Legacy of service: Oct. 1 marks 28th year of DeCA delivering commissary benefit
FORT LEE, Va. – On Oct. 1, 1991, the Defense Commissary Agency officially took over the responsibility of providing the commissary benefit to U.S. military members and their families.
“History was made in military resale when DeCA was formed,” said retired Rear Adm. Robert J. Bianchi, DOD special assistant for commissary operations. “And 28 years later we continue to add to that legacy by delivering a much-valued and ever-evolving commissary benefit that meets the changing needs of our patrons.”
The commissary benefit itself has been around since 1825 when Army officers began purchasing goods at cost in Subsistence Department warehouses. The modern concept of commissaries began 42years later in 1867, when enlisted men were allowed the same shopping privileges that officers had previously enjoyed.
Before DeCA was created, military commissaries were initially run by the individual military installations. After World War II, the individual service branches began running their own commissaries: the U.S. Army Troop Support Agency (TSA), the Navy Resale Support Office (NAVRESSO), the Marine Corps Services Command and the Air Force Commissary Service (AFCOMS). The U.S. Coast Guard operated scaled down stores inside their exchanges.
In 1989, Congress directed the Department of Defense to conduct a study on the separate military systems. As a result it was recommended that the separate systems be consolidated into one agency in order to save money and improve customer services. Thus, the Defense Commissary Agency was established in May 1990 and by Oct. 1, 1991, the agency assumed control of all commissaries.
Since 1991, DeCA has seen many changes as it adapted to the evolving retail environment and the needs of the military service members it serves. For example:
- The agency offers the Your Everyday Savings (YES!) program for products that commissary patrons buy most at more competitive savings compared to commercial stores.
- Patrons can now check out current promotions online, find out what’s happening at their local store and browse the weekly featured items and sales flyer – containing dietitian-approved recipes and a featured “Thinking Outside the Box” meal solution, where many of the recipe items are marked down an additional 20% using downloaded digital coupons.
- The addition of private label commissary brands: Freedom’s Choice (food items) and HomeBase (non-food items); along with TopCare (health and beauty), Full Circle Market (natural and organic food options), Tippy Toes (baby products), Flock’s Finest (wild bird food for hopper, tube or platform feeders); and Pure Harmony (high quality pet food that provides grain-free options using meat, poultry or fish as the first ingredient. TopCare, Tippy Toes, Full Circle Market, Flock’s Finest and Pure Harmony are not exclusive to DeCA.
- DeCA continues the roll out of its new and improved CLICK2GO program, an online shopping and curbside pickup service, which allows customers to place their grocery orders online, then drive up at the commissary and have their groceries brought to their car by commissary employees. To date the service is available in Virginia at Fort Eustis and Naval Air Station Oceana. Fort Belvoir is scheduled to receive CLICK2GO Sept. 30.
- Customers can use self-checkout systems and choose bagger-less lanes.
Over the years those eligible to shop in the commissaries have included active duty in the armed forces and their immediate family members; retirees and their spouses; active duty Reserves and National Guard; honorably discharged veterans with a 100 percent service-connected disability; and recipients of the Medal of Honor.
The list of eligible beneficiaries grew in 2018 with the addition of DeCA civilian employees. It expands again on Jan. 1, 2020, with all disabled veterans, Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war and their caregivers being eligible for the benefit.
“Our mission is to offer the best savings possible and maintain the relevance of the commissary benefit,” Bianchi said. “That was true in 1991 and it remains so today, as our dedicated store associates and headquarters staffs continue a proud tradition of service to our military.”
Note: For photos related to DeCA, go to the agency’s Flickr page
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.