Lunch tickets are becoming a thing of the past at Department of Defense Dependents Schools in Japan and Okinawa.

Through a computer software program called FastLane, paid for by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, schools are trading in tickets and cash for personal identification numbers.

The schools still will accept both cash and the AAFES lunch tickets, although AAFES no longer is selling meal tickets, said Kurt Brunen, Yokota base exchange operations manager.

FastLane “gives parents much more control over what their kids can spend at school and peace of mind that they won’t send their kids off to school without money for lunch,” said Mark Leitner, food program technician for AAFES Pacific.

AAFES manages the school lunch program at Air Force and Army bases in Japan and Okinawa and Marine Corps bases on Okinawa. Schools at Yokota Air Base, Japan, started using FastLane April 21; the service was made available at Camp Zama schools near Tokyo on Thursday. It’s in use at almost all of the more than 20 schools for which AAFES manages the lunch program, officials said.

At Yokota, parents may open an account for their children at the base exchange cashier’s cage or at base shoppettes. Cashiers will issue a card containing the PIN. Rather than paying for lunch with cash or lunch tickets, students punch the PIN into a key pad next to the cafeteria cashier.

Students are encouraged to memorize their PINs but also have been given cards bearing the numbers, Brunen said, “because we were afraid that some of the younger students may have trouble” memorizing the six-digit number.

Parents who registered their children in DODDS after March 1 must pick up an account application from the school; all other students were entered into the AAFES database automatically.

Parents can opt for either the meal plan or general plan, Brunen said. The meal plan allows a student to buy the daily entree with drink and dessert. “It controls the child’s ability to spend,” Brunen said.

The general plan is “almost like an open checkbook,” he said. It allows the student to spend up to the amount in the account. Parents, however, could put a daily spending limit on a general plan account, such as $5 per day, Brunen noted. He said parents also may “split the plan, to where the child can get the meal the school has put together and supplement with a bag of chips or a sports drink,” for example.

No limits are placed on account size. Families who move before the end of the school year may get a refund.

Children who receive free or reduced-price lunches must use the automated system, Brunen said, so the school can track that program’s numbers.

To safeguard against PIN theft, the cafeteria cashier will verify the account information with the student’s name and picture through a computer database linked to AAFES.

The cashier also can access account information for students in grades 3 and under who might have trouble forgetting a number or using the system, officials said.

Brunen said he did not know how many Yokota parents had opened an account, but about 50 people enrolled the first day. “So far,” he said, “we’ve had no problems.”

Brunen and Leitner said they did not know how much AAFES paid for the automated system.

FastLane already is in use at Misawa Air Base schools in northern Japan, as well as on Okinawa, where AAFES also runs the school meal program on Marine Corps bases. AAFES plans to introduce the program at DODDS in South Korea next fall, Leitner said.

“We’re just basically catching up,” Leitner said. “Many parents come out to the Pacific and say back in the States, they’re already using this.”

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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