I read with dismay a feature in the Washington Post newspaper that identified commissaries as a logical source of defense budget savings. At the outset I want to say that, like every taxpayer, I understand the budgetary challenges facing America and in particular the Department of Defense. However, the commissary is a money-saving benefit that is often cited as a critical recruitment and retention tool that also supplements the military family’s quality of life.
Commissaries provide a 31 percent saving to military families for a total in 2012 of $2.76 billion or more than $4000 annually for a family of four. In 2012 sales totaled $6.09 billion which was the highest since the commissary agency’s founding in 1991. The 5 percent surcharge that each patron pays generated $312.5 million to fund new stores, new equipment and renovation of existing facilities.
Commissaries also provide military-related employment. Nearly 64 percent of commissary workers have a direct connection to the military as military spouses, children of service members, veterans, retirees and Reserve Component members. Also, for every dollar of taxpayer funds invested in the commissary benefit, authorized shoppers received $2.10 in savings. Further, the commissary agency is a responsible steward of taxpayer funds – it is one of the only defense entities that have received a clean audit of its financials for the past 11 years.
Those are the facts and figures, but there is also a larger issue. I sense among those who suggest military compensation and benefits should be the bill payer in the defense budget wars, an abject failure to understand the enormous difference between a soldier’s career in the profession of arms and the non-federal civilian job environment.
Our nation demands much from its military, and the benefits in place are not gifts – they have been earned through blood, sweat, toil, repeated deployments, missed births, birthdays and anniversaries and sometimes loss of limbs or life. The nation must not break faith with its warriors - as General Sherman wrote to General Grant, “I knew wherever I was that you thought of me, and if I got in a tight place you would come--if alive" – military personnel must know that their sacrifice will be remembered and honored by the nation they serve.
Suggesting that the burden of our nation’s fiscal mess should be shifted to the backs of our defense forces –less than one percent of our population who volunteer for decades of service in harm’s way defending our way of life – is disingenuous.
Military personnel are not a faceless group – they are the few who are willing to carry our colors into battle and to offer up their life in the process. They – both active and retired – must be given the respect and dignity that results in a reliable benefits package that will not be washed away by the tides of temporary fiscal storms.