- FORT LEE
On Oct. 1, 1991, the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) officially took over the responsibility of providing the commissary benefit to U.S. military members and their families.
As the agency enters its 30th year, DeCA Director and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Bill Moore applauded the agency’s legacy of service.
“When you think about the enormity of forming this agency, you cannot escape the tremendous investment Congress made in DeCA to serve the greatest customers in the world,” Moore said.
“Today, that legacy of service drives us to be the military’s grocery provider of choice, reaffirming our commitment to deliver the commissary benefit to as many eligible patrons as possible at the best possible savings directed by Congress.”
LONG HISTORY OF SERVICE
The commissary benefit began in earnest in 1775, when the Continental Congress established the Office of the Commissary General of Stores and Purchases in order to provide the Continental Army with their daily rations.
The commissary benefit has taken on many shapes and forms in the past nearly 250 years, and it has always been dedicated to fulfilling customer needs throughout its history and to the present day.
This legacy of fulfilling customer needs was also prevalent through the 1800s and into the Depression years of the late 1920s and early 1930s, when many commissaries were being run in the same fashion as civilian grocery stores.
During those days, some commissaries were even offering home delivery service for families residing on post. There was a 12-item limit for home deliveries.
The commissaries continued to progress through World War II, and by 1948, each individual service ran its own commissaries with differing procedures and systems.
The Army ran the Army Troop Support Agency (TSA), the Navy ran the Navy Resale System Support Officer (NAVRESSO), and the Air Force operated the Air Force Commissary Service (AFCOMS). In the early 1970s, the Marine Corps Services Commissary Branch would operate their stores.
In 1989, after decades of separate services running commissaries, Congress directed the Department of Defense (DoD) to conduct a study of the separate military commissary systems under the leadership of Army Lt. Gen. Donald E. Jones.
The ensuing report by the Jones Commission suggested consolidating the separate service systems into one agency to improve service and save money.
As a result, the Defense Commissary Agency was established on May 15, 1990, by a memorandum from the Deputy Secretary of Defense. Army Maj. Gen. John P. Dreska was named DeCA’s first director in June 1990.
On Sept. 27, 1991, both the TSA, based here at Fort Lee, and AFCOMS, based at Kelly AFB, Texas, held deactivation ceremonies. NAVRESSO gave up its commissary functions and became the Navy Exchange Service Command (NEXCOM).
Three days later on Sept. 30, the DeCA activation and building dedication ceremony took place at its new headquarters at Fort Lee, although the activation wasn’t official until Oct. 1, at which time DeCA assumed full control of all military commissaries.
SERVING THE MILITARY
DeCA has served the military community through some trying times, including the worst pandemic in a century that struck in late 2019.
By March 2020, people were being ordered to quarantine at home and businesses and restaurants closed their doors. But commissaries remained open and would eventually be designated “mission-critical” to DoD’s pandemic response.
Early in the pandemic, shoppers rushed to their commissaries for essential items; in fact, the largest sales day in the history of the agency occurred on March 13, 2020.
DeCA’s response to the needs of its customers during the pandemic was memorable, and its response continued its long legacy of dedicating itself to serve customers and their needs to the fullest measure.
Commissaries today boast conveniences like Internet ordering/curbside pickup services; self-checkouts; digital coupons; dietitian-approved resources to identify healthy foods; sushi bars; hot foods; deli-bakeries; credit and debit card acceptance; gift certificates and much more.
The ongoing evolution of the commissary business model with variable pricing has made store brand items possible.
“I am immensely proud to acknowledge our 30th anniversary, a milestone that recognizes the hard work of our agency employees and the significance of the benefit to the military community,” Moore said.
“Although we continue to offer significant savings, our customers deserve more, and we are dedicated to providing that through clean, safe stores, healthy options and great customer service.
“Most importantly, we are making shopping the commissary easier and more convenient. I am thrilled about the future of the commissary benefit.”
NOTE: During October, DeCA will commemorate the 30th anniversary of its establishment on Oct. 1, 1991, as the military’s commissary agency. In honor of DeCA’s legacy, the agency will create a “DeCA Turns 30 Commissary Gift Card Giveaway” to celebrate this milestone. To learn more about the giveaway, go to the webpage, www.commissaries.com/anniversary, which will be published by Sept. 29.
Edited by Larry Lapka