'The savings are real': For commissary's senior enlisted advisor, the benefit is personal
Access photos of Command Sgt. Maj. Tomeka O’Neal.
FORT LEE, Va. – Like most authorized commissary patrons, Army Command Sgt. Maj. Tomeka N. O’Neal lives off the installation, where it would be more convenient to shop in the commercial grocery stores near her home.
However, convenience doesn’t always save money.
“Even as an E9, I still prefer my commissary over the so-called discount stores outside the gate,” said O’Neal. “And when I hear others talk about saving money, I just say why don’t you go to the commissary? I’ve done my homework, comparing sales receipts from the commissary and the civilian stores – the savings are real.”
As the new senior enlisted advisor to the DeCA director, O’Neal makes it her business to learn everything she can about the commissary benefit so she can help other service members and their families save money. It’s a mission that she doesn’t take lightly.
“Right now I’m busy getting grounded in DeCA’s operations,” O’Neal said, “and concentrating on the mission, vision and focus areas that [retired Rear] Adm. [Robert J.] Bianchi, [DOD special assistant for commissary operations] wants me to target.
“From a senior enlisted advisor’s perspective it’s all about communications and messaging,” she added. “The ultimate challenge remains: How do we encourage our lower enlisted and mid grades to shop in our stores when many of them may be off post and near a number of commercial grocers? Messaging is so important as well as the ability of leaders to take our messaging and influence our patrons – and it’s all through communication.”
In her previous assignment, O’Neal served as command sergeant major of the Joint Munitions & Lethality Life Cycle Command at Rock Island, Illinois.
At DeCA, she is the agency’s military advocate for enlisted service members – active duty, retired and reserve components – on all commissary benefit issues. The senior enlisted adviser is also the agency’s chief liaison to the military’s senior enlisted leaders.
“CSM O’Neal has an extensive background as a military leader,” Bianchi said. “As our new senior enlisted advisor, we are confident her experience will serve us well as she endeavors to help our patrons maximize their shopping experience and help us understand our patrons’ concerns about their commissary benefit.”
Throughout her nearly three decades in the Army, O’Neal has held a variety of battalion-, brigade- and command-level assignments that include the 1st Theater Sustainment Command (TSC), formerly known as COSCOM (1st Corps Support Command); 44th Medical Command; U.S. Army Special Operations Command; 1st and 4th Infantry Divisions; and the U.S. Army Materiel Command. O’Neal also provided logistical support for the production of the movie, Black Hawk Down, in Rabat, Morocco, and the Joint Logistics Command in Karshi Khanabad, Uzbekistan.
“I’ve always been an advocate for our commissary,” O’Neal said. “I just believe if you don’t take advantage of these benefits they will be on the chopping block; and we won’t realize what we had until it’s gone. Then it will be almost criminal to tell a young private to spend their money outside the gate, where they won’t get the same savings.”
She joined the Army as a parachute rigger in 1990 and later changed to automated logistical specialist in 1998. Her career has taken her to places such as Fort Sam Houston, Texas; Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Riley, Kansas; Fort Carson, Colorado; Camp Carroll, Korea; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; and in Germany, Miseau and Kaiserslautern.
O’Neal holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Trident University International, (Cypress, California) and a Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration from Campbell University (Buies Creek, North Carolina).
O’Neal’s complete biography is posted on the DeCA website.
-- By Kevin L. Robinson, DeCA public affairs specialist
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.