FORT LEE, Va., 2016-Sep-27 — /EPR Retail News/ — Twenty-five years ago on Oct. 1, the Defense Commissary Agency took control of armed forces commissaries, worldwide.
The commissary benefit wasn’t new in 1991, but it was the first time in history all military commissaries were managed by one agency. Since 1867, the benefit enabled armed forces personnel of all ranks to purchase food and household goods at a substantial savings, compared with civilian prices.
For years, each installation ran its own store, with minimal guidance from the service headquarters. After World War II, each service took a more active role in guiding commissary operations.
By the mid-1970s, each of the armed services had offices or agencies that were specifically dedicated to running retail commissaries: AFCOMS, the Air Force Commissary Service; NAVRESSO, the Navy Resale Services Support Office; TSA, the U. S. Army Troop Support Agency; and the Marine Corps Commissary Office.
As the Cold War ended, Congress began to anticipate the reduction of the Armed Forces, and their budgets; bases no longer needed would close, as would their stores.
Members of Congress wishing to protect the benefit thought it would be easier – and less costly – if all four services combined their operations under one roof – a “purple” agency with one budget to run all military commissaries.
In 1989, Congress formed a commission, led by Army Maj. Gen. Donald P. Jones, to conduct a study on the viability of such a system. The Jones Commission Report, as it was called, prompted Congress to merge the headquarters and region structures of the four systems into one.
At first, each service feared the merger would cause them to lose control over what they perceived as “their” benefit, and that one service or another might control the agency, to the detriment of the others.
Those fears proved to be false. The new defense agency was impartial to the services, thanks to the director, Army Maj. Gen. John P. Dreska, and a transition team of specialists from across the services’ commissary organizations.
Since then, eight directors or interim directors have led the agency in its mission of providing a commissary benefit to millions of authorized service members and their families.
A quarter of a century later, DeCA employees are proud of the agency’s accomplishments. Much of what was done in 1991 has been improved, as DeCA adopted new and emerging methods and technologies. Today’s commissaries have conveniences like self-checkouts, sushi bars, hot foods, deli-bakeries, credit and debit card acceptance, gift certificates and much more.
“The history of DeCA has been one of adjusting to change,” said current Director and CEO Joseph H. Jeu. “This agency has excelled in turning challenges into opportunities to improve the commissary benefit for our patrons. We’re proud of what we have accomplished, which is especially noteworthy when you consider how much has been done since our inception.”
For 25 years, DeCA has made adjustments, as needed, to keep providing the benefit, even as stores closed due to base realignment and closure actions. Originally numbering 411 sales stores (plus another 17 grocery sections inside exchanges), there are now 238. But DeCA’s newest stores are state of the art, and its older stores have received multiple upgrades.
Average customer savings increased as much as 10 percent in some locations. Industry supported the agency with great deals and prices, and DeCA developed new ways of doing business and reaching its customers. The Guard-Reserve “on-site” sales for customers who do not live near a commissary, is one obvious example.
Air Force Command Chief Master Sgt. Stuart M. Allison, the senior enlisted advisor to the DeCA director, sees the work of DeCA’s employees up close and personal. He’s also a dedicated commissary patron.
“Since 1991, the Defense Commissary Agency has provided a highly valued military benefit to our troops and their families,” he said. “I appreciate my commissary benefit and salute the dedicated men and women who have delivered it for nearly a quarter of a century.
About DeCA: The Defense Commissary Agency operates a worldwide chain of commissaries providing groceries to military personnel, retirees and their families in a safe and secure shopping environment. Commissaries provide a military benefit and make no profit on the sale of merchandise. Authorized patrons purchase items at cost plus a 5-percent surcharge, which covers the costs of building new commissaries and modernizing existing ones. By shopping regularly in the commissary, patrons save thousands of dollars annually. A core military family support element, and a valued part of military pay and benefits, commissaries contribute to family readiness, enhance the quality of life for America’s military and their families, and help recruit and retain the best and brightest men and women to serve their country.
Kevin L. Robinson
(804) 734-8000, Ext. 4-8773