing that you could walk away at any time tells wonders about the spirit of this organization and about the man that created it. So it give me particular joy to say to Sanstrom today….. JOB WELL DONE!"

There was then much clapping and applause from the audience, "Hear hear!" After waiting some moments for it to calm down, MarkTwain turned to the new commander, "And to Admiral Thorn Blackflag, I say to you, you have some big shoes to fill here. And true to our motto, Semper Paratus, I know you will do fine. Thank you."

"Thank you Mr. White," KariaKae told MarkTwain, then turned to Sanstrom Laxness, "Now, as promised, Sir, I give you a chance for rebuttal. Before I let you speak, The SLCG would like to give you this plaque as token of deep respect and admiration." She then rezzed the object in front of the podium, then saluted, "Semper paratus. ... Sir, the deck is yours."

Sanstrom then got up to the podium, "Mark, thank you for those kind words. Admiral Blackflag, family, friends and distinguished guests. The story goes that when you die and go to heaven, you will be surrounded by angels. Of course the other part of the story is that when you die and go to the other place, you will be surrounded by… you know…devils. So, depending on your opinion of the friends I am surrounded by, you can guess what the rest of my life will be like!"

There were some smiles and chuckles from the audience, then Sanstrom continued, "Before I get started, let me do what all good job hunters do. Let me take this opportunity to tell each and every one of you…. I’m NOT looking for a job! I’ll be found in one of the many bars, lounges, beaches, airfields or yacht clubs for the free drinks and snacks. Thanks to every one of you for taking time out of your life and coming here today. You have come for your own reasons, but whatever they are, I choose to believe that you came to honor me….oh and Admiral Blackflag of course!"

The outgoing commander continued, "Let me say that I AM not proud of my years with the SL Coast Guard. I AM not proud of that one room building behind you. I AM not proud of those vessels docked behind you. I AM not proud of the many wonderful aircraft that we have. I AM not proud of this uniform we wear. I AM not proud of the many Friday night fireside chats we had. I AM not proud of the many times some of you came to me just to say 'Thank You.' I AM not proud of the mementos that you have given me today."

Sanstrom explained, "I AM not proud for any of those things, because I fear that old proverb that states that “Pride comes before the fall”. In modern terms you might read that “Pride takes credit for what will soon go wrong”. Pride is short-lived and unfulfilling; at least it has been for me in my life. My pride has also always been very self-centered. Instead, very sincerely, I AM grateful for all those things listed earlier. I AM grateful for my experiences while wearing the SLCG uniform. I AM grateful for the people I have met along the way. I AM grateful to GOD, for what he has allowed me to share in and experience. The process has been difficult, yet I AM grateful that I AM no longer the 17 year old that first put the U.S. Marine Corps uniform on back in May of 1975, The U.S. Coast Guard uniform in 1996 or the SL Coast Guard uniform in 2005. I never planned to make any of them a career. I took it one job at a time, and if I thought I was going to enjoy the next assignment, I took it. Once I did decide, I gave each of them 100%."

"Now you may ask," Sanstrom brought up,"what will stand out in my heart and mind as I look back at these many years of wearing a uniform? A heart warming chat with a close friend I met in SL and drove to meet in real life, days before he died. My heart was troubled over that, but it does stand out. Let’s see…Sunday, July 4, 1979. I accepted Christ that day and felt so fulfilled. Friday the 13th. I got my wings that day at P-Cola and felt so proud. And of course the many, many days, people and events from my time with the U.S. Marine Corps, first as a enlisted man then later as a officer and the many climbs and places we went. They are truly too many to list at this time. Multiple times I entered situations identical to ones from which others didn’t return and have often asked myself why? No 0311 Marine will ever forget a night landing on a beach….BEFORE NVG’s, even if most of us had our eyes shut. After all open or closed, it all looked about the same!" There were comments of "Wow" from the audience.

