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News | June 28, 2024

USMEPCOM Phases out Meal Checks

By Ashley Toomey

Every applicant who ships to boot camp receives a voucher to pay for food while traveling to their destination. Previously this was done by issuing a one-time use paper check to use at the airport. As of June 28, these paper checks have been replaced with debit cards, providing a modern, flexible payment option for enlistees.

The transition to debit cards was initially slated for December 2024, but changes in Department of Treasury policy necessitated an earlier end to the program. Eliminating paper meal checks was an important milestone in the USMEPCOM’s effort to replace all legacy systems by the end of 2024.

USMEPCOM issued the first debit card to an enlistee June 20 at the Syracuse MEPS. Brian Chaffee, Syracuse MEPS travel assistant (TA), enrolled the first enlistee for a debit card.

“I am one of two enrollers for the Syracuse MEPS,” said Bradley Chaffee, Syracuse MEPS TA. “Being a part of this new transition from paper checks to debit cards was something that a lot of TAs were looking forward to. The experience from beginning training and the first issuance of cards was a well-informed, well instructed and extremely well presented from day one. We all felt comfortable.”

This upgrade brings the command heightened security, efficient management of funds and eventual lower admin overhead.

“This change streamlines the process across MEPS and enhances security on our end,” said Randy Hernandez, project analyst, Innovation Facilitation Team (IFT). “There is a learning curve, but it will be more efficient in the long run.”

This monumental change provides many benefits not only to USMEPCOM, but also to the enlistees who use the debit cards, a demographic not as familiar with paper checks.

"We are finally able to use a form of payment familiar to our shippers and the vendors which allows for a better traveler experience,” said Sara Lubeno, debit card training lead, J-3 Operations.

Along with enlistee familiarity, many restaurants no longer accept checks as a form of payment, limiting dining options for enlistees.

“During the travel briefing I explained to the applicants that they would be receiving debit cards for their meals instead of a paper check,” said Chaffee. “I explained how it can be used, and they all seemed pleased with the options available. As you know, the checks were a one-time charge and offered no option for buying food more than once. The debit card isn't restricted like that, and they seemed pleased with that.”

A hands-on team at USMEPCOM headquarters supported personnel at the MEPS through the transition by providing in-depth trainings and on-demand support through a digital forum, ensuring personnel at all 65 stations felt confident prior to and during the change.

“The training we received in MS Teams from Sara Lubeno was extremely well presented and made that transition very smooth,” said Chaffee. “Our first attempt at enrolling and funding went without a glitch and that could not have happened without the training received during that week.”

This initiative is one piece of a larger goal for USMEPCOM, sunsetting all legacy systems before January 2025. Continued modernization is of upmost importance to the organization and its leaders to support the MEPS and its stakeholders.

“The transition from paper meal checks to debit cards is the latest example of USMEPCOM's modernization momentum,” said Matt Lince, J-6 and IFT director. “We are willing and capable of pushing outside our comfort zones in order to deliver new capabilities to our partners. Even more technology advancements are coming soon!"