Base access, store restrictions continue to plague commissaries, exchanges

Base access has been a nagging problem for both commissaries and exchanges for years, and when the coronavirus pandemic hit earlier this year, it made things that much worse for these military stores and shoppers wanting to use them.

The emergence of the pandemic was particularly difficult for retirees and veterans — perhaps among the most at-risk groups related to the pandemic — and their ability to get on base to do their shopping in their local military stores.

Numerous rules and restrictions were put in place by base commanders to limit access to their respective bases, and when these were lessened or relaxed, retirees and veterans were often the groups that were thought to need the most protection, and thus, had their base access more limited than other groups.

And this stance was eerily ironic, as the pandemic hit when the American Logistics Association (ALA) was working with the resale agencies to boost access to military stores, including the launch of expanded privileges for disabled veterans and its work to allow the Defense Department’s civilian workers to have shopping privileges.

Although through the end of August many sites had loosened the tight restrictions they had implemented when the pandemic struck, other bases were more cautionary, and this had a major impact on store sales during this period.

The Department of Defense announced this week that they will be issuing new ID cards to some five million retirees and family members in the coming years with enhanced capability to speed base access.  Also, ALA is working with the Federation for Identity and Cross Credentialing that is examining alternative and innovate practices and technology to speed base access and patron identification.  ALA is also examining ways to speed communication of changes to base access and store restrictions to exchange and commissary patrons.  


The exchange services are generally reflecting sales downturns, and although at least some of this can be attributed to lessened gas sales, the fluctuations of access during the pandemic must also be taken into account.

Through July 2020, the Army & Air Force Exchange Service’s (AAFES) fiscal 2020 sales were $2.91 billion, a 10.1-percent decrease from the $3.23 billion it accrued a year earlier.

The Navy Exchange Service Command (NEXCOM) and Marine Corps Exchange (MCX) followed suit. NEXCOM’s fiscal 2020 sales through July were $1.03 billion, an 8.7-percent dip from the $1.13 billion it posted through July 2019. The MCX reported $381.09 million in sales through July 2020, a more than 9-percent drop-off from year-to-date fiscal 2019 sales of $410.67 million.

Only the Coast Guard Exchange (CGX) posted heightened sales, with its activity through July at $81.49 million, a 16.3-percent increase from the $76.65 million it posted a year earlier. This might be attributed to some of the larger CGX facilities operating in off-base sites in civilian areas, making patron access easier.

Through July the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) reported that stores had posted a 2.0-percent uptick in fiscal 2020 sales, based on year-to-date sales of $3.77 million versus $3.69 million in sales from a year ago. However, there were numerous commissaries that continued to face hurdles in getting shoppers, and particularly retirees and veterans, into their stores, and this was, at least in part, greatly impacting sales at these bases.


ALA publishes an inventory of base restrictions that is assembled by DeCA. On Aug. 25, the agency released its latest update related to base and store access during the pandemic, and it painted a grim reminder that with the coronavirus far from being eradicated, shoppers — and particularly retirees and veterans and those classified as “elderly” and “high-risk” — continued to face hurdles related to getting on base to shop in their local military stores.

According to the update, the following installations were among the many that continued to have shopping restrictions placed on shoppers, and in particular, retirees and veterans:

  • Fort Buchanan, P.R.: Beginning on April 14, retirees could only shop on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and beginning on June 16, disabled veterans could shop Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
  • NAES Lakehurst, N.J.: After several months of retirees and disabled veterans having extremely limited or no shopping privileges, on June 23, disabled veterans could only shop on Tuesday and Wednesday from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m.
  • Fort Eustis, JB Langley-Fort Eustis, Va.: Retiree access to the base had been limited to Monday and Tuesday, but as of May 18, retirees were able to access the base on Friday.
  • Redstone Arsenal, Ala.: Retirees only have access on Thursday, 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. On April 9, the deputy installation commander devised a 9 a.m. to 12 moon target window for elderly shoppers. 
  • Nellis AFB, Nev.: Retirees can access the main base on the weekends — Saturday and Sunday — only.
  • Camp Pendleton, Calif.: Retirees can do their shopping only on Wednesday, and seniors age 60 and above can only do their shopping on Thursday.
  • Whidbey Island, Wash.: As of March 26, the store was open for the elderly “and any others who were at high risk” from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

In overseas stores, and particularly on European installations, the general rule has been “designate shopping times for only retirees and elderly to shop that have increased ramifications if they were to contract the virus.”


Nagle to take over as West and Pacific Deputy Area Director

FORT LEE, Va. – Robert Nagle, former Defense Commissary Agency Zone 16 manager, will assume duties Oct. 11 as deputy director of DeCA’s West and Pacific Areas.

He will have indirect oversight of 108 commissaries located in 19 states, one territory (Guam), and two countries (Japan and Korea).

He replaces Martin “Marty” Jackson who retired in June, after 24 years with DeCA.

“Bob brings us a wealth of experience, drive and passion for delivering the commissary benefit,” said Matthew S. Whittaker, Pacific Area director. “His in-depth knowledge of operations and ability to communicate will prove to be valuable assets for every zone and every store under the West and Pacific command team.”

Nagle started federal service in 1988 as a store worker at the McClellan Air Force Base commissary in California. He quickly assumed leadership roles starting as the grocery manager of the Naval Station San Diego commissary in California, and then moved on to hold various store director positions in the West Area. He became the Zone 16 manager in 2017.

As the zone manager, he was responsible for 10 commissaries located in Southern California. These locations handled 3.9 million customer transactions resulting in $243 million in sales in fiscal year 2019.

“Bob brings an understanding of the current conditions in the field, which will strengthen us as we press forward into what will be our new normal for the foreseeable future,” Whittaker added.

Bringing his vast commissary and retail grocery experience to the position, Nagle is excited to be going home to where it all started.

“I am honored to have been selected as the deputy area director,” Nagle said. “After all these years, I still have a great passion for the commissary system and what it means to our service members, their families, retirees and disabled veterans. I look forward to going home to McClellan and start supporting the teams of DeCA’s Pacific and West Areas.”

Nagle holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in economics from California State University in Sacramento, California.


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.


This press release comes courtesy of DeCA Corporate Communications