GULF OF ADEN (NNS) -- Amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8) departed Naval Station San Diego for a scheduled deployment, Oct. 14. During the ship's workup cycle in spring 2016, when nearly 1,400 Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) joined more than 1,100 Sailors already aboard Makin Island, the crew and leadership quickly recognized the need for improvement in one particularly critical area.
"The lines of Sailors and Marines waiting to receive chow became very long," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jaqueline Garcia, Food Service Officer aboard Makin Island. "With the influx of so many more personnel to feed, the system in place was resulting in wait lines of 50 minutes, sometimes up to 70 minutes. We worked with AIMD's AIRSpeed team to improve the process."
AIRSpeed, a Naval Aviation Enterprise (NAE) program run out of Makin Island's Aviation Intermediate Maintenance Department (AIMD), continuously seeks out opportunities to improve efficiency throughout a command. AIRSpeed Officer Lt. Keith Marino recognized several facets of this problem and put his team to work to find the best solutions.
"The problem began with getting in line to finally placing an empty tray in the scullery," said Marino. "There were numerous chokepoints where personnel were held up, and we made it our mission to turn these chokepoints into areas that flowed and got people through the chow lines faster."
To do this, AIRSpeed and food service personnel waited in lines themselves. They timed each leg of the process from reaching the first server, collecting silverware, dumping trash into the appropriate receptacle, and leaving trays at the scullery. AIRSpeed also utilized surveys, receiving back more than 100 completed surveys from enlisted personnel required to wait in line. The results were compiled and led to the development of several simple, cost-effective solutions.
"Several of our proposed solutions were similar to solutions utilized by other amphibious assault ships," said Marino. "USS Essex and USS Boxer had also encountered problems with their chow line wait times, and we used their case studies as a foundation to build on."
Improvements implemented included extending chow times from 2.5 to 3 hours, posting a menu toward the back of the line so that those waiting can decide what to eat earlier, and adding additional food service personnel to each of the two lines to keep the lines moving forward.
Galley staff also created a 'speed line' of simple food options, such as pasta, sandwich ingredients and fruit, as an alternative to standing in line for the full menu of food choices. Petty Officer 2nd Class Allison Bruckner believes this has been one of the most valuable improvements.
"The speed line helps a lot," said Bruckner. "During special evolutions, it allows watchstanders like me to eat and get back to their watch stations on time."
Other improvements included adding more servers to the serving line and ensuring servers notified galley staff when trays contained less than 20 servings, labeling utensil holders, and adding personnel to the trash station to help streamline sorting.
Once these changes were fully implemented, chow lines decreased from an average of 60 minutes to around 15 minutes.
"This has caused numerous other improvement opportunities to surface," said Makin Island Supply Officer Cmdr. Christopher Waldron. "Refined training of food service personnel in progressive cooking, less re-work in trash sorting rooms, and a food service personnel watchbill that increases time off, despite the increase of food service meal times - a win-win for all involved."
Sailors and Marines also noticed both the shortened wait times and often, shorter chow lines.
"There are now times when I wake up to go to breakfast and there is no line," said Sgt. Robert Gardner. "I just think 'wow' because that has never happened before."
Other crew members noted the larger implications of a more efficient chow line.
"There is a direct correlation between how easily you can receive food on the mess deck and the overall morale on the ship," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Woodward. "Deployment can be tough enough without having to wait more than an hour for food, and now we don't have to. It makes a big difference."
Makin Island is the flagship of the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group, and is deployed with the embarked 11th MEU in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.
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