HAPPY ANNIVERSARY: Commissaries honor Air Force’s 74 years of service
Note: To see a video related to DeCA's observance of the Air Force birthday, click here.
FORT LEE, Va. – U.S. airmen and their families have been served by the commissary benefit since the Air Force’s creation 74 years ago, so it’s with pride that the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) joins with them in observing the service’s birthday on Sept. 18.
The United States Air Force is linked to the Army Air Forces, the aerial warfare service component of the United States Army during and right after World War II.
On July 26, 1947, Congress passed the National Security Act, a law that gave birth to the National Military Establishment (NME), which later became the Department of Defense (DOD). At that time, the military had three branches: The Army, the Navy and later the Marine Corps, and the newly formed Air Force. On Sept. 18, 1947, W. Stuart Symington was sworn in as the secretary of the newly created Air Force.
Today, DOD recognizes the commissary benefit as mission critical, and throughout the years it has gained the admiration and gratitude of airmen and their families, said Marine Sgt. Maj. Michael R. Saucedo, senior enlisted advisor to the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) director.
“At DeCA we salute the Air Force’s 74 years of service by delivering a commissary benefit that provides valuable savings to airmen, retirees and family members,” Saucedo said. “The commissary consistently ranks as one of the military’s top non-pay benefits, and many of our young service families simply could not make ends meet each month without the savings provided by the commissaries.”
Upon its creation, the Air Force inherited all of the Army Air Forces’ facilities including commissaries. The stores were a major benefit for military families, especially those living overseas in Japan and Germany.
For many years the separate military services ran their own commissaries with some assistance from the various service headquarters. They served airmen and their families with pride and began to standardize some of their methodology and terminology with the implementation of the Armed Forces Commissary Regulation of 1949.
Initially, local commanders were responsible for their bases’ commissaries. Stores made their own decisions about commodity purchasing, shelf stocking, hours, and more. There was little standardization, no continuity of operations, no uniformity and no real career path for civilian or military commissary workers.
In 1952, DOD instituted a 2-percent surcharge on purchases at all military commissaries and this gradually increased until 1983 when it reached the current 5 percent level. The surcharge pays for supplies and equipment as well as renovation, construction and maintenance of commissaries.
In the early 1970s, commissary policy and guidance came from the Supply Support and Services Office at Air Force Headquarters in the Pentagon. Professional assistance came from the Air Force Commissary Stores Branch in the Air Force Services Office in Philadelphia, part of the Air Force Logistics Command.
When the armed forces became all-volunteer in 1973, the commissary benefit’s importance to recruitment and detention increased. In 1976 the formation of the Air Force Commissary Service (AFCOMS) centralized guidance and control for the Air Force’s 181 commissaries under one agency headquartered in Kelly Air Force Base, Texas.
Before AFCOMS, all branch commissaries were supplied by the Army Quartermaster Corps. AFCOMS continued to manage the Air Force commissaries until the Defense Commissary Agency formed in 1991.
Today, the commissary benefit remains as one of the key reasons for enlisting and reenlisting in the armed forces, chiefly because of the potential to save thousands of dollars annually compared to shopping in civilian grocery stores.
Photo caption: The commissary at Homestead Air Force Base, Florida, serves customers in 1962. (Commissary historical files)
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.