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Editorial Comment — November 2012

There's a Reason They Call It an 'Earned Benefit' ...

Now that the election results are in, with the reelected President calling for healing and cooperation on key issues such as the deficit, much work remains to be done on Congress's return to Washington. In the few remaining weeks of 2012, the struggle will be to find a way to avert sequestration, avoid the fiscal cliff, and to pass Defense authorization and appropriations bills. At least one hopes there is a will on the Hill to get these things accomplished.

Just before Congress went on recess, and hours after the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released its sequestration plan — which included a 10-percent, $155-million cut to the commissary budget, including a 9.4-percent, $25-million cut to the patrons' surcharge fund — Pentagon Comptroller Robert F. Hale and the vice chiefs of the military services delivered an alarming summation of the impacts sequestration might have on every aspect of national security — affecting everything from the ability to address immediate military missions, to troop health, readiness, morale, training, maintenance and modernization.

And commissaries and exchanges fall right there, under the word “readiness” — military personnel, Guard, reserves, all their families, and the family systems that support them. In October, the President vowed that sequestration would not happen, but unless some far-reaching agreement is accomplished, the cuts will take effect under the law.

Tied to readiness is the concept of an “earned benefit,” (wonder whatever happened to that idea as OMB recommended salami-slicing the commissary budget along with every other item it deemed non-exempt?). As decisions are made in the next few months — assuming more interesting ways of kicking the can down the road aren't discovered — let's never forget that commissaries and exchanges constitute a benefit that military patrons have earned through their service and sacrifice, as have the retirees with 20 years' service, who went before them.

What's disconcerting in the current scenario is the possibility that military resale — which falls in the nebulous area of Working Capital funds — will be lost in the rush and shuffle of much larger pieces of the budget pie. Military personnel and their families have taken enough of a hit already during 11 years of conflict, and commissaries have sliced millions off their budgets through streamlining and restructuring over the past 20 years, and exchanges have squeezed each business efficiency they can find (almost to a fault), through best practices, collaborative efforts, and yet more streamlining.

We find it almost unthinkable to believe that the fundamental necessity of military resale to the vast majority of military families and retirees in times of both war and peace seems to be constantly hanging in the balance. Certainly, we understand there are some in Congress who are still unfamiliar with the resale community's tireless dedication to serving the military's personnel, readiness and installation needs and mission requirements, but it really shouldn't still be on the chopping block every time there's a budget issue.

No sooner have troops been pulled from Iraq and a few units returned from Afghanistan — the conflict there does continue, in case some don't notice — than it seems that servicemembers' vital contribution to national security over the past dozen or more years fades from the collective memory outside the gate. As if that weren't enough, their service through peacekeeping, national emergencies, natural disasters both at home and overseas, and in peacetime (in case that ever happens again) is also far too conveniently overlooked.

Whatever the near and intermediate future brings, we hope that those in charge of making future decisions fully factor in military resale as an indivisible and inextricable part of military personnel and family readiness needs, and that they shape their budgets according to national security requirements and not the other way around. The servicemembers and their families who make our security and freedoms possible are counting on their judiciousness, just as those in the military community are counted on to put their lives on the line each and every day of the year.

6 Billion More Reasons ...

When Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) year-end 2012 sales figures were totaled up, we were heartened to see they had surged past $6 billion for the first time since the early 1990s — even with far fewer stores.

Kudos go not only to DeCA Director Joseph H. Jeu, Sales Director Christopher T. Burns, and the agency's worldwide roster of area, zone and store executives and their staffs, but also to industry for driving savings and building awareness of the benefit throughout the fiscal year.

Blink, and you might have missed them taking a very quick bow, before getting back on the horse and riding on to the next set of objectives.

What's not to be overlooked in all this is how patrons have voted with 6 billion reasons from their wallets — it commends a passion for delivering a healthy and relevant benefit for those we all consider the most deserving customers in the world.

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