By Airman Kevin Sommer Giron
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Changes to the dining facilities meal card regulations are in full effect as of May 2016, and have sparked an array of questions from meal card holders.
The Air Force Services Agency introduced a new food service operation, referred to as the Food Transformation Initiative, beginning in 2010. Originally, six stateside bases were selected as test bases, with Little Rock AFB being one.
Key differences between FTI operations and legacy food service is Airmen who hold a meal card are now entitled to have the benefits of campus dining and to eat at all FTI contract force support facilities. FTI dining facilities on base include the Hercules Dining Facility, the Hungry Herc, the Healthy Herc, golf course, bowling center, Hangar 1080 and Wally’s Java.
A Professional Executive Chef has also joined the staff at the Hercules Dining Facility under the FTI contract. The chef provides oversight of menu production and hands-on training to military chefs.
Along with offering healthier menu items, FTI has also increased the hours of operations by providing a Grab-n-Go station that is available in-between normal hours of meal periods.
The FTI contract has also opened the military dining facilities to be used by all military personal regardless of rank, civilians, and retirees on a daily basis without meal card access.
However, most frequently asked questions come from meal card holders.
A valid meal card holder is authorized three meals per day; this has not changed from the legacy food service operation. Meals per day are not the same as has how many times a customer is authorized to swipe their card within the same meal period. A meal is considered a reasonable amount of food that can typically be consumed in one sitting, which can be dine-in or carryout.
If the customer finds themselves still hungry after enjoying their meal, they are welcome to go through the line and get “seconds” or “thirds,” and swipe their card again. It is important to remember that all additional items must be enjoyed in the dining facility.
“Seconds do not count toward the three meals a day only if the meal card holder decides to dine in at any essential station mess facility on base,” said U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Kenneth Carter, 19th Airlift Wing command chief. “Seconds are considered a part of that meal and service members can get seconds at every meal, for a total of six registered transactions; and that is okay.”
The main difference in the new regulation is: meal card holders dining in at any 19th Force Support Squadron dining facility will not be permitted to obtain two entrees within the same transaction anymore.
Airmen are still allowed their second entrée, but will be rung up two separate times in order to meet the ration/portion requirements in accordance with Air Force Instruction 34-239, Food Service Program Management.
Carry-out meals, on the contrary, will count as part of the three meals a day. In other words if an Airmen gets a carry-out meal and comes back for a second carry out meal within the same meal period, it will not be considered the same meal and will be rung up as such.
The purpose for these new rules is to enforce accountability and better appropriation of funds.
“We must keep this information fresh and share it with our peers,” Carter said. “Through better messaging, we can help everyone to understand the process for allowing for that second entrée and how they can get more than three swipes when using the dining facility during breakfast, lunch and dinner hours.”