Defense Commissary Agency Takes Benefits to Guard, Reserve Members

By Margaret McKenzie
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 1, 2008 - The Defense Commissary Agency is taking the commissary benefit to National Guard and reserve members and their families living in remote areas.

"The 2004 National Defense Authorization Act authorized full commissary benefits for members of the Ready Reserve," Richard Page, acting Defense Commissary Agency director, said. "Through our new 'Bringing the Benefit to You' campaign, we are reaching out to our Guard and reserve members who have earned the commissary benefit, but who cannot easily travel to a local commissary to shop on a regular basis."

The campaign involves conducting on-site sales out of warehouses, aircraft hangars, armories, tents in parking lots, and even the back ends of semi-trailers at remote locations where reserve-component servicemembers and their families do not have access to a commissary.

This is part of the Army's reinforced commitment to provide support to military members and their families through the Army Family Covenant. A core military family-support element and a valued part of military pay and benefits, commissaries contribute to readiness and enhance the quality of life for America's military and their families, officials said.

"While the focus is on Guard and reserve, the on-site sales are a boon to all authorized shoppers living near them," Page said. "The Guard and reserve members have earned this benefit, and we want to make sure that we are delivering the benefit to them."

More than 55 percent of reserve-component servicemembers do not live in what is considered the immediate area of a commissary.

"This is just part of a larger picture," Page continued. "Back in the fall, when I became the acting director of DeCA, I had several priorities, one of which was to make sure that we were doing our very best for the Guard and reserve members not located near a commissary."

Page said the commissary agency is exploring ways to increase the frequency of the on-site sales and locations by looking at demographic areas that are heavily populated with the Guard and reserve members.

"It depends on the size and the demographics of the area," Page said. He cited Fort Jackson, S.C., being the closest commissary to the Charlotte, N.C., area as an example. The fort is about an hour and a half from Charlotte.

Military members from all branches of the service, including retirees, flocked to the 145th Air National Guard Wing hangar in Charlotte recently for a case-lot sale, the first of its kind in the area.

"There is a large population of military members in this area that do not have access to a commissary, so I will estimate doing this quarterly and try to tie it in with the drill training weekends so that it will be beneficial for the soldiers and we can get maximum exposure," Page said.

Information on other benefits for military members also was available at the sale. Representatives were on hand promoting the Army Integrated Family Support Network through the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command, as well as Military OneSource and Armed Forces Recreation opportunities. Other information about Web sites to access other resources and benefits was available to military members and families as they filed through the doors to make their purchases.

Defense Commissary Agency Dietitian Army Maj. Karen Fauber was also on hand with information about the agency's newest health and wellness initiatives. "We partner with Tricare on this initiative," Fauber said.

"I love this case-lot sale," said Clinton R. Douglas, a former Marine. "My wife and I were here three days ago, and we are back here again today."

He noted that the couple could get everything there that they could get at the leading large-lot retail store, "only here we can get it at a cheaper rate and no sales tax, and everybody treats you nice, and that's one thing I love about it."

Air Force Tech Sgt. Marvin Williams was equally excited about the case-lot sale. "I have lived in Rock Hill, S.C., since 1990," he said. "The closest commissary is about an hour and a half from me. Most people in this area have to travel an hour and a half to two hours to get to Fort Jackson to shop. It is a good opportunity for me, and I look forward to hopefully having more opportunities like this one."

"I am really excited about this," said Phillip E. Sakowitz Jr., executive director of the U.S. Army Installation Management Command, who's been selected to be the next Defense Commissary Agency director. "It is all associated with helping soldiers and families."

Leslye A. Arsht, deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy, said the Charlotte event marked her first case-lot sale.

"It is everything I had hoped it to be, and it has great crowds, even though the weather isn't great," she said. "People are coming; some are coming even more than once. They are seeing lots of great bargains, and we are really feeling like this was an important step in supporting a quality of life for the Guard and reserve and the rest of the folks who are eligible and who live in the area."

The Defense Commissary Agency operates a worldwide chain of grocery stores for military personnel, retirees and their families on military bases. Authorized patrons purchase items at cost plus a 5-percent surcharge, which covers the costs of building new commissaries and modernizing existing ones.

(Margaret McKenzie works at the U.S. Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command Public Affairs Office.)

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