On the surface, Cooks are the poster rating for the USCG. Behind the scenes, they go unsupported.
The current landscape of the Culinary Specialist (CS) Rating is bleak. A recent article from Forbes Cook Shortage Threatens To Sink U.S. Coast Guard Operations states: “Without cooks, the Coast Guard’s multimillion-dollar ships are effectively SUNK, and unable to operate” effectively.
Even in this critical state, the new and much-needed Culinary Paperwork System GALLEY will not move forward without senior leadership intervention.
Although the rating is in critical status, 2022 was a banner year for our Coast Guard Chefs. Shortly after the Coast Guard culinary team defended their title as the Military Service Branch Champions at the Annual DOD Culinary Training Competition, two Coasties traveled (on the Army Dime) to Vegas to compete against the civilian sectors largest culinary organization in America, the American Culinary Federation (ACF). The two Coast Guard Chefs won the titles of ACF Chef and ACF Pastry Chef of the year, proving (literally) the Coast Guard has the best chefs in the Nation. These successes have led to multiple awards presentations providing facetime and personal interactions between Coast Guard leadership (Commandant, Vice Commandant, and MCPOCG) and the highest-level officials of our sister services to include the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The CS Rating has not only excelled in the civilian competition arena but has also found success in supporting the top goals of Coast Guard leadership. CSs have been at the forefront of almost all of the Commandants 100 day initiatives including lateral entry, banding billets, Agile A School, new insignias, and creative ideas to reduce workload to lessen the pain of the military recruiting/retention crises.
CSs have taken the lead on the “everyone is a recruiter program” with Senior Leaders participating in dozens of events (trade shows, job fairs, competitions, conventions, skills USA, farm shows) all over the country. The rating implemented a requirement for the best of the best Chefs that work in Admirals houses to participate in recruiting events on a regular basis.
To deal with the lack of communication tools within the Coast Guard (restructuring of portal, lack of useable internal mailing lists, and limited message traffic access) the CS rating has created the largest social media/internet communication information system for any rating www.coastguardculinary.com
Fighting the demise of in-person training due to COVID the Culinary Program was able to still conduct 7 ad hoc, unit-funded Culinary Symposiums (From Alaska to North Carolina) and the first Senior Leadership Round Table at TRACEN Petaluma in years to ensure the fleet was updated by Senior CS Leaders and trained in the latest advanced culinary techniques/paperwork.
Even with these high-impact accomplishments and all the successes in supporting Admiral-driven initiatives, “GALLEY” (as the IT types call it), the one request the CS rating fleet has asked for, may not move forward.
What is GALLEY and why do we need it?
GALLEY is a centralized culinary service management application that provides program-level analysts the ability to monitor financial reports and flag discrepancies for expeditious remedy. Cost savings are expected to be realized in the form of reduced reports of surveys, extra-ordinary funds requests, and waste due to inventory visibility. The modernization will facilitate improvements to CS personnel data entries, streamline the transmission of monthly reports to the USCG Finance Center (FINCEN), and significantly improve access to data by the program office and product line personnel.
There currently is no effective means for the United States Coast Guard to efficiently maintain correct CSS financial accounting information using the current processes and functional framework. Since the rise of digital computing in the Coast Guard, the branch has struggled with the challenge of functionality and connectivity, both ashore and afloat or mobile. The previous system-wide CSS software, the Dining Facility Automation Management System (DFAM), is an example of these struggles.
The answer is GALLEY. GALLEY is the employment of modern mobile devices and applications which serve as a portable front-end to the Coast Guard’s food service management system, allowing users real-time access to required information. GALLEY is in alignment with the Commandant’s Technology Revolution Strategy, which articulates the underlying need to develop solutions to enhance the Coast Guard’s ability to enable operations through mobile devices and applications.
What are the capabilities of the current systems?
