FORT STEWART, Ga. – What do you do when Soldiers won’t go to the dining facility? You bring the dining facility to them.
At Fort Stewart and other bases around the U.S. Army, the food comes to the Soldiers in the form of food trucks and kiosks.
The Army provides unmarried junior enlisted Soldiers 21 meals a week, breakfast, lunch and dinner, via a meal card system that can be redeemed at one of the base dining facilities.
“A lot of Soldiers are choosing not to eat at the DFAC,” said Col. Steve Erickson, commander, 3rd Sustainment Brigade. “This is a problem because the Army is losing money, and Soldiers are paying out of pocket for food.”
There are many reasons Soldiers are not going to the DFAC. They are increasingly far away from where Soldiers live and work, they have extended or irregular work schedules that are not conducive to DFAC hours, and there is usually a wide variety of dining choices right outside the gate.
To try to combat this trend, Erickson started bringing DFAC food trucks to his brigade’s common areas during meal times, and also had a food kiosk installed so Soldiers could “grab and go.”
During an April 13 visit with Maj. Gen. Daniel Mitchell, commanding general, U.S. Army Sustainment Command, Erickson told him he would like to see the Army run its dining facilities like they do on college campuses.
“We are seeing that there are certain times, such as weekend mornings and Friday nights, where Soldiers are not going to the DFAC,” said Erickson.
“If we offered college-style meal plans – where the Soldier is provided with say, 10 or 14 meals throughout the week and then given a reduced basic allowance for subsistence for the rest of the meals – that would save both the Army and the Soldier money. The business model has to take over at some point.”
Erickson is not alone in his belief that the Army needs to adapt to a business model to feed its junior personnel.
In 2012, the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence reviewed a U.S. Air Force pilot program that tested the college-style dining concept. It found that the Air Force’s Food Transformation Initiative resulted in a 67 percent increase in junior Airmen going to the DFAC.
While food trucks and kiosks are bringing Soldiers back to the DFAC, there are other factors that could help.
During an impromptu meeting at a food truck, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Kenneth Hicks, Army food service advisor, told both Erickson and Mitchell that one way to bring junior Soldiers back to the DFAC was for senior leaders to eat there as well.
“If junior Soldiers see their commander, first sergeant or sergeant major eating at the DFAC, they will follow,” said Hicks.
Hicks and Sgt. Maj. Ken Fauska, the chief of culinary management sergeant major, were conducting a separate site visit of Fort Stewart’s DFACs.
While Mitchell agreed that the food trucks and kiosks were a great way to bring the food to the Soldiers, he recognized that there is no one way to fix the program.
“Each installation needs to do what is best for them,” said Mitchell. “If that means a food truck for every meal, or setting up kiosks, so be it.”