Getting the right amount of nutrients in your daily diet is crucial to the wellbeing of an Air Force service member. You may start to wonder whether the meal plan at dining halls would fit all your needs, especially when you work late or when you crave homemade meal. Whatever your meal preference is, the Air Force will financially cover your nutrition needs through one of the following programs: Essential Station Messing(ESM), Basic Allowance for Subsistence(BAS), or a mix of both.
Essential Station Messing (ESM)
The ESM is what civilians call a meal plan at dining halls on Air Force base. Any Airman who has been granted ESM status would be able to eat at cafeterias for free up to four meals a day. The cost of such meal plan, ESM, will be automatically deducted every month from your paycheck regardless of whether you use the dining hall or not. So Eat while you can!
Anyone can be placed on ESM regardless of whether they receive BAS. However, in typical cases, soldiers members who are in basic training, and enlisted members below E-7 who lived in single-type government housing(dorms, etc) are assigned with ESM. They are thus expected to eat at a government-sponsored dining hall. Soldiers who are on leave, in a permanent change of station status(PCS), or on temporary duty status (TDY) shall not have their meal plan charged, and they are not allowed to use ESM for eating at dining halls on base.
Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS)
BAS is a tax-free cash allowance that offsets the cost of meals outside of the on-base dining hall. It is a flat rate determined by the food price and updated each year. The current 2019 BAS rate is $369.39/month for enlisted members and $254.39/month for officers. Typically, anyone who received the full amount of BAS must pay for his/her own meals and rations, even at the dining halls on base.
When is BAS provided?
For enlisted Air Force members, they will get the full amount of BAS when any of the following conditions apply:
RIKNA (Rations in kind are not available) : When government-sponsored meal are not available (or too impractical to obtain)
SEPRATS (Permission to mess separately is granted): When enlisted members are allowed to eat separately(from his/her unit, or eat elsewhere besides the government dining hall)
EMRATS (Emergency ration conditions are approved): When enlisted members are approved of emergency ration condition.
Enlisted member that lives with dependents from E-1 and above are automatically granted the SEPRATS status, and thus receives full BAS.
These conditions can also be authorized when soldiers are on leave, traveling, in a hospital, or perform specific duties that make them impossible to be at the government dining hall to have a meal at their opening hours. In these cases, they will get full BAS. For a more detailed list of exceptions and specifications, please read Table 25-1 to Table 25-4.
Officers are automatically granted a set BAS per month, regardless of their pay grade or dependency status. The BAS for officers is typically lower than the BAS for enlisted members.