by Airman 1st Class Daniel Blackwell
20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
11/20/2012 – SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. — Dorm-resident Airmen at Shaw AFB are not given the opportunity to decide whether they would like to have their base allowance for subsistence each month, but are instead automatically enrolled on a meal plan.
Many Airmen have had, and continue to have frustrations with this automated process.
“There are times where I don’t have time to get a lunch or sometimes dinner due to mission responsibilities,” explained Ryan DeLuca, Aviano Air Base, Italy.
“I know in the Air Force the mission comes first, but when I can’t get lunch and I either have to eat something out of the snack fund or have someone pick me up food while I’m on meal card, it’s like paying for a meal twice.”
“Some may like the DFAC, but the DFAC here is not good at all. I’d much rather stock my fridge and pack my own lunch then go to the DFAC every day,” he concluded.
“So you take away all Airmen’s BAS, yet you set them up in a dorm which typically has a kitchen in it,” said Airman 1st Class Amy English.
“It’s wasteful to build new dorms that have full kitchens in them when most of the Airmen don’t even use them because they don’t want to spend their own money that’s not BAS to buy groceries.”
“I have been in the AF for six years,” said Staff Sgt. Rusty Shackleford. “The DFACs seem to be getting worse and worse.”
“I am on a meal card in Korea, but instead of eating at the chow hall I spend my own money on groceries or eat meals at the BX. The money I spend on groceries doesn’t come close to what gets taken out of my paycheck for meal deduction each month.”
“How would I fix this problem,” he continued. “I would give everyone BAS. That way the AF can save a lot of money by shutting down the DFACs and cutting the services manning down.”
These frustrations have been expressed before by Airmen who desired to have their BAS as opposed to meal deductions; however, Airmen often overlook the big picture as to why these funds have been, and are generally still, withheld from Airmen living in the dorms.
“Withholding dorm residents BAS is considered to be more advantageous to the Airmen,” explained Senior Airman Ryan Brooks, 20th Fighter Wing financial management customer service representative. “It offers easily accessible dining options and three guaranteed meals a day.”
“Also, it was only recently that Airmen were provided with dormitories with kitchens in the common area. When I was in the dorms I lived in a three story dorm, with 20 Airmen to a floor, with one communal kitchen on the first floor for the entire dorm.”
“Even then, no one used the kitchen. The equipment wasn’t properly maintained and a lot of appliances provided didn’t even work,” Brooks explained. “Having a kitchen offers those who desire it the option of more control over their diet if they are willing to spend the extra money buying food; however, the DFAC offers Airmen the convenience of fast food without the price.”
The main reason first-term Airmen are placed on meal plans is to foster financial responsibility and ensure they have food to eat throughout the day.
“Many young Airmen are coming straight from high school and have never lived on their own before,” Brooks explained. “By placing them on a meal plan, it helps Airmen become more responsible with smaller sums of money before they are given larger amounts.”
“Also, having meal deductions encourages Airmen to spend their remaining money wisely, because they realize that their money is being collected to pay for meals.”
Aside from promoting fiscal responsibility in young Airmen, having the DFAC on base ultimately saves the Air Force money as opposed to paying out BAS to all Airmen.
“A lot of people think that shutting down the DFAC and simply giving Airmen their BAS would save the Air Force money in the long run,” explained Master Sgt. Fricke, 20th Force Support Squadron food service section chief. “But the truth is it cost less in operation expenses for the Air Force to keep the dining facilities open, as opposed to paying everyone their BAS.”
BAS and meal deductions are withheld and allotted based off appropriated funds by Congress from the annual budget projections of Air Force officials.
At the wing level, the dining facility and finance office officials do not determine the deduction amount to be withheld from Airmen’s checks each month. They also never see, and are not directly involved in the collection or distribution of meal deduction funds.
“We don’t get any money that comes out of your check,” Fricke said. “We don’t get it, we don’t see it, we don’t have anything to do with it. Our funding comes from appropriated funds from Congress and essential station messing funds.”
“In finance, we simply guide the money through the proper channels,” Brooks said.
The dining facility serves an additional role in mission capabilities outside of convenience and affordability.
“The DFAC is also used as a training platform that prepares Force Support Squadron personnel to conduct war-time operations,” Fricke added.
Ultimately the dining facility is present to offer Airmen healthy, affordable and easily accessible dining options, bolster mission success and resiliency, and save the Air Force money while molding responsible Airmen.
“Where else can you get three meals a day, with seconds if you choose, for just $9 a day,” Brooks concluded. “I don’t think many people can beat that deal unless they’re an experienced grocery shopper.”
Editor’s Notes: Italicized quotes were taken from Military Times article “Airmen sound off on meal cards vs. BAS” located at the following link (http://www.militarytimes.com/community/opinion/airforce_opinion_lettersdining_111609/)