DeCA celebrates 26 years of delivering commissary benefit
Twenty-six years ago on Oct. 1, the Defense Commissary Agency took control of armed forces commissaries, worldwide.
The commissary benefit wasn’t new in 1991, but it was the first time in history all military commissaries were managed by one agency. Since 1867, the benefit enabled armed forces personnel of all ranks to purchase food and household goods at a substantial savings, compared with civilian prices.
For years, each installation ran its own store, with minimal guidance from the service headquarters. After World War II, each service took a more active role in guiding commissary operations.
By the mid-1970s, each of the armed services had offices or agencies specifically dedicated to running retail commissaries: AFCOMS, the Air Force Commissary Service; NAVRESSO, the Navy Resale Services Support Office; TSA, the Army Troop Support Agency; and the Marine Corps Commissary Office.
As the Cold War ended, Congress began to anticipate the reduction of the armed forces and their budgets; bases no longer needed would close, as would their commissaries.
Members of Congress wishing to protect the benefit thought it would be easier – and less costly – if all four services combined their operations under one roof – a “purple” agency with one budget to run all military commissaries.
1989, Congress formed a commission, led by Army Maj. Gen. Donald P. Jones, to conduct a study on the viability of such a system. The Jones Commission Report, as it was called, prompted Congress to merge the headquarters and region structures of the four systems into one.
At first, each service feared the merger would cause them to lose control over what they perceived as “their” benefit, and that one service or another might control the agency, to the detriment of the others.
Those fears proved to be false. The new defense agency was impartial to the services, thanks to the director, Army Maj. Gen. John P. Dreska, and a transition team of specialists from across the services’ commissary organizations.
Since then, nine directors or interim directors have led the agency in its mission of providing a commissary benefit to millions of authorized service members and their families.
Twenty-six years later, DeCA employees are proud of the agency’s accomplishments. Much of what was done in 1991 has been improved, as DeCA adopted new and emerging methods and technologies. Today’s commissaries have conveniences like self-checkouts, sushi bars, hot foods, deli-bakeries, credit and debit card acceptance, gift certificates and much more.
Over the years, commissaries closed due to base realignment and closure actions. Originally numbering 411 stores (plus another 17 grocery sections inside exchanges), there are now 238. But DeCA’s newest stores are state of the art, and its older stores have received multiple upgrades.
Industry supported the agency with great deals and prices, and DeCA developed new ways of doing business and reaching its customers. The Guard-Reserve “on-site” sales for customers who do not live near a commissary is one obvious example.
“Throughout DeCA’s history, change has been a constant,” says acting agency Director and CEO Michael Dowling. “Even now, as we transform our business model to variable pricing and commissary store brands, we are doing so to protect the savings benefit for future generations of military service members and their families and improve their shopping experience.
“However, our mission, our legacy of offering the right assortment of products at the right prices as a critical benefit to our patrons, will never change.”
Air Force Command Chief Master Sgt. Stuart Allison, senior enlisted advisor to the DeCA director, sees the work of DeCA’s employees up close and personal. He’s also a dedicated commissary patron.
“I appreciate my commissary benefit and salute the dedicated men and women who have delivered it and continue to provide this valuable quality-of-life boost to our troops and their families.”