Commissaries honor Army’s 244 years of service

Commissaries honor Army’s 244 years of service

by Tamara Eastman

FORT LEE, Va. – The United States Army marks its 244th anniversary on June 14. On that day in 1775, the Continental Congress established the Army and named General George Washington as its first commanding general.

The history of commissaries and the military actually go hand in hand. It’s a relationship that lives on today with the Defense Commissary Agency as 77 of its stores operate on Army installations serving active duty soldiers, Army Reservists and National Guardsmen, and Army retirees and their family members.

“The commissary continues to be one of the most important benefits to military families wherever they’re stationed,” said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Tomeka N. O’Neal, senior enlisted advisor to the DeCA director. “Throughout my career the savings realized in shopping the commissary has definitely reinforced the quality of life for me and my family.”

The commissary mission for the Army officially began in 1775 when Congress created the Office of the Commissary General to provide the Army’s daily rations. Officers in charge of subsistence were called chief commissaries.

Commissaries began selling food from their warehouses at cost to Army officers in 1825; by 1841 they were also allowed to purchase items for their families.

Getting daily rations to the soldiers proved rather difficult in the early days. Initially, sutlers began following the troops and selling them the items that didn’t get in the troops’ rations – at exorbitant prices, of course. Most of the time the quality of the food was inferior as well.

In 1866, in the wake of the sutlers’ abuses, Congress passed a law allowing soldiers of all ranks to shop at Army subsistence stores starting on July 1, 1867 – this was the start of the modern commissary benefit. Many of these early stores were set up in abandoned warehouses. Eventually, these subsistence stores became sales commissaries, selling goods at cost and providing soldiers with groceries at reasonable prices.

In 1899, the first commissary to open overseas was an Army store in Cuba. Later, overseas commissaries followed in China in 1900, Panama in 1904 and France during World War I. By the time World War II ended, hundreds of commissaries were operating all over the world. Eventually, each military service would control their own commissary operations.

In 1990, Congress and the Defense Department decided to consolidate the individual service commissary systems. At that time Army commissaries were run by the service’s Troop Support Agency. With the formation of the Defense Commissary Agency on Oct. 1, 1991, all service commissaries – 411 stores in all – fell under DOD control.

Since 1867, U.S. commissaries have existed on every continent except Antarctica in more than 1,000 locations. Today DeCA continues to serve the military and its families at nearly 240 stores in 13 countries.

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