Swipe, then Eat

Soldiers attend the grand opening of a new "Grab and Go" food kiosk on Fort Stewart, Ga. The kiosks allow Soldiers to quickly choose from several pre-packaged, healthy food items. U.S. Army photo by SPC Robert Winns

Army Modernizes Meal and Dining Facility Program

After decades of use, the Army has phased out the manual meal card system that dates back to the World War II era and has replaced it with the new Meal Entitlement Maintenance (MEM) system. The new system calls for Soldiers to swipe their common access cards (CACs) rather than presenting a meal card when eating at an Army dining facility. The MEM system, developed by the Army’s Software Engineering Center, requires the scanning of a meal entitlement code that is preloaded onto the CAC by a military personnel office. 

The old system, which required Soldiers to manually sign into a written log or be checked into a log upon leaving the dining facility, often caused long lines and presented challenges for Soldiers participating in large training exercises. 

“That’s a very antiquated and labor-intensive program,” said Jack Skelly, chief of the Food and Field Services Branch, Army G-4, at the Pentagon. “[The new system] will ultimately speed [Soldiers] through the line at the dining facility.”

The MEM program is one part of a larger Army initiative to automate many mandatory tasks at the headquarters level and below. The overall goal is to allow commanders and unit leaders to take back the precious hours often spent on administrative tasks and refocus that time on training and readying the force.

“What we are trying to do … is give commanders an efficient, effective system to account for a member’s meal entitlements,” said Larry Lock, chief of Military Compensation and Entitlements. 

MEM will impact every Army Soldier. In addition to Soldiers living on post and eating in a dining facility on a regular basis, Soldiers receiving basic allowance for subsistence while on temporary duty, special missions, institutional training, deployments and, for Guard Soldiers specifically, drill duty or annual training will have a meal entitlement code on their CAC.

Full rollout of the MEM system began in the fall of 2018, and a Sept. 30, 2018 deadline was set by the Army for all Soldiers to have their CACs updated with meal entitlement codes at their appropriate military personnel office.

Pizza MRE

Further efficiencies expected to be implemented by Food and Field Services in the near future include food trucks and food kiosks. Currently being piloted at Fort Stewart, Georgia and Fort Carson, Colorado, both the trucks and kiosks will offer hot and cold menu options prepared in advance at an Army dining facility. 

“Soldiers can’t always get back to their dining facility,” said Skelly. “So, we’re taking [the dining facility] to them.”

Skelly added that food truck locations and their status will be posted on the social media pages of installations receiving the new service. Unit commanders will also have the option to specially request mobilization of a food truck. Though the kiosks are still in the pilot stage, they are expected to be placed indoors in high-traffic areas that have high concentrations of troops.

With MEM and the new dining-type options also come more nutritional food choices. The new facilities will offer wholesome menu selections such as Asian rice bowls, wraps and lean-beef hamburgers.

“All menus are designed to be healthier,” Skelly said. “[The entire program] is extending our feeding options.”

By Staff Writer Matthew Liptak

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