Captain’s Corner – Bowl of Jello


On June 17th CAPT Peter Martin assumed command of USCG Sector Houston-Galveston from CAPT Brian Penoyer. As the ceremony unfolded, I was very happy for Brian as he has successfully answered every challenge thrown at him and he has taken great care of the crew. Bravo Zulu Brian, and enjoy your next posting in Hawaii—you’ve earned some island duty.
After all the accolades for CAPT Penoyer were given out, the new guy, CAPT Peter Martin was introduced. He said something like: this is my dream job; I’m excited to get going, and to work with all of you. It was a short and sweet speech, and with it, he becomes a key person in the community as we go forward.

PrintSitting at the ceremony I could not help reflecting on my own feelings on a similar occasion in 2006. It was a great day in a great town, and I knew many adventures lay ahead for me. During the weeks that followed, I learned new names, explored the Houston-Galveston area, and learned to adjust to the 24/7 demands required of that particular duty known as “Captain of the Port.” However, several weeks into the job I still felt unease about how to approach the responsibilities of working with such a massive and diverse industry group. I remember it was about then that I received two pieces of advice as to what kind of mindset I needed to have in my new leadership position.

The first advice I sought out from my counterpart and good friend in New Orleans, CAPT Frank Paskewich. I called Frank and asked him: “What’s the secret to being the Captain of the Port of one of these massive ports?” Frank’s reply was perfect; he said you need to think of the port as “a gigantic bowl of Jello” with industry scattered about on top. Individually, they are trying to keep themselves from sinking. The key property of Jello (other than a lot of sugar) is that while it is solid, it is still flexible and can jiggle around a bit as you need it to. My job was to work with industry to improve the port’s safety, security, and environment. Through decisions I could make as Captain of the Port, I had the ability to “shake the Jello bowl” to improve the port. CAPT Paskewich impressed upon me that if I shook it too hard and changes were not understood or embraced, industry could start to crash into each other on top of the Jello and become upset –especially at me. It was quality wisdom.

The second piece of advice I did not seek out, and you’ve heard me mention it before because it was what ultimately helped me sleep at night. It was almost a sidebar comment that really stuck with me. Jim Overman, who had 35 years of experience working for Dow in Freeport said to me, “You know, it is not in any of our interests to watch you fail. We pay the consequence if you do.”
It was a simple way of convincing me to trust industry and not to be afraid to ask for their help because they would provide it. He was spot on; it is in everyone’s interest to work together to make our ports better—and for that matter, our entire communities. If our schools, churches, organizations, and governments are failing, then we all pay the consequences.

I will always remember these two sage pieces of advice. Now I offer this to CAPT Martin: Sir, we stand ready to help make the port safer, more secure, and cleaner. Please shake gently and remember we want you to succeed.


  • Date July 18, 2016
  • Tags July 2016