WASHINGTON -- The Army is phasing out its manual meal card system after decades of use, as the service fully transitions to its new automated meal entitlement code system next month.
Now, instead of presenting a meal card, Soldiers will simply swipe their common access card containing an authorization code for the dining facility. The new system, developed by the Army's Software Engineering Center, allows for the reading of a meal entitlement code that is installed on the CAC by a military personnel office.
Some installations have been testing the new system since January, but the deadline for all posts worldwide to transition to the new system is Oct. 1.
The automated system will make it easier for Soldiers to enter a DFAC, officials said, particularly those in large units.
"(The new system) will ultimately speed them through the line at the dining facility," said Jack Skelly, chief of the Food and Field Services Branch, Army G-4, at the Pentagon.
The Army actually began its pilot program in the fall of 2017 at three locations, including Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia; Fort Gordon, Georgia; and Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In January 2018, the Army began implementing the program at other installations as well.
The new automated meal entitlement management system will not just impact Soldiers living in the barracks and eating at the dining facility. Even Soldiers receiving basic allowance for subsistence who are on temporary duty, special missions, institutional training or deployments will have a code for meals placed on their CAC.
"It will impact every Soldier," said Larry Lock, chief of Military Compensation and Entitlements. "What we're trying to do ... is give commanders an efficient, effective system to account for a member's meal entitlements."
The Army's meal card system dates back to the World War II era, though tweaks have been made over the years, Skelly said.
The old system often caused delays in DFAC lines and presented an obstacle for Soldiers participating in large training exercises. Soldiers would have to manually sign into a written log after entering a DFAC or get checked into a log upon leaving.
"That's a very antiquated and labor-intensive program," Skelly said.
A smoother dining experience will help Soldiers focus on missions and training, he said, adding it falls in line with guidance set by Secretary of the Army Mark Esper.
The automated meal system is part of a larger push to remove manual mandatory tasks to headquarters and below elements of the Army, so units can focus on readiness and training, Skelly added.
When National Guard and Army Reserve units are mobilized, Soldiers from those units will benefit from the convenience as well, Lock said. Commanders will also be able track whether Soldiers are receiving their due entitlements.
In addition to automation of dining facilities, the Army will also soon roll out a "culinary outpost" for Soldiers. Food trucks with menu items prepared at Army dining facilities will service some Soldiers in garrison.
"Soldiers can't always get back to their dining facility," Skelly said. "So we're taking (the dining facility) to them."
With the food trucks, Soldiers will enjoy a menu of healthy options. Healthy options might include an "Asian bowl," with an option to choose white or brown rice, for instance, Skelly said. The menus will also feature sandwiches, wraps, salads, fruit and lean beef burgers.
"All menus are designed to be healthier," Skelly said. "It's extending our feeding options."
The food trucks will be manned by three to four Soldiers and will feature a standardized menu, Skelly said. The location of food trucks and their status will be updated on an installation's social media pages, and unit commanders will also have the option to specially request mobilization of a food truck.
Skelly said the program is currently in the pilot stage and the Army has been testing food trucks at Fort Stewart, Georgia and Fort Carson, Colorado. Also this month, food kiosks are scheduled to open at Fort Stewart's Marne reception station and at Fort Carson.
Skelly said more of the kiosks are expected to open in indoor, high-traffic areas that have high concentrations of troops. These could include headquarters buildings, reception stations and locations that formerly housed dining facilities.
The kiosks will be manned by one to two Soldiers who will serve hot food and frozen entrees. The kiosks will also include a beverage station.