Sanstrom went on, "The same goes for my teaching the Coast Guards Leadership, Management Education Training course. Being the OIC of a communications center or being a Coast Guard station Commander in South Carolina and of course my time aboard all the various military aircraft and vessels. Last but not least the pleasure of flying helicopters. Enjoyed that last one so much I bought myself a Robinson R-22 back then."

"To make a very long story short, (Yes, I know it’s too late for that)," he briefly mused before continuing, "what I will remember most are the challenging times. Those that challenged my skills as a professional pilot and as a naval officer, those that challenged my heart as a human, those that challenged my beliefs as a Son of God, those that challenged my habits as a growing human being. But even more, I will remember those whom I had the honor of sharing those challenges. Some of you are here today. Again, thanks."

There was applause from the audience that took some moments to die down, then the outgoing commander went on, "You can call me lucky, if you believe in luck, and I’ll understand. You could say that I have been extremely lucky to have had great leaders, co-workers, peers and subordinates (Those are Military words for people). I believe that I was greatly blessed by them and by GOD. That luck, or blessedness applies beyond my relationships at work. I have been told that you can pick your friends, but not your family. That’s not totally true. I AM under the impression that I picked Tigs to be my SL wife. Some may argue that she did the picking. Thank you Tigs for the wonderful years we’ve had and I hope continue to have. These flowers are a way for me to say thanks for the 99% of our time together and for still being there after the other 1%. I also want to thank my friends that are no longer with us. Many of them went through hell fighting terrorism before America as a country realized it was the right thing to do. They gave me the strong points including a work ethic and made me take the opportunity to challenge myself. Speaking of challenging myself … as Jimmy Buffet would say, 'It’s Five O’clock Somewhere,' so I need to speed this along."

Sanstrom concluded, "What am I bringing with me as I leave, directly or indirectly almost 50 years of uniformed service? The friends, the relationships, the mementos, the memories and a monthly retainer deposit from Linden Labs. I am also leaving with a few more inches around my waist, a few less hairs on my head, some more wisdom in my soul, a few less defenses around my heart, a wonderful family, and a future full of life. What a blessing. Thank you for sharing this day with me."

The audience erupted in applause, "Well done!" "Ooh Raah Devil Dog!" "Semper Paratus!" "Awesome Sauce!" Sanstrom however had one more duty to perform, "Admiral Blackflag sir, if you would join me please." The new commander went up to the old one, and Sandstrom spoke again, "Please repeat after me: 'I, Thorn Blackflag do solemnly reaffirm the oath that took upon my graduation from recruit training, to support and defend the Guidelines of the SL Coast Guard. I further assume the mantle of leadership for this organization, recognizing that he, who wishes to lead, must first be willing to serve.' "

Thorn did so, "I, Thorn Blackflag do solemnly reaffirm the oath that took upon my graduation from recruit training, to support and defend the Guidelines of the SL Coast Guard. I further assume the mantle of leadership for this organization, recognizing that he, who wishes to lead, must first be willing to serve."

Sanstron continued," 'That I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the Commandant of the SL Coast Guard. So help me God.' "

Thorn repeated, "That I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the Commandant of the SL Coast Guard. So help me God. - Semper Paratus."

"Sir, I stand relieved,"Sanstron concluded.

"Sir, I relieve you," Thorn told him. Sanstron then took his seat. The change in command was done. Someone in the audience wiped a tear.

Thorn then went up to the podium, "Huge shoes ... Many of you know I am a huge broadway theater fan. A favorite show 'Chicago' is coming to town next week. There is a song toward the end and it is entitled 'I Can't Do It Alone.' Standing here today puts that lyric in a whole new light. The continued sucess of this group is your responsibility as well as it is mine, for truly ''I Can't Do It Alone.' Thinking bak maybe a year or more ago, I think is was Capt. Carling or was it you CDR Rieko who said what the group needed was a song. Sans, you liked the idea, and I tried. But I can't sing. But I can write. I will present a few stanzas, see what you think, f you want to try and sing it, I had and old army ballad 'Benny Haven Oh' in mind for a melody, also for you Irish 'Wearing of the Green' is the same tune."

