NUTRITIOUS OUTREACH: DeCA promotes commissary benefit to young soldiers through cooking courses, healthful guidance, store tours
FORT LEE, Va. – The future is now for young enlisted troops, and the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) wants to ensure they know how to maximize their commissary benefit.
In that spirit, DeCA, the Army at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS) program partnered June 8-9 to provide hands-on cooking classes, nutrition education and tours of the commissary for local enlisted service members.
“Fort Jackson was a wonderful opportunity for us to restart the outreach efforts we had to put on hold due to the COVID pandemic,” said Marine Sgt. Maj. Michael R. Saucedo, senior enlisted advisor to the DeCA director.
“Our endgame is to share the successful model of this ‘Ready and Resilient’ initiative throughout the armed forces,” he added. “We want to improve the nutritional awareness of the force while teaching our young service members to make the most of their earned commissary benefit.”
The Jackson event rekindled an outreach partnership DeCA started with BOSS programs in 2017, said Deborah Harris, DeCA’s dietitian and health and wellness manager, MPH, RD, CDCES.*
“We created something that can easily help troops learn how to cook in the barracks while improving the nutrition quality of their diets,” Harris said. “A key focus is how to use their commissary to save time and money over defaulting to less healthy food practices such as eating at fast food establishments or cooking overly processed food that offers very little nutritional value.”
Staff Sgt. Cody Mackall, BOSS public affairs officer for the Fort Jackson garrison, is a veteran of these events, working with Harris on similar events in Germany in 2017 and Hawaii in 2018. With installations opening up from COVID lockdowns, Mackall suggested that the DeCA-BOSS tour restart at Fort Jackson. Harris agreed.
So for the June event, Harris and the BOSS participants presented a cooking and nutrition course for 19 barracks soldiers, teaching them culinary skills using only an electronic pressure cooker and a microwave. The event featured the following activities:
- Day one: Soldiers toured the commissary to learn how to select healthy and nutritious options and build a budget. They also participated in hands-on cooking and nutrition instruction using no recipes to develop basic skills.
- Day two: Participants used what they learned to build a meal plan within a $100 budget and create meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“We challenged those 19 soldiers to be peer leaders and show other soldiers the benefit and their cooking skills,” Harris said.
Command Sgt. Maj. Philson Tavernier, Fort Jackson’s top senior enlisted soldier became a big fan of the program and hopes it catches on at other installations.
“The cooking and nutrition course is directly aligned with the U.S. Army’s Holistic Health and Fitness Operating Concept,” Tavernier said. “It was a fun and informative initiative that educated our single soldiers and officers on the unlimited healthy eating options in our local commissary. This initiative needs to be highlighted and continuously emphasized across our Army enterprise.”
For Command Sgt. Maj. Algrish C. Williams, Fort Jackson Garrison command sergeant major, the economics of the commissary benefit is a lesson young soldiers need to learn.
“This collaborative effort is by far one of the best initiatives I have seen,” he said. “Teaching our junior soldiers, officer, and senior leaders how to use the commissary’s low prices along with the few items single soldiers living in the barracks have to prepare health meals in the most nutritious way was an eye opener for all.”
The lessons didn’t just resonate with young soldiers, according to Command Sgt. Maj. Katrina M. Clark, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion Command Sergeant Major.
“Although, the techniques for cooking was focused on the soldiers living in the barracks with limited resources, I walked away with so many helpful tips to prepare simple, quick, nutritional meals for my family as well,” Clark said. “Additionally, Sergeant Major Saucedo renewed my commitment to using all of the services that DeCA offers, by educating us on the enormous outreach that the agency has to provide service members with the same purchase experience that we can get from other grocery store chains.”
Tim Hockenberry, program manager for BOSS, enjoyed how the commissary can improve soldiers’ health and wellness even after they leave the service.
“This unique relationship has given soldiers the opportunity to learn how to shop correctly and chose healthy items – a skill that will go far beyond their time in uniform,” Hockenberry said. “We are enthusiastic to continue this relationship and encourage all garrisons with a commissary to think outside the box like Fort Jackson has done to better the nutritional education of their soldiers.”
Expanding this outreach effort is the goal as DeCA hopes its partnership with BOSS and Fort Jackson’s garrison officials becomes a crucial first step for promoting the value of good nutrition and the commissary benefit to young troops everywhere.
“As we at DeCA focus further on our outreach efforts, partnering with local installations is key to providing the best benefit to our patrons,” Saucedo said. “We are excited to begin again with Army BOSS and will be sharing this great programming effort with other service branches as a means to further partner and engage with our younger shoppers.”
*Harris has a Masters of Public Health degree, and is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist.
PHOTO CAPTION: Young enlisted soldiers from Fort Jackson, South Carolina, present the healthy meals they’ve prepared to (second from right) Army Command Sgt. Maj. Philson Tavernier, post command sergeant major Fort Jackson and Marine Sgt. Maj. Michael R. Saucedo, senior enlisted advisor to the DeCA director. Tavernier and Saucedo were part of a panel that judged the cooking skills of these soldiers. (Fort Jackson photo)
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.