The current capability for culinary service management includes updating Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and the excessively time-consuming effort of manually making changes before routing to the next member of the chain for approval. This current state of routing financial reports exceeds the allotted time requirements to capture and transmit financial information. As a result, discrepancies are typically caught significantly after they are made which complicates the process by yielding incomplete and untimely reports. The underway mobile computing environment, which suffers from connectivity issues, further hinders the timely submission of documents. Such incomplete and untimely information is unusable for managing the subsistence program. It is apparent that a central solution tailored for the afloat domain is necessary with a capability to operate offline and sync quickly after reconnection.
What does the Coast Guard fleet say?
It is clear this current paperwork system is a huge unnecessary time sink that has a negative effect on our Culinary Specialists mental health and ability to perform their job. Chief Haley talks about her experience returning to the fleet after serving as an SCA.
“I transferred to a BASE as FSO back in 2020 after serving as an SCA (Special Command Aide) for four years. Program encourages SCAs to go back to the fleet to share what they learned as an SCA. I was eager to get the opportunity to inspire, educate, and encourage culinary specialists to break away from the mass service mentality. My excitement was short-lived. The current system for galley paperwork is absurdly time-consuming. We were still using an excel spreadsheet made some twenty years prior that constantly has errors. To make the workbook useable you have to email your workbook to the one human in the CG that has the password to make the workbook repair. I was chained to my desk updating tab after tab of this excel workbook every day. The book wouldn’t allow you to copy and paste so you had to go back and forth from tab to tab and hope you don’t make a typo while entering twenty-digit sequences of numbers. All day. Between my collateral duties and the inefficiency of an outdated workbook (not even system), I was rarely able to make an impact in the galley. My time was wasted. My talents were wasted. And for the first time in my career, I hated my job.”
Chief Vernon a Food Service Officer (FSO) stationed on a Coast Guard cutter discusses the TIME this system robs from him and his Coast Guard Cutter Crew.
“My biggest peeve about our rating is this paperwork system we operate on because of: TIME. I have to utilize shortcuts to save myself four hours of work a week, and that’s being modest and assuming my JOD is either myself or CS1. When we train a new CS3 a 2581 takes an hour to complete, after some practice, it goes down to 10 minutes. Now when we load out or receive an order that process with a new CS3 takes an entire day, 8 hours, to input. Then enter in our 2 hours of searching for a fat-fingered error. If we were to count individual hours taken to input one receipt like the engineers record maintenance then lets add that up to at least 16 hours to input (don’t leave a trainee alone too long) and 3 hours to fix (one for the poor stressed third and two for the supervisor). Now that’s just time for the day to day, now add in countless hours trying to figure out chow bills that we can’t track in any sort of payment system, menu planning, printing out the entire report I have to sign digitally, and squeezing in training once a week. So the amount of paperwork time directly LESSENS the amount of training given to a third."
The following Chief talks about the direct effect the paperwork system (“Heart of the problem of the Rating”) had on his CS3 and the retention of our culinary specialists.
“At my previous unit, I had a CS3 I trained from a non-rate. He was a SN at a station where I was CS2. I made 1st and he went to A-School. When he saw my new unit where I would be an FSO on his pick list, he selected it as his first pick. This kid was a hard charger and a good guy. He was well-liked by the crew and respected by command. He made good food.
Fast forward a year and he ends up going through a divorce with his high school sweetheart. I saw this guy transform in front of me. His performance started to slip. The crew turned against him (we all know a cook is only as good as his last meal). With careful guidance, I was able to get him to reboot his feelings about cooking. When I was in the galley guiding him, I saw a noted increase in his morale and quality of work. The problem was, my time in the galley was brief. Between store runs, galley sanitation, and collaterals (MAA, CDAR,) I couldn’t be in the galley nearly as often as I needed to be. Most damning, however, is the galley report. Every month I poured dozens of man hours into an excel spreadsheet, tracking down nickels - all to file it in a 300+ page folder I created every month just to stow away in a box in a moldy attic, never to be seen again. Meanwhile, my CS3’s life was imploding.
