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Editorial Comment — October 2012

Counted Upon ...

“Thank you for your service.”

Those are humbling words, whether expressed to a servicemember in an airport, on the street, at a local coffee shop. But sometimes, especially in this military resale marketplace, these words tend to open all kinds of windows of discussion, including a servicemember's thoughts on his or her commissary and exchange benefits.

Recently, an Army senior NCO stationed at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., came back home to Long Island, N.Y., on leave for a few days, and told E and C News that though he did not use the commissary in the few days he was here, he fully intended to use it in retirement, and he is about to retire within the next year, after 20 years of service.

The commissary and exchange here are close enough for him to drive to without being cost-prohibitive in terms of gasoline, and he said he was “absolutely” counting on them as part of his retirement benefits.

As with so many other active duty personnel, and especially in this case, one whose unit motto is “Always Out Front,” he had deployed multiple times downrange, including to Afghanistan, where folks who are 'always out front' are frequently in harm's way — and things there don't seem to be getting any less harmful.

Looking at the situation another way, this servicemember is about to transition from the theater of combat to that of retirement. From the imminent danger of combat operations, to providing for himself and feeding his family on a fixed income ... and counting on the resale benefits he'd earned to be there for him, as promised for his 20 years of service.

And by commissary benefit, he expects a full commissary benefit, not one watered down by conversion to a nonappropriated fund (NAF) model but rather a benefit with a full 31 percent or more savings. Likewise, an exchange benefit that is not eroded by the elimination of authorized appropriated funding, or made more expensive by the costs of consolidation and consolidation studies.

Though some servicemembers may still be unaware, most know that behind their backs their resale benefits are under attack, threatened with being undermined or eliminated. Perhaps not so many have an idea of just how long these assaults have endured or how strenuous they have been.

Some of the misguided proposals that continue to surface and those that have been fought off or deflected during the current Congress alone — from the original commissary funding diversion in S.277; the 3 percent industry tax withholding to offset the iniquities of deadbeat defense contractors; to Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-Okla.) “Back in Black,” and the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment's (CSBA) attempts to generate support for meek substitutes for real benefits, or to convert commissary benefits to for-profit models — border on being carelessly irresponsible.

These servicemembers have answered the nation's call without hesitation. They have been counted on by the people of this country and Americans abroad to secure our liberty and security to every extent they are able — and too often their performance of duty has been at the highest cost, to them personally, and to their families.

Now it is the duty of the Congress and Defense Department to “have their back” and deliver the benefits they are counting on during the remainder of their service and in retirement, wherever they serve, and wherever they return home to.

Making a Difference ...

All great democracies, as well as durable organizations, provide their constituents both the right and the opportunity to vote. You may have noticed that this is a presidential election year; as citizens, we all have the chance to take part — in addition to voicing our choices for senators, representatives and local officials — in the one nationwide electoral contest our great democracy has established. We urge you to take advantage of this opportunity — and vote!

You know you make a difference. On the job, your year-round dedication and careful attention provide patrons with a strong sense of support wherever you serve. You make a difference for them, and we applaud you. It's time you took a bow, even if — maybe especially if — no one is watching.

Elections are no different in that regard. When it's a matter of choosing one candidate instead of another, your vote counts; you can make a difference. We exhort you to exercise your right — and vote!

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