Food Crisis Erupts at Fort Knox CST 2023: Workers Walkout


Two words: missed opportunity. Okay, technically that was four.

While no one can anticipate the ill-timed self-implosion of a contractor, the Army, in classic fashion, missed an opportunity to get ahead of the food crisis. Subcontractors report pay issues caused a workers walkout at a Fort Knox DFAC. To complicate matters, Cadet Summer Training (CST 2023) is full of social-media savvy Army ROTC Cadets and newly pinned 2LTs. Instead of flooding the Internet with highlight reels and shorts of teamwork and camaraderie, we are distracted by a short-lived workers strike, expired MREs and a water issue. Considering CST 2023 is the Super Bowl of training for the Army’s Cadet Command, they resolved the issues fairly quickly, but it does highlight the failures of Army contracting. And of course, how are other DFACs across the Army fairing?

NOTE: We will not be discussing the water issue as that was a result of a water main break with the city. It’s summer, the climate moved from warming to crisp, demand for water continues to increase and there are a few thousand more people in the area that normal. Things will break.


Fort Knox experienced a setback when civilian food workers stopped working, halting food service at a dining facility during CST 2023. This event has cast a stark light on the conditions faced by those working in the DFAC, as well as those on the receiving end of their efforts. It is now clear that the food crisis left Fort Knox reeling from the effects of the walkout. This latest development caused a significant drop in food service. Adding to the debacle, there are reports that expired MREs are making their way into circulation. They issued cadre and Cadets additional MREs as a short-term solution until the DFAC was operational. It is unclear if the facility affected is used solely by Cadre or Cadets. Doubts about the food readiness and quality for our Armed Forces and their staff arise from this being the only food choice for training on the base. The consequences of the food crisis at Fort Knox and subsequent worker walkout reach beyond the bounds of the establishment itself. It shines a light on the need to re-examine the state of contracting food services at training installations across the United States Army, and prompt action to address the systemic issues bubbling beneath the surface.

Fort Knox CST 2023: An Overview

The US Army’s Cadet Summer Training (CST) is an annual event used to train future Army officers, and CST 2023 is at the historic Fort Knox in Kentucky. This year, worker walkout at a dining facility temporarily complicated training, which ceased to provide meals. This sparked a temporary food service shutdown, with the only food available being MREs, some of which were expired. People are questioning the use of contracted food services and the absence of Army Culinary Specialists because of the walkout. CST 2023 is typically about 32-35 days for Cadets, while Cadre serve in various roles for 45-60 days.

How Did It Happen? The Strike of the Food Service Workers

The food crisis at Fort Knox started with a worker walkout at the dining facility. Next Level Relief, a logistical solutions company based in Wisconsin, employed the workers. This resulted in a temporary halt to food service, leaving those at CST without the typical hot meal they depended on. The workers had been protesting for payment of hours worked. They went from weekly to biweekly, which caused delays in payment. Once the employees received their checks, many noticed that their pay was incorrect or short and walked off the job. Many of these workers are not local to the Fort Knox area and are living in hotels, compounding the issue of facing eviction or not having the money to go home.

Workers were not getting their deserved compensation, which is the root of the issue. The low wages they were being paid made it difficult for them to make ends meet, and this eventually led them to act. The strike was a sign of their desperation, and a clear sign of the need for better working conditions.

What Was the Social Media Impact?

The Army is hard pressed for recruiting and this event does not bode well. Again, missed opportunity. The Army needs to learn how to get in front of these obstacles. Beyond reacting to contact, this is the time for someone to figure out how to do an emergency delivery of pizzas or subs to the Disney CTA. There was a small window of opportunity to show outstanding Cadet and soldier care.

Instead, the general public see this:


Rather eat a jean jacket than 3 MREs a day 🥴 can’t wait to see what else Knox throws #miltok #usarmy #cst2023 #armyrotc

♬ Burna Boy RUBBISHhh – michaelpepper__

Welp i guess no BAS was for nothing at all

♬ original sound – Pattytravels🌍

This scene is all I thought of when them workers went on strike💀#fypシ #dfac #miltok

♬ it is no concern of mine whether your family has – ✨pippa✨

The Fallout: Expired MREs and Food Shortages

The fallout of the worker walkout was a food crisis on Fort Knox. The only food available was MREs; some of which were expired. This made it difficult for the program to continue, as the expired food posed a health risk to the participants. The food shortages have also caused rations to be limited, further complicating the situation. The food crisis has also caused a strain on the local economy, as businesses that depend on the influx of money from the base are now struggling. This has resulted in an even bigger burden for the people of Fort Knox, as they find themselves without the income they depend on.

When Did Paying Employees Become Optional?

It should go without saying that companies should pay their employees, but here we are. Make a mental note, if you have employees, it is important to pay them. The alleged lack of care and attention to detail by Next Level Relief is unacceptable. The workers, understandably, should be upset after working in the heat of the dining facility for seasonal wages. This issue is about emphasizing the importance of customer service and common decency.

When contracting agents develop plans to sustain a training exercise, they should use IBM Enterprise Design Thinking. This method ensures, “teams can work more efficiently, because they stay aligned and keep people at the center of their work (IBM Corporation 2018).” Here, the end-user is the Cadre, Cadets, and employees that prepare, cook, and serve the food. Without a people-centric approach, an organization loses focus, misses critical tasks, and results in critical failures. A proper After-Action Review (AAR) is the only way to ensure that those who visit Fort Knox for training will not have to endure a similar crisis.

Food Crisis Erupts at Fort Knox CST 2023 DFAC Line

What was the Army’s Response to the Crisis?

Reports coming out of Fort Knox show the Army terminated the contract on July 1st, 2023. The Army moved in Culinary Specialists (92G) temporarily to resume DFAC services as a stop-gap measure. This brings about the thought: “Why does the Army refuse to deploy units to Fort Knox?” Specifically, 92G to support CST 2023. This deployment serves multiple purposes: identify readiness and deployability, provide a heavily resourced stateside training exercise, provide future junior Officers the opportunity to see what Army Culinary Specialist do and their importance to the mission, and to build the overall morale or the organization. With proper planning, units can rotate, or a Task Force can support the entire summer and housing can be carefully planned.

This move has been met with criticism from the people of Fort Knox, who have been vocal in their opposition to the move. The government’s decision has sparked outrage from those on the base and has led to even more calls for better working conditions and wages. The government’s response has also been met with resistance from the workers, who have continued to protest and demand better wages and working conditions. The workers have shown no signs of backing down, and this has further complicated the situation and made it even more difficult for the government to resolve the crisis.


The food crisis at Fort Knox CST 2023 has highlighted the systemic issues bubbling beneath the surface. It has become apparent that contractors are leveraging a needy workforce’s search for work over quality service and timely pay for hours worked. Considering the environment and the customer they serve, these workers need better working conditions and wages, and that the Army needs to plan to ensure that this crisis does not reoccur. We only must look at social media to see the second and third-order effects. The food crisis at Fort Knox CST 2023 serves as a stark reminder of the need to address issues within contracted military food services. It is important to provide resources to those affected by the crisis and ensure that the US government takes action to address the issues that led to the crisis. Canceling the contract doesn’t get the employees paid any sooner.

Sources / Credit

  • Photo Credit: Image by Rido81
  • U.S. Army photo by Spc. Marian Alleva/Released

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