Commissaries honor Army’s 246 years of service
NOTE: To see a DeCA video tribute to the Army’s 246th birthday, click here.
FORT LEE, Va. – On June 14, 1775, the Continental Congress established the U.S. Army and named Gen. George Washington as its first commanding general.
Two days later, the Continental Congress established the Commissary General of Stores & Provisions to provide daily rations to the troops.
Today, the Department of Defense (DOD) recognizes the commissary benefit as mission critical, and throughout the years it has gained the admiration and gratitude of soldiers and their families, said Marine Sgt. Maj. Michael R. Saucedo, senior enlisted advisor to the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) director.
“At DeCA we salute the Army’s 246 years of service by delivering a commissary benefit that provides valuable savings to soldiers, retirees and family members,” Saucedo said. “The commissary consistently ranks as one of the military’s top non-pay benefits, and many of our young service families simply could not make ends meet each month without the savings provided by the commissaries.”
As the Army grew, so did the commissary’s support. On July 19, 1775, Joseph Trumbull was appointed the first commissary general of provisions. In those days, traveling merchants known as sutlers used to follow the troops and sell them food that didn’t appear in their rations. However, most of the food was overpriced and, in many cases, wasn’t fit for consumption.
In 1825, Army officers were allowed to purchase goods at Subsistence Department warehouses, and in 1841 they were also granted permission to purchase goods for their families.
On July 1, 1867, Congress authorized the subsistence warehouses to begin selling goods to enlisted men. By 1868 the commissary stores had an 82-item stock list which was comparable to goods found in civilian dry goods stores at the time. This was considered a large list at the time, but most modern day commissaries carry around 15,000 items.
At the turn of the century, the subsistence warehouses were replaced by Army-run stores called sales commissaries. The first overseas commissary stores opened in the Philippines and in China in 1899 and 1900, respectively. They were followed by stores in Panama and in the Caribbean in 1904 and France in 1918.
The other military services adopted the Army’s concept of commissary operations but tailored their own stores to meet their individual customer needs. Commissaries always proved to be especially important to the quality of life of troops and their family members living overseas.
By the end of World War II, the individual military services had their own commissary operations: The Army’s Troop Support Agency (TSA), the Navy Resale Support Office (NAVRESSO), the Marine Corps Services Command and Air Force Commissary Service (AFCOMS). The U.S. Coast Guard operated some smaller stores located inside their exchanges.
In 1952, DOD ordered an across-the-board 2-percent surcharge to help cover stores’ expenses; this rate gradually increased until it reached the current level of 5 percent in 1983. The funds generated by this surcharge pay for the construction, maintenance and renovation of commissary stores, as well as equipment and supplies.
In 1989, Congress directed DOD to study the efficiency of operating separate military commissary systems. The study recommended that all of the separate systems be combined under one agency to improve customer service and save money. This led to the Defense Commissary Agency being established on May 15, 1990, with Army Maj. Gen. John P. Dreska as DeCA’s first director. On Oct. 1, 1991, DeCA officially assumed control of all U.S. military commissaries worldwide.
Today, commissaries continue to save soldiers and their families thousands of dollars annually on their purchases in comparison to similar products at commercial stores.
“As the Army continues to build on its legacy, we are committed to being THE grocery provider of choice for them and all our eligible patrons – sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen – delivering a vital benefit exclusively for our military community,” Saucedo said. “We will provide value and convenience, while delivering superior customer service and the items patrons want at the best possible savings.”
PHOTO CAPTION: American soldiers in France frequent a sales commissary in 1918 during World War I. (DeCA Archives)
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.