Legacy of service: On July 1, commissaries hit 157-year mark in providing valuable benefit of low-cost groceries to troops (2024)

FORT GREGG-ADAMS, Va. – What is considered today to be the “modern” commissary benefit began on July 1, 1867, when enlisted service members were declared eligible to receive the same quality of life support previously only available to officers since 1825.

One hundred-fifty-seven years later, the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) remains committed to carrying on the legacy of service that began in buildings that once served as warehouses and horse stables, said DeCA Director and CEO John Hall.

“The commissary has always been a valuable quality of life benefit to help sustain our military families,” Hall said. “Today, we want every eligible customer to be aware their commissary offers the highest quality products at the lowest prices possible.”

The commissary sales stores of the distant past were nothing like today’s commissaries that offer a wide variety of fresh produce and products with easy access to shopping – including online shopping through DeCA’s Commissary CLICK2GO program.

The early stores in the late 1860s and early 1870s were set up in former wooden horse stables or warehouses. Customers stepped up to a wooden counter and handed their shopping list to a clerk, who filled the order and took payment. Commissaries in 1896 typically had a stock list of only 81 items compared to the 15,000 products available at many commissaries today.

When U.S. troops started deploying overseas, commissaries followed. The first overseas commissary opened in Cuba in 1899 followed by another in China in 1900. The commissary in Panama opened in 1904.

During World War I, the U.S. Army ran commissaries in France and included mobile stores that operated from the back of trucks and carried goods to the men on the frontlines.

The Naval Appropriations Act of 1909 created an allowance for the Navy’s own stores, and the service opened its first store in Washington, D.C., in 1910.

When World War II ended, U.S. military commissaries were operating around the world on every continent except Antarctica in more than a thousand locations. Before DeCA was created, each service had responsibility for running its on commissary program under the following organizations:

  • The Air Force Commissary Service (AFCOMS) was officially activated in January 1976 at its headquarters at Kelly Air Force Base in Texas. By October 1976, AFCOMS had assumed control of nearly all Air Force commissaries. Before AFCOMs, the Air Force began running commissaries in 1947 that were serviced by the Army Quartermaster Corps until 1952, when the Air Force Services Division assumed the responsibility.
  • The Troop Support Agency (TSA) became the centralized management system for all Army commissaries on Feb. 1, 1976. The first 19 stores that fell under the command of the TSA belonged to the Southeast Region. The TSA field office was located at Fort Lee, Virginia, now known as Fort Gregg-Adams.
  • The Navy Ship’s Store Office began running Navy commissaries in 1946. It became known as the Navy Resale Support Office in 1969. By 1979, the Navy Resale Services Support Office took the helm and, in 1981, moved its headquarters from Brooklyn, New York to Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island.
  • Before 1991, the Coast Guard operated “comstores” consisting of a grocery section inside an exchange operation. Eventually, two of these comstores fell under DeCA’s operational control: one located at Governors Island, New York (which closed in 1996), and the other still open on Kodiak, Alaska, in the Aleutian Islands.
  • In the 1970s, the Marine Corps Services Division ran the Corps’ 12 commissaries from Marine Corps Headquarters in Rosslyn, Virginia.

The Army and Navy ran their commissaries differently in the 1950s and 1960s. For example, the Navy sought to combine their exchanges and commissaries under one roof. Some Navy stores sold beer. The Army stores could sell shampoo, shaving cream, razors, cigarettes and tobacco products, candy, gum and soft drinks, but the Navy did not. Those items were available only in the exchanges.

In 1959, the Navy ran commissaries in Vietnam beginning in Saigon. Eventually, they were operating branch stores all over Vietnam that served the U.S. service personnel and their families, along with U.S. news reporters, contract workers and government workers stationed in South Vietnam. The United States also operated dairies in Vietnam beginning in 1965. In April 1966, the Army began running the stores in Vietnam.

In 1990, Congress and the Department of Defense decided to consolidate the individual service commissaries under one agency, the Defense Commissary Agency, which opened its doors on Oct. 1, 1991.

On Dec. 20, 2019, the National Defense Authorization Act was signed into law and created the first new branch of the armed forces since 1947: the United States Space Force. Presently, there are five Space Force bases in the United States, and DeCA runs a commissary on each of these bases.

Today, DeCA continues to serve the military and their family members at 235 stores in 13 countries. The agency boosts the value of the benefit through programs such as online ordering and payment; the Your Everyday Savings (YES!) program, which lowers prices on trending products; Commissary Store Brands that offer quality private label products at significant savings; and dietitian-approved programs to help customers make healthier shopping choices.


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.

Legacy of service: On July 1, commissaries hit 157-year mark in providing valuable benefit of low-cost groceries to troops (2024)


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