At Training Center Cape May, New Jersey, the COVID-19 virus has changed how recruits are moved and trained aboard the base, such as the mandatory usage of face masks, the implementation of COVID-19 testing, and a two-week Restriction of Movement (ROM).
But one part of the training schedule that couldn’t be easily changed was their meal schedules. Recruits have to be fed three times per day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
So a question arose: How can you serve two to three hundred recruits down a line in three hours while maintaining a six-foot distance between recruits and the people serving them in an enclosed space?
On March 21, 2020, that concern was brought to Senior Chief Petty Officer Adrienne Blodgett, the galley supervisor at Training Center Cape May, by the galley staff who were serving the recruits their food, and she had to step up and find a solution to the problem.
“The contractor staff had some concern for boot campers from all over the country entering into the galley,” said Blodgett. “They said, ‘Look, to avoid any potential COVID-19 coming into the building, we would like to produce meals-to-go style only.’”
We have a fair amount of people in the galley who are in high-risk categories, said Blodgett. Some of our line servers, who were the people coming into direct contact with recruits and Company Commanders by serving them their food, had asked to not be on the front lines because they were over 65 years old, had health concerns, or were married to someone or lived with a person who had health concerns.
Mission Ready Solution Oriented
To find a resolution, Blodgett sat down with Cathy and Frank Collepardi, the civilian galley contract managers; Cmdr. Ron Millspaugh, the Mission Support Division Officer; and several others to figure out how the galley could solve this issue.
After much discussion, a change was enacted by the training center. Instead of people serving recruits their food on the line, everything was cooked and pre-packaged for them and put out ahead of time for them to grab, limiting contact with the galley staff.
“It was all about team leadership, we all had to come together,” said Millspaugh. “Training staff, command staff, myself, Senior Chief Blodgett, Frank and Cathy, all of us were working together to achieve the best outcome that we could come up with. All while facing unknowns that we had never thought of before.”
Recruits came in one company at a time, filed through like normal, went onto the mess deck, and grabbed a pre-packaged bag with food and accompaniments for the meal. Instead of the normal metal utensils that needed washing by the galley staff, recruits received disposable forks, knives, and spoons that could be thrown away into one of the many trash cans available for disposal.
To maintain social distancing in the mess hall where recruits eat, one side of seats from every table was removed, and the remaining chairs were distanced six feet from one another as well. So, while the company was eating, no one was sitting across from each other.
When the company finished eating, they threw their trash out, left the building, and the galley staff locked the door and waited five to ten minutes before entering the space to disinfect and re-set the space for the next company.
“Everyone had a very distinct job,” said Blodgett. “One person wiped tables, another person wiped chairs. One took the garbage out, and another put back the liners. We couldn’t stop the flow of the recruit training schedule. We had to get people in and out as fast as we could to not make them late, but we also had to not have them all in there at the same time.”
However, another problem quickly arose once ROM (the two-week isolation and observation period) was instituted for recruits coming into the training center. Even though it quelled some of the galley worker’s fears of possible COVID-19 exposure, it came at a cost.
The galley now had to pre-package the ROM meals and ensure they were delivered to the recruits on time at their barracks.
“Once ROM was instituted, it put everyone’s mind at ease for not having people from all over the country come onto the base and come into our galley, but it created an extra workload that was necessary to supply what ROM needed,” said Blodgett. “So those to-go meals were now in effect for the companies in ROM, and then as soon as people were done with the two-week ROM, we would allow them to eat in-person at the galley because they had been monitored and their off-base liberty was suspended.”
With this additional workload, the galley produces two breakfasts, two lunches, and two dinners every day for seven to nine companies on the regiment.
Putting together boxed lunches for the ROM companies, in addition to assembling the normal in-galley lunches, was a big strain on the galley staff. This led to overtime, with staff members sometimes working up to 14 days in a row.
Galley To Go
Blodgett said it took about 14 hours a day to just produce the accompaniments that would go out with all the meals three times a day. Accompaniments meaning the cutlery, salt, pepper, two bottles of water, juices, fruit cups, chewy bars, side salads, and other assorted sides. The entire permanent-party serving area turned into an assembly line just to produce bags. They would have the bag start empty, then go down the line and get filled up as it went along.
Over time, changes were made to make things easier and more efficient for the galley staff as the number of recruits began to slowly grow back to their normal sizes before COVID-19.
Originally, all three of the ROM meals were served hot. But the galley started running out of space to keep cooked food warm in the massive amounts of portions necessary to produce for ROM. To solve the problem, the lunch meal of the day for ROM personnel was changed to cold sandwiches so the galley staff could refrigerate one-third of the meal’s portions daily.
Not A WaWa Hoagie
“Instead of getting whatever the other 600 recruits were getting hot on the line in the galley, they were getting the sandwich I was talking about with cheese on a hoagie roll with a side salad with chips,” said Blodgett. “It was still meeting all the appropriate amounts of required nutrients and caloric values. But it turned into them having a cold cut sandwich, chips, fruit cup, whole fruit, side salad, every day for lunch for two weeks.”
According to Millspaugh, most of this problem solving was done purely by just Senior Chief Blodgett and himself. She was the day-to-day force in the galley. Together, they were able to work as a team to come up with solutions for everything.
The galley has definitely changed since the beginning of the COVID-19 virus’s impacts back in March. One of the small but extremely impactful changes is that the galley now disinfects the spaces between each company, as opposed to just sanitizing the areas. Essentially, this means ensuring the area is cleaned more thoroughly. This has led to potentially less overall sickness in recruits coming through boot camp.
“In an institute where a lot of people visit indoors, COVID-19 changed everything from sanitizing to disinfecting,” said Blodgett. “It’s simply a process that differs by the potency of the chemical and usually the length at which the concentrated agent is left on a flat surface until it is removed or wiped clean. So disinfecting is what we do now, instead of sanitizing.”
Millspaugh said every time Senior Chief Blodgett or the contractors anticipated or ran into a problem, they worked together to find a solution. He said the absolute biggest thing, the adaptability and the flexibility that they have shown to develop solutions instead of just putting their hands in the air, still amazes him.
“I think all of the galley staff definitely came together by saying, ‘I’m not going to say no when I’m asked to work overtime. I’m not going to say no when I’m asked to work 14 days in a row,’” said Blodgett.
As of now, the galley is still producing two sets of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners until further notice or until the ROM is no longer necessary ensuring a safe training space for recruits and all other personnel aboard Training Center Cape May.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every aspect of our training environment and the changes to the galley have been some of the most significant and lasting,” said Capt. Kathy Felger, the commanding officer of Training Center Cape May. “Throughout the last six months and as we plan, our galley team, Senior Chief Blodgett, the contract leadership, and all the faithful employees, are flexible and enthusiastic in ensuring that our staff and recruits remain safe while still providing exceptional food service, both in and outside of the galley.”
Senior Chief Blodgett and the TRACEN Cape May galley staff are committed to ensuring the health and well-being of the recruits that come to the base, and they will continue to work long hours and extra days as necessary, devoted to duty and modeling the way of good leadership.
Story by Petty Officer 2nd Class Shannon Kearney
U.S. Coast Guard Training Center Cape May