CELEBRATING 32 YEARS: Since Oct. 1, 1991, commissaries have delivered patron savings on groceries to military members and their families
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FORT GREGG-ADAMS, Va. – In another lifetime, Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) Director and CEO John Hall was a soldier, one of the millions of service members who used his commissary benefit to save money on groceries for him and his family.
With DeCA approaching its 32nd anniversary on Oct. 1, Hall wants as many of the more than 15 million eligible patrons as possible to enjoy the commissary benefit just like he did.
“Serving in the Army for 27 years, I used the commissary extensively throughout my military career,” he said. “I have four children and during my time in uniform, the commissary was a tremendous benefit for us everywhere we served.”
Hall’s testimony about the commissary benefit echoes the agency’s legacy of service as a vital part of the pay and compensation package for the military community over more than three decades. Indeed, DeCA’s history is full of highlights that showed the mettle of commissaries when their patrons needed them most.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the dedication of our workforce was on full display with 10,000 people working in the stores during the peak of the crisis, stocking shelves, checking out our customers and making sure our patrons had access to food staples at significant savings,” Hall said. “In 2022, when inflation hit a 40-year high, we lowered prices, improved our supply chain, expanded hours for patron shopping and increased customer service. In other words, if there’s a crisis, we are there to help.”
DeCA’s mission began in earnest on Oct. 1, 1991, when the agency officially took over the responsibility of providing the commissary benefit to U.S. military members and their families.
In the early days of military commissaries, customers handed a list to a clerk behind the counter who filled the list for them. By the 1930s many commissaries were being run in the same fashion as civilian grocery stores. During those days some commissaries were even offering home delivery service for families residing on post.
During World War II, the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps helped to supply each of the armed services’ commissaries, and by 1948 each service ran its own commissaries with differing procedures and systems. The Army ran the Army Troop Support Agency (TSA), the Navy ran the Navy Resale System Support Office (NAVRESSO), and the Air Force operated the Air Force Commissary Service (AFCOMS). In the early 1970s, the Marine Corps Services Commissary Branch would operate their stores.
In 1989, after decades of separate services running commissaries, Congress directed the Department of Defense (DOD) to conduct a study of the separate military commissary systems under the leadership of Army Lt. Gen. Donald E. Jones. The ensuing report by the Jones Commission suggested consolidating the separate service systems into one agency to improve service and save money.
As a result, the Defense Commissary Agency was established on May 15, 1990, by a memorandum from the Deputy Secretary of Defense. Army Maj. Gen. John P. Dreska was named DeCA’s first director in June 1990.
On Sept. 27, 1991, both TSA and AFCOMS held deactivation ceremonies. The Navy gave up its commissary functions and became the Navy Exchange Service Command (NEXCOM.)
Three days later on Sept. 30, the DeCA activation and building dedication ceremony took place at its new headquarters – TSA’s former headquarters building – on then Fort Lee (now Fort Gregg-Adams). The agency’s official activation wouldn’t occur until Oct. 1 at which time DeCA assumed full control of all military commissaries.
Much of what was done in 1991 has been improved over time as DeCA embraces new and emerging methods and technologies.
Commissaries today boast conveniences like online ordering/curbside pickup services, self-checkouts, digital coupons, dietitian-approved resources to identify healthy foods, sushi bars, hot foods, deli-bakeries, credit and debit card acceptance, gift certificates and much more. Also, the ongoing evolution of the commissary business model with variable pricing has made store brand items possible.
As DeCA observes another birthday, Hall said they are galvanized to continue evolving commissaries into the future.
“Every day we are working to live up to our mission statement, ‘To deliver a vital benefit that provides grocery items at significant savings while enhancing quality of life and readiness.’
“Today, DeCA has nearly 240 stores located worldwide, our patrons have access to a commissary with at least 25 percent savings on the products they need,” Hall said. “We are acknowledged as a key force multiplier for food and economic security, and that’s why I am so passionate about this benefit.”
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, saving authorized patrons thousands of dollars annually on their purchases compared to similar products at commercial retailers. The discounted prices include a 5-percent surcharge, which covers the costs of building new commissaries and modernizing existing ones. 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.