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Editorial Comment — July 2016

150 Years … And Still Delivering

This issue is dedicated to the people who deliver the commissary benefit: the workers in the stores, their managers and directors, and all who play a part in making sure $5-billion-plus in food, groceries and household goods gets to the best patrons in the world at a substantial savings over retail.

You know who you are. You do this every day. You are dedicated. You care about the benefit. And the military customer who is, has become, or always has been, a major part of your daily life is very likely a strong motivating factor for why you do this work — what you do — instead of something else.

While the buildings, technologies and assortments may have changed enormously over the decades, one thing is certain: those customers depend on commissary staff and their suppliers to deliver the savings and the fresh, satisfying shopping experience they know and expect.

Over the years, we have been fortunate enough to speak with some of the finest managers in the system; and when we do, it quickly becomes apparent that being an excellent commissary store director or manager isn’t a job, it’s a calling. It also becomes apparent that running a store on a military base involves not only the proficiency required to manage a civilian store, but in addition a well-developed set of skills to serve and communicate with the local command as well as patrons from disparate backgrounds, to understand and to work closely with specialized supply chains, brokers, manufacturer’s reps and distributors. Overseas, this also involves the laws, regulations and authorities of host countries. Store leaders master all these things largely because for them, even though they are backed up by dedicated support teams in their respective areas, zones and headquarters, “the buck stops here.”

We’d be remiss if we did not include dedicated teams in industry. Countless times, when things go hopelessly wrong, industry steps into the breach. Store, department, category and operations personnel know they have equally dedicated partners in industry to help in times of need. It’s what they do, it’s what they’re good at, it’s part of what has historically set them apart — it’s a point of pride for all those in DeCA and in the industry supply chain, from associates and truck drivers on the scene to buyers and brokers on either end of the phone connection in the middle of the night.

In DeCA’s 25 years, much has transpired that has tested the dual nature of the commissary — mission support as well as compensation benefit. Off the top of the head: an unending stretch of turmoil in Southeast Asia … Haiti relief … the earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima disaster in Japan … while at home, hurricanes from Andrew to Katrina to Sandy … floods in Texas and the southeast, tornados on the plains, wildfires in California, raging northern blizzards … or just normal weather in North Dakota and Alaska. Commissary people know they are the best folks for the job when the going goes from merely “challenging” to “intense” and “extreme.”

On the other side of the checkout counter, many in the military consider these stores the center of a universe of on-base quality-of-life benefits that not only stretch their paychecks, but also enhance their security and sense of belonging to a community that cares about them.

That there is a personal connection should come as no surprise, since a third of commissary employees are military spouses or dependents — in other words, family — and almost two-thirds have some military connection. Beyond that, DeCA commissaries partner regularly with local MWR and on-base health, family and community support offices. They also partner with suppliers and brokers in numerous causes, activities and giveaways supporting all segments, active, reserve and retired, of the military community. Again, via partnerships with industry sponsors and the Fisher House Foundation, commissaries have also helped provide higher education scholarships for many military children; this year’s awards bring the total to more than 10,000.

As commissaries approach their 150-year milestone and the Defense Commissary Agency completes its 25th year, if there has been one reliable constant throughout all that time, it has been the diligent and dedicated commissary staff, who together with their industry support network, have delivered the benefit to the customer face-to-face.

For generation after generation, the members of this team have deserved the thanks of those they serve, and have served, and the greater thanks of those for whom they serve.

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