Ultimately, the guy failed enough to gain the ire of the command. He had slipped into depression, and the quality of his work suffered greatly. He got taken off the CS2 list (He wrote top 10) and ultimately put on enough weight through alcohol to get discharged.
Thing is, his loss is entirely preventable. He was a hard worker and just needed more time and guidance that I couldn’t provide because of an outdated workbook absorbing the majority of my day. I can say with 100% certainty that he would still be in the Coast Guard if it wasn’t for the obsolete galley paperwork system. I did not sign up for CS A school to master an excel workbook created decades ago. I want to be able to be in the galley without thinking about all the paperwork I’m neglecting because I’m helping my duty cooks.
This isn’t even taking into account the stress that the sheer tedium of galley paperwork takes on the actual FSO.
This is not sustainable.
This, more than anything, is the heart of the problem with the rating.”
Chief Conway discusses the difficulties and challenges this system takes on his junior members.
“I spend far too much time dealing with paperwork management and fixing discrepancies. I have to choose between focusing on the paperwork during the work day or assisting and training my junior members in the galley. If I choose the galley I then have to stay behind after the work day to take care of the paperwork and there have been days I don’t leave work until 1900 only to come back in the next day and do it again.
Some days it's easy and other days it is not and the looming dread I get when coming back from an extended leave period knowing the paperwork has just piled up while I was gone, brings a heavy level of stress on me.
There is also the added stress of the continuous updates to software and transitioning of electronic storage that has happened in recent years, worrying if my files get erased or corrupted, and then I would have to go into the paper folders and re-plug things in. The revisions to the excel workbook, it having issues after the revisions and even the current inventory workbook runs very sluggish for me making it take even longer to complete tasks.
Training for this paperwork can be a little difficult for junior members who live in a world where almost everything is automated for them. That is not to say it can't be done it just presents a challenge in itself. We are asking 18 – 25-year-olds to learn and utilize a system that’s been around for more than 30 years, it would be great to see the paperwork come to the 21st century before I retire."
Chief Gilbreath provides 4 examples of the negative effects of our outdated system.
“1. Working with the Liaisons at FINCEN, we spent over 100 total hours searching for $0.44 at a previous station from a year prior to my arrival (2017). (Someone used their own money to pay for part of a money order which threw the books off enough that they could never be fixed completely.) During this same period, I was short-staffed (2 out of 3 positions were vacant) and could have used my time much better had the excel workbooks been easier to work for the previous CS.
2. Like many others, I have fat-fingered a number or decimal point before that has cost hours of work trying to find the error, or simply starting over from scratch just because it is sometimes easier to waste a few hours inputting everything again than it is to waste a full day.
3. Paperwork scares a lot of people, it scares a lot of commands. One of the biggest things that keep members from seeking advancement is the paperwork. “Paperwork is what gets you fired” is a common phrase within our rate so if there is a simplified worksheet that would reduce errors and encourage promotions, why wouldn’t the Coast Guard try to improve such a critical rate?
4. One thing I dislike most about our current paperwork is the repetition. I have to put something on one form within the workbook (ie 2581), then place it in another spot on another form within the same workbook (3469), then place it on the next form yet again in the same workbook (2576), and I better hope I didn’t mess a number up otherwise my day is gone. And after that is done, I get to come in the next day and do it all over again. Also, don’t forget FSMS is due, 1501s are due, inventory has to be put in or taken out, menus are due, training is due, qualifications are due, meals have to be prepared no matter how short-staffed we are, or if paperwork isn’t complete, load outs have to be done. There is no doubt in my mind that CSs leave the rate because of paperwork, nobody joins to look for $.50 that they fat-fingered in between everything else they are tasked with.”
