CELEBRATING 31 YEARS: Since Oct. 1, 1991, DeCA has delivered significant commissary savings to military members, their families
FORT LEE, Va. – Much has changed for the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) over 31 years including product selection, technology for front-end checkouts and other key grocery functions.
However, what remains constant is DeCA’s mission to deliver a commissary benefit that improves the military’s quality of life by saving them money on their groceries.
“From 1991 to 2022, our mandate has not changed: We are steadfast in our commitment to be the military’s grocery provider of choice and to deliver the commissary benefit at the best savings possible,” Moore said. “We want our eligible patrons to know that if they’re not shopping their commissary, then they are missing out on saving at least a quarter on every dollar compared to prices at ‘outside the gate’ grocery stores – that’s $50 back in their pockets on a $200 grocery bill!
“As we spread the word on this much-needed benefit to all our eligible customers, we are also using technology to expand access in more convenient ways than ever before – like online shopping and curbside pickup with online payment (available now at all stores) and now our ongoing test of delivery services at eight locations – what our patrons expect,” he added.
DeCA’s mission began in earnest on Oct. 1, 1991, when DeCA 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 individual 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 the U.S. Troop Support Agency (TSA) at Fort Lee, Virginia, and the Air Force Commissary Service (AFCOMS) at Kelly Air Force Base, Texas, held deactivation ceremonies. The Navy Resale Services Support Office (NAVRESSO) 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 on Fort Lee – though the activation wasn’t official 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 internet 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. The ongoing evolution of the commissary business model with variable pricing has made store brand items possible.
“We are a food security resource for our customers, and as such, we are doing everything we can to get our precious military families the products they need – at the lowest price possible,” Moore said. “Across our agency, we have a renewed focus on customer service – every decision we make is through the eyes of our patron – striving to meet their needs, be it extended hours, special orders or commissary delivery.”
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.