The Army Times recently featured a disturbing story about our commissaries. The Pentagon is considering a plan to close all U.S. commissaries in 2015, as a budget-cutting move that many are unhappy about.
I am one of those people. It’s hard to fathom that we could lose our commissaries—an Army tradition for more than 140 years. The Army has approximately 178 commissaries in the U.S. and 70 located overseas. Here at Fort Hood, we have two large commissaries, a necessity because of the 50,000 soldiers plus their family members, as well as retirees.
Commissary shopping is often more convenient than going off-post to a local grocery chain and is always tax-free. Despite the 5 percent surcharge we all pay (which goes back into the commissary for repairs, building new stores, replacing equipment and so on), I find I usually spend considerably less money on commissary trips than when I shop at H-E-B or other stores.
The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) claims using the commissary saves about 30 percent of grocery costs for the average family. This can add up to more than $4,000 in savings for a family of four over a year.
Commissaries have been a vital part of military life since 1825, though originally, they were only for officers to use. It was not until 1867 that enlisted soldiers were allowed the same privilege.
Currently, commissaries sell roughly 11,000 items—a huge contrast to the 82 standard “dry goods” products commonly sold in 1868.
Many people have personal commissary stories that linger in their memories because of the strong or poignant memories they evoke. One woman told me about living in Wiesbaden, Germany, when her children were small and “bursting into tears” at the sight of boxes of North Carolina corn on the cob in the produce department. Another friend recalled an actual fight that broke out over precious jars of peanut butter in the Camp Casey, Korea, commissary several years ago.
On a personal “memory lane trip,” while we were on our first Germany tour, living in Hanau in 2002, the commissary was a link to the familiar and the dear. As much as I loved living in Europe, homesickness would occasionally strike and somehow being in a store with American brands and recognizable packaging just made me feel a little better.
Commissaries are one of the dwindling perks available to military members and their families. It would be a shame if these stores were closed down. Please let your elected officials know that your commissary is important to you. And feel free to share any personal commissary stories—I’d love to hear them!