Coast Guard Junior Enlisted have been vocal as well:
“Technology has come too far, and the overall skill of the culinarians has come too far to still be using such an archaic and limited system. I still do inventory the same way I used to do it for a small local bookstore I worked at back in 2004. Doing everything manually is time-consuming and becomes even more so if there is a mistake. Sometimes it’s as simple as “I forgot to add the apples” and is an easy fix. However, many times it’s not that simple and I end up closing the workbooks without saving and just entering the receipt again rather than sit there and comb through every line item/stock card to hopefully find that I typed $5.23 instead of $5.32. As mentioned above, the skill of culinary personnel has greatly increased over recent years. This has led to more diverse menus prepared with more fresh ingredients. This becomes a problem when I run out of stock cards! (Yes, this has happened to me). Because everything is tracked by cell equations in excel, this is bound to be an issue at any large dining facility. And since I cannot create a new card, I have to either comb through all the cards and see if there is one that hasn’t been used for a while or start combining other items such as different flavors of pop-tarts, cereal, coffee creamer, etc onto one card to save space. Or two workbooks end up being needed. We need a more organic inventory system that’s not limited to a certain amount of stock cards and can be easily changed as seasonal items, prices, menus, and customer bases/tastes change. This is also an important issue for any large cutter that goes to foreign ports because the price differences and units of measure are often very different from what is already in the inventory. I know that it would not be quick or easy to implement, but a simple google search provides a long list of options for more modern inventory systems that greatly increase efficiency and reduce human error. The Coast Guard just must be willing to change.”
This is the last fleet-provided example we’ll provide out of the many recent messages we receive concerning our broken paperwork system. This is from a young petty officer with less than 5 years of service:
“Being a CS for only a relatively short time [5 years] so far I’ve noticed how inefficient and very time-consuming our current paperwork systems are. From having to manually print 31 days each of Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner 4901’s Meal Sign-In Sheets. To plug in “daily’s” CG-3123 and updating CG 3476 ICA’s (unfortunately if you went on a holiday routine, now you have to spend at least 1 hour depending on how focused you are to, again, MANUALLY plug in each one just to catch up.
Additionally, at the end of the month, you have to then print every single ICA accounts that range from 30 up to 50 accounts (depending on the size of the unit) to file in the “Left Side and Right Side” of the CGDF “hard copy” folder. Not to mention, you also then have to manually save a “soft copy” of the said ICA’s to keep in the computer file.
Furthermore manually printing required documents such as the CG-3123 Daily Ration Cost Record, which is also 31 days worth of papers. As well as pay.gov receipts, spending time “finding $5 when a member over or underpays instead of doing something more meaningful in the galley. These are just examples of the very tedious, inefficient, and perhaps ineffective ways we have to deal with this on a daily and month-to-month basis with this system."
To sum it up one of the few Warrant Officers working in the rating states.
“Our current system is failing. We do not have an accurate account of the inventory, and there is little to no oversight over a unit's load out that can impact mission success.
The annual audit that we do, does not accurately portray the standing of the dining facility. It is a smoke and mirror display to ensure that we are compliant and to say we are doing an audit. As far as the monthly inventory goes, we cannot see or even question what they have on it. We must take the FSO and command’s word that a complete physical inventory was done, and they have what they say they have. The same goes for when cutters are loading out. How many cutters are loading out properly prior to a patrol?
Our CS are spending way too many man-hours shopping, that every unit is operating independently instead of by a standardized loadout based on platform, that there is no direct oversight of the unit’s load out, and that we are funneling money into units to correct issues such as poor load outs, improper handling of stores, loss due to mechanical failure, etc. The current inventory system is impacting unit readiness and success, they should not deny the proposal.”
To address the gaps in accessing, managing, and assessing data, the Coast Guard has an expanded need for a mobile capability to manage and assess information and data. The resolution of this capability gap through a material solution would provide CS shops throughout the service the capability to efficiently manage food service inventory and financial reporting. The proposed solution GALLEY is a dedicated application for CS needs that can function in both connected and disconnected environments.
Coast Guard senior leadership needs to intervene and make GALLEY a priority. Not only is our current system sinking our high-performing highly visible rating it is sinking our galleys, our chiefs, and our petty officers, and as the Forbes article states it may just sink the Coast Guard.