Commissaries put high priority on health and safety of its patrons

Army Col. Alisa R. Wilma, the Defense Commissary Agency’s former director of public health and safety
Army Col. Alisa R. Wilma, the Defense Commissary Agency’s former director of public health and safety

Commissaries put high priority on health and safety of its patrons

by Kevin L. Robinson

FORT LEE, Va. – When it comes to public health and safety in military commissaries, the Department of Defense has unique standards to match the stores’ special patronage – the men and women serving in uniform and their families.

It’s those standards that set commissaries apart from commercial grocers, said Army Col. Alisa R. Wilma, the Defense Commissary Agency’s former director of public health and safety.

Since June 1, Wilma has assumed her new assignment as the deputy commander for DOD’s Regional Health Command-Central at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Army Lt. Col. Angela M. Parham, former command veterinarian for the United States Army Central Command (USARCENT) headquarters, reports to DeCA June 21 as the new director of public health and safety.

Days before she left DeCA, Wilma spoke about her nearly three years at the commissary agency.

“Shortly after I arrived at DeCA in 2016 we had a hurricane [Matthew] and a commissary in Florida lost electricity,” she recalled. “We didn’t have a solid time as to how long its freezers had been out of power; so, we didn’t have good data on how long the products inside the freezer had been out of temperature. Now if it’s under four hours, we’re good, and can drive on. If it’s over four hours we cannot [sell that product].

“Since we didn’t have definitive data, we threw the product out. I cannot guarantee that an outside grocer would have made the same decision. And yes that’s government dollars, but we made that decision in the pursuit of patron safety. We just have higher standards.”

Supporting an operation with nearly 240 commissaries in 13 nations that serves more than 5 million military households can be a daunting task, one that DeCA’s public health and safety embraces heartily, Wilma said.

“If we do everything right, no one gets sick; no one gets hurt,” she said about the health and safety mission. “I’d like to think I’ve taken my team – people who are incredibly talented and hard-working – and communicated their value to this agency, so that our stores know we are here to help.”

DeCA’s food safety mission ensures that all edible products destined for commissary shelves are inspected by military veterinarians once it arrives at the store, checking products to ensure that they’ve arrived from the documented place of origin within the right temperature and free of any pests or signs of foodborne diseases.

The agency’s occupational health and safety responsibilities are just as challenging when you consider agency specialists are charged with tracking U.S. federal requirements along with those governing the local national employees in the country where the store operates.

Much of what public health and safety does involves preventing an issue of food safety before it occurs or eliminating potential dangers in the commissary that could harm patrons and employees alike, said Rogers E. Campbell, executive director of DeCA’s Store Operations Group.

“Col. Wilma has done a fine job leading a talented team of professionals whose daily mission is to help protect our products and keep our stores safe places in which to shop and work,” Campbell said. “It’s through her efforts that our operators continue to value the effectiveness of the public health and safety mission.”

Wilma reported to DeCA Sept. 19, 2016, from Fort Benning, Georgia, where she served as commander of the 463rd Medical Detachment (Veterinary Service Support).

Throughout her career, she’s served at varied places such as Fort Dix, New Jersey; Camp Darby, Italy and Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

Wilma has also served overseas in various assignments such as the command veterinarian for the Area Support Group-Kuwait at Camp Arifjan Kuwait, where she supervised all clinical and preventive veterinary services throughout Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates and Oman (2010 to 2012);  and the U.S. Army Africa/Southern European Task Force, where she planned veterinary missions throughout Africa and supported the command’s food safety and preventive medicine mission (2012 to 2014).

From August 2014 to August 2016, while commander of the 463rd Medical Detachment, she deployed teams to Liberia in support of Operation United Assistance as part of the Ebola relief effort and to Kosovo as part of NATO’s international peacekeeping force. In July 2015, she also deployed the 463rd to Kuwait in support of Operation Spartan Shield, Operation Inherent Resolve and Operation Enduring Freedom. During this deployment members of her unit further deployed to Qatar, Jordan, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I’m going to miss this place,” Wilma said of DeCA. “I think the next three to five years are going to be absolutely fascinating to see how the commissary continues to evolve to make certain that our service members, our retirees and their families have the benefit they rely on. Preserving this benefit is critical, I think. There are a million ways to preserve it, and we have great leadership that is exploring every avenue for doing so.

“As for the public health and safety mission, I know my team is going to carry this mission forward,” she said. “I have great confidence in my successor, [Lt.] Col Parham. She is going to be a fantastic fit for this agency. She has great experience in both food safety and the science behind epidemiology that will translate wonderfully in our occupational safety. And the backbone, our team members, will help our stores deliver a commissary benefit that’s as healthy and safe as possible.”

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