More food for your buck

When active-duty military members, retirees and their families shop for their groceries at the commissary or grocery store at Minot and Grand Forks Air Force bases, they save an average of 30 percent or more compared to civilian stores.

The savings amount to thousands of dollars annually when shopping regularly at a commissary, according to the Defense Commissary Agency. That agency, headquartered at Fort Lee, Va., provides groceries at the worldwide chain of military commissaries.

Commissary customers buy items at cost plus a 5-percent surcharge which covers the costs of building new commissaries and modernizing existing ones, according to the ( website.

Budget review

As part of the massive budget review, the Defense Commissary Agency has been asked by Department of Defense officials to come up with a plan to close most U.S. commissaries for budget cuts, according to national news sources.

But officials pointed out that no decisions have been made and that all programs must be reviewed.

The request for such a plan reportedly was made by Robert Hale, the Defense Department’s under secretary of defense (Comptroller), and Air Force Lt. Gen. Mark Ramsay, director of force structure, resources and assessment for the Joint Staff.

The controversy over commissaries actually goes back to when Donald Rumsfeld began as defense secretary and asked whether the Defense Department should be running a chain of grocery stores. John Molino, a top Defense Department official, told American Forces Press Service for a story published in 2003. He said they did a detailed analysis on whether there were other ways to deliver the commissary benefit and the conclusion was the commissaries needed to stay as something done within the Defense Department.

A number of news agencies reported in November 2013, the Defense Department was considering closing some or all of the stateside commissaries to cut costs and had asked the Defense Commissary Agency to make a plan.

When the Military Times newspaper group conducted a survey of commissary shoppers, it concluded that commissaries are still a highly valued benefit for active-duty members, especially those who are enlisted.

Any cuts in commisssary benefits would require the approval of Congress.