Tyndall Commissary reopens: Store considered integral part of base recovery efforts
Note: For photos on DeCA’s Flickr page related to the reopening of the Tyndall Commissary in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, go to
FORT LEE, Va. – For about a month and half, the Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, community was unable to shop in its commissary as the installation began rebuilding from the destruction wrought by Hurricane Michael. On Nov. 17, their store reopened, marking a key milestone in the base’s recovery.
“Our commissary is an integral part of our Tyndall community, both for the recovery team and those off base associated with our military family,” said Air Force Capt. Margaret A. Kealy-Machella, a base spokesperson. “In such a challenging time, opening the commissary is important as it provides an opportunity for us to come together over food during the holidays.”
Many of the buildings on Tyndall Air Force Base were severely damaged on Oct. 10 when Michael, packing winds above 150 mph, made landfall in Florida as a Category 4 hurricane. The commissary sustained significant damage to the roof and ceiling, there was water damage from rain on the sales floor, spoiled products because of the power outage, and broken refrigeration and HVAC systems.
The store reopened to patrons at large after base leadership authorized active duty service members, retirees and their families to enter the base and shop at the commissary, said Tyndall store director Diolita Abel. On Oct. 17, Tyndall officials started allowing restricted access to airmen and family members to assess the damage to their homes and collect belongings.
“In an effort to provided command requested food items, DeCA leadership quickly made arrangements for produce, frozen chicken, milk, bread, chill and frozen items, and fresh meat to be transferred from the Eglin Commissary for delivery to our Tyndall store using DeCA trucks,” Abel said. “There was a lot of coordination from our store operations, sales, logistics, engineers and my local team to make it all happen.
“The resulting comments from our customers thanking us for opening the store and having products available was extremely gratifying,” she said.
After being allowed on base to assess commissary damage on Oct. 16, Abel and her zone manager, Frank Sholedice, started the process for store recovery. By Oct. 20, the store had a generator to power the building. It later took four days and 14 dumpsters to remove all of the perishable food that had spoiled during the power outage.
Commissary personnel and contractors started working on minor repairs, eventually allowing a portion of the store to open on Oct. 27, where authorized patrons from the recovery teams living in “Tent City,” were served dry goods, Abel said. Through Nov. 6, the store handled more than 900 transactions.
Throughout the cleanup, many of the store’s staff were dealing with challenges of their own – many of them had lost their homes and were struggling to find lodging. Mandatory evacuation orders complicated base access, and daily traffic that once took minutes now extended to hours.
“We started with 15 employees who came in and provided support with cleanup while still in the mandatory evacuation,” Abel said.
For the three weeks leading up to its Nov. 17 reopening, civilian contractors repaired the roof joists, installed new roof decking, resealed the building and placed tarps in the store to minimize any potential water damage. Both the HVAC and refrigeration systems were also restored.
With the commissary’s commercial distributors unable to deliver directly to Tyndall, the store had to create a pipeline of product support from Eglin Air Force Base – some 70 miles away.
Although the Tyndall store is open, the commissary still faces limited product selection and it may take up to a year for major repairs to restore the facility to its pre-Michael condition, Abel said.
“Despite all of our people having experienced personal issues as a result of the hurricane, the dedication from DeCA employees and contractor support with disaster cleanup, even while under a mandatory evacuation, has been instrumental in our ability to open the commissary to support the Tyndall community,” Abel said.
“Our DeCA team, under the unwavering leadership of Ms. Abel, has been nothing less than superb,” said Colleen M. Duffy, deputy director for Installation Support with the 325th Mission Support Group at Tyndall. “Both her and Frank [Sholedice] have provided amazing non-stop solid support to all of Team Tyndall.”
-- 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.