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EDITORIAL COMMENT: The Serving Line


May 2012
Respect for DFACS

Military food service is competing better for the dollars that service members spend on meals. Despite all the progress in making the dining facility a more attractive option, rising concern over tight budgets is giving closer attention to utilization.

To what degree, then, are service members encouraged to choose the dining facility over other less economical options available on the base and outside the gate? Do dining facilities get the respect they deserve?

As it turns out, a grassroots campaign in support of the dining facility may be building. At Fort Hood, Texas, following an esprit de corps run of non-commissioned officers (NCOs) of the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), the participants gathered for a discussion, and one of the subjects was supporting the post's Freeman Café dining facility.

Apparently, the Freeman DFAC is at risk for being shut down due to the low number of meal-card holders visiting it. The message shared among the NCOs was that Freeman is good and could be better with stronger support. Further, the non-commissioned officers were encouraged to speak with soldiers about visiting Freeman more frequently, even going as far as to suggest marching platoons down to it.

“The DFAC is really, really good and it can be better if we go in and support it,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Guitaud Leandre, USA, provisional 13th ESC Command sergeant major, who led the motivational run. “A first sergeant can march his company, a platoon sergeant can march his platoon and a section sergeant can march his section to the DFAC.”

Also, with the growing emphasis on nutrition as a component contributing to the readiness and well-being of service members, dining facilities feature more healthful options, including salads and fresh fruit, that fall within the “green” classification, suggesting they be eaten often.

Additional steps are being taken that may lead to better utilization. In late 2010, the Air Force began the Food Transformation Initiative, giving airmen greater variety, availability and food quality, and taking the first steps toward raising utilization by improving the overall dining experience.

Utilization rate assessment is ongoing in the Army as well. The Army G4 Installation Management Command (IMCOM) asked the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence (JCCoE) for a complete review of the Army Food Program, including policy and doctrine changes, dining facility locations, number of required dining facilities, design, labor, hours, contracting and feeding options, such as kiosks, drive-throughs and college campus-style operations.

It is simplistic to suggest that talking with service members about visiting the dining facility regularly is a solution that will save those that are underutilized or at risk of being closed or consolidated.

Dining facilities also need to continue to improve and be a compelling alternative to other options because, while a sergeant can lead his platoon to the DFAC, it is unrealistic to assume they will want to eat.

Nonetheless, stirring a little support for the dining facility from service members can only help to improve utilization at a time when it is needed most.