My Coast Guard

e-Reserve: The Coast Guard unveils new tool for one-stop reservist admin

By from Reserve Magazine

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Information on Reserve-related processes has always been a hot commodity. When someone learns a skill, they pass it down to those who follow. But sometimes that information is passed incorrectly, or with gaps, due to the telephone-game style of intel relay.

Bad information persisted, and without knowledge of the correct resources, mistakes were prevalent.

For the last 17 years, Cmdr. Omar Barajas, the logistics specialty manager for the Office of Work Force Management, has worked on Reserve issues at many types of units, mainly as a day-to-day manager of reservists as part of the Reserve Forces Readiness System. He was no stranger to solving issues reservists ran into, but keeping track of ever-changing sources was difficult, both for him, and for the reservists solving their own admin problems in the field.

“If you’re a reservist with limited training time, and you’re spending time looking up administrative questions, you’ve got less time to learning the skills the Coast Guard needs you to know for deployment,” said Barajas. 

He wished there was a checklist of all the annual requirements needed to stay current as a reservist, as unit to unit, year to year, the same problems would pop up. 

As an RCM working in Houston during the massive 2017 hurricane system, Barajas experienced firsthand how quick deployments only exacerbated the mistakes. 

Aiming to stop the telephone game of information passing, Barajas drafted a two-page guide on Reserve administration at the local unit level. He amended it as he moved from unit to unit, updating it when processes changed. 

“Everything I’ve amassed has been an Easter egg hunt. I’d keep it in the back of my head—this is where this answer is, this is where that answer is.” 

Occasionally, he’d find rogue copies sent to him—a slightly altered version of his checklist.

Eighteen months ago, he found an opportunity to employ his idea on a wider scale. A member of his staff, Chief Petty Officer Faust Capobianco, was working on creating a distribution list for chief engineers to relay information to the field nationally. Barajas suggested they take it a step further to create a Coast Guard Portal page where the information, links, and best practices would live perpetually. They sketched it on a piece of paper.

He worked with designers to create an easy-to-use, “one-stop shop” that could be used in managing reservists’ administrative, medical, and operational readiness across the fleet. The end goal of this tool is to empower reservists to manage their own careers.

The site, officially released last December, is set up with four buttons, or modules, that contain specific areas in Reserve career management:

  • The first module is “Planning Readiness and Scheduling,” which is designed to be Reserve Knowledge 101. It’s the starting point for all reservists and supervisors of reservists. The focus is on understanding key dates, annual readiness requirements, and use of scheduling tools.
  • The second module is “Competency Requirements and Career Progression,” which focuses on advancement and promotion requirements, as well as competency attainment for reservists based on their rating and unit assignment.
  • The third module lists resources for members coming on active duty or deployment. This bank of functions contains a checklist and tools that come into play when a reservist is activated, including information on medical benefits, deployment resources, and tools for family members.
  • The last, module four, is geared for use by admin staff, managers, and Reserve Forces Readiness System.

The modules are designed to be used in order, moving from basic requirements that apply to all, to job specific questions, then onto deployment, and finally, in-depth tools for rare situations. The first two modules will handle many of the questions that come up monthly and require knowledge of ever-changing manuals.

As part of the rollout, Barajas will be offering two-hour trainings to influential sects of managers who deal with reservists, including chief warrant officers in the personnel field (PERS) at sectors, senior reserve officers, the Reserve’s badge networks, the rating force master chiefs, and Reserve Component managers (RCM).

He flows through the site and how it’s laid out, as well as when reservists would need to know something and where they can find the reference. It combines links from CGBI, Direct Access, Portal, Homeport, travel claims, manuals, and yes, Barajas’s original checklist, which can be found at the top of module one, honed and truth-tested over the last decade.

“Everything in that trifold is based off policy,” he said, “not best practices—policy.”

By training different communities around the Coast Guard, Barajas aims to hit the personnel who are the most likely to deal with fallout from administration issues gone horribly wrong.

“Yeomen would always be the fall guy for any problems, but lots of times I find it’s the supervisor who’s at fault,” said Barajas, citing an 83% supervisor fault for the 7% error rate in drill pay issues for reservists. “The problem is that good guidance is not easily available.”

He pointed to deployments as an example.

“When [reservists] get activated, they don’t know the questions they should ask. And many times they’re getting their orders cut by a yeoman who’s never dealt with reservists and doesn’t know what issues to address either. [This site] prompts you to ask the questions you never thought to ask,” said Barajas. “And now you’re getting ahead of pay issues and command issues.”

Long term, eReserve is designed to be a tool for reservists to manage their own careers, and for administrators to more easily solve problems when they arise.

In the future, the site will also have links to a standard website for berthing, or overnight stays, when reservists drill far from home.

Barajas is hoping the training can be added to the Chief Petty Officers Academy classes attended by reservists, as well as Reserve Officer Candidate Indoctrination.

“It’s essentially a command center for reserve management,” said Barajas. “Now people don’t have to wait to ask a chief or an officer—they can find good information themselves.”

Myth #1: Reserve management issues are very complicated and too overwhelming to try to tackle.

Managing reservists is simple; the problem lies in not knowing what we need to do (or where to find the information). eReserve is designed to solve that issue, particularly in the first module. It comes down to knowing the fiscal year constraints, as well as a reservist’s anniversary date, and aligning the required participation standards. Once you learn what these are, you repeat the same thing every year at the same time and in the same manner.

Myth #2: There’s no training money for reserve training quotas.

This is a very damaging myth. It gets passed down without research, and Reserve training quotas are left unused because members heard there was no use in submitting an official request. There are a few facts that are important to keep in mind.

The first is members need to understand which pot of money pays for Reserve training. Typical funding at the unit level is known as AFC-30, which supports the operation of the unit’s day-to-day activities. These funds are limited, leading people to believe training money would be non-existent. Reserve training is funded by AFC-90 (Reserve appropriation), which is used to buy training quotas. The money is converted into AFC-56 (A- and C-schools, and training).

The other item members should understand is which training requirements are relevant to their rating and position assignment. For example, a first class damage controlman can apply for the Advanced Aluminum Welding course, as long as they have completed the prerequisite Steel Welding course first and are assigned to a naval engineering billet that requires the skill set—a DC1 in facility engineering would not be approved.

The final issue that keeps members from obtaining their C-schools is not knowing the process. Here’s where eReserve’s second module kicks in. It directs members to the guides that dictate the training required for their rank/rate/position and how to apply for the courses. We’re making sure the information on all these topics comes directly from the source as opposed to repeated hearsay.

Myth #3: Yeoman are trained as experts on reserve issues.

The formal training yeomen obtain in A-school does not include Reserve-related processes. A yeoman can go from A-school to a cutter to a billet in Legal for the first 10 years of their career and never see a reservist.

Reserve-related training is learned on-the-job. However, all four of the modules in eReserve contain the HOW TO on administrative functions (to some degree). These tools are easy to learn and use, and they are designed to make the Reserve member self-sufficient on many admin issues. They’re also designed for all yeomen to have a one-stop shop to learn how to better assist reservists. 

 

This article is courtesy of Reservist Magazine, the official monthly publication of the Coast Guard Reserve. To read the latest issue and archived content, visit their website. Learn more about opportunities to serve as a reservist here.