Let me tell the story of how we came to be,
The Second Life Coast Guard The Masters of the sea.
The idea came to Sanstrom In two thousand and five,
How to do something useful that would help people survive.
He drew upon his experience from his years in the Corps,
And formulated a plan to chart our future course.
In a region named Pinastri the first station was born,
One story blocks of cinder looking quite forlorn.

O'oh Second Life Coast Guard,
We raise a glass to you,
And gladly tell your story,
to both old friends and to new.

Sans and Tig and RJ decided on a plan,
For growth and development with quality and command.
Under their direction the group began to grow,
And continents were covered and soon all SL would know,
That The Second Life Coast Guard has a very simple plan,
 To serve the boating public In any way we can.
Seven years and counting how long will this group survive?
We will last as long I tell you as good recruits still arrive.

O'oh Second Life Coast Guard,
We raise a glass to you,
And gladly tell your story,
to both old friends and to new. 

So gather round me shipmates and raise your glasses high,
“long live the SL Coast Guard
Semper Paratus” aye!
From now until forever until the day we die.......

O'oh Second Life Coast Guard,
We raise a glass to you,
And gladly tell your story,
to both old friends and to new. 

The song got a few complements from the crowd. MarkTwain remarked, "Catchy tune, you can dance to it."

Thorn turned to the outgoing commander, "Admiral Laxness, I have tried to tell the story of the group in verse, but this I would like to make your final assignment, to put pen to paper and help us keep our history straight." He turned back to the audience, "thank you for your attention," then to the vice-admiral, "Admiral KariaKae Wroth, the deck is yours." There was much applause in response, Sanstrom saying, "Not bad Admiral, not bad at all."

KariaKae gave her thanks to Thorn, "Thank you, Sir," then turned her attention to the line of shipmen at the nearby Coast Guard ship, "Lieutenant Blackwell, please proceed." The drill commander then shouted to his men, "Attention! Order arms!" The seven sailors readied their rifles. "Right face!" The seven turned to their right. "Ready!" The seven readied their rifles. "Aim!" The seven pointed their rifles into the sky. "Fire!" And the shipmen fired seven bullets into the air. This would go on again, "Ready! Aim! Fire!" And a third time, "Ready! Aim! Fire!" With the twenty-one gun salute completed, the officer ordered, "Order arms!" The sailors were no longer aiming their rifles up, having them at ready. "Left face!" The shipmen then turned to their left, to where they had originally faced. "Present arms!" and the sailors had their weapons at ready.

KariaKae once again addressed the crowd, "You have all witnessed the birth of a new organization, a metamorphosis if you will. Our new commandant brings a new set of experiences and a new set of eyes to our organization. As with any organization, the SL Coast Guard will subtly change to reflect this new leadership. So what will this new leadership look like? Well, you have heard from the man yourself. Many of you already know him from his work around the SLCG and with the Flying Tigers. He has been in the SLCG for three and a half years, and has worked his way up through the ranks. He’s been a station commander, district commander and, most recently area commander. He’s worked with the training command as an instructor, a mentor and as one who conducted checkrides. He is familiar with both the operational and the administrative needs of SLCG. He’s a very capable man. But, please allow me to share my observations. This transfer of command has been two months in the making, and during this time I’ve worked very closely with my new boss. I’ve found him to be a man of both thought and action. He is open to new ideas. Yet those ideas require substantiation. He has a definite path in mind for the SLCG, but still seeks feedback. He is respectful of our history, but is optimistic about our future."

"And what will our future hold?" KariaKae asked, "I cannot say for sure. But, what I do know is this. We are still the SL Coast Guard. We have all heard our new Commandant take an oath to preserve our mission and goals, and what we stand for. Our continued commitment to excellence will not change. I look forward to this new journey, and I thank you. ... No, WE thank you for your continued support."

KariaKae's closing was met with applause, and so went the Coast Guard's changing of the guard. The people began to mingle and talk more casually. But I couldn't stay longer as I was needed elsewhere. Further words with KariaKae and the Coast Guard would have to wait.

Bixyl Shuftan

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