Pending commissary cuts trouble Hill airmen and retirees

Monday , March 24, 2014 - 9:55 AM

An airman enters the Hill Air Force Base Commissary. The Department of Defense plans to cut funding...

Mitch Shaw, Standard-Examiner Staff

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — It’s a good news, bad news scenario: while it appears military commissaries aren’t going anywhere, the money used to run them is being slashed and customers will have to make up some of the difference.

Late last year, news reports circulated indicating the Department of Defense was planning to close commissaries across the country. Since then, the DoD has said there are currently no plans to close any commissaries, but that the fiscal year 2015 budget request includes major cuts to the commissary subsidy.

Under the proposed budget, the commissary system would become partially self-sustaining through a phased budgetary reduction of $1 billion.

The cuts would be made over a series of three years, with $200 million being cut in fiscal year 2015, $600 million in 2016, and another $200 million in 2017.

The Defense Commissary Agency would continue to receive approximately $400 million each year to fund shipping goods overseas and to subsidize about 25 commissaries in remote locations in the U.S.

As a result of the cuts, patrons will be charged more to fund operations for commissaries.

Nancy O’Nell, a public affairs specialist with DeCA, said service member savings at all commissaries would be reduced from about 30 percent to 10 percent.

Customers interviewed at Hill Air Force Base’s commissary didn’t seem particularly thrilled with the news.

The base commissary is open not only to Hill active-duty employees, but to military retirees all over the Top of Utah. In addition to traditional grocery items, the commissary has a bakery and a deli and offers custom cakes, fresh sandwiches to go, rotisserie chicken and even sushi.

Hill Staff Sgt. Joshua Jorgensen said he often visits the commissary for lunch because it provides healthy meal options not found elsewhere on base.

“You can come here and have some healthier options,” he said. “It’s not all fast food in here. Plus, it’s cheaper to eat here too.”

Jorgensen lives in Roy and said he typically shops at the grocery store nearest to his home, but for bulk shopping, he often goes to the commissary.

Layton resident and retired Air Force member George Kirkpatrick, 83, said he does all of his grocery shopping at the base commissary. He shops at the store every two weeks and rarely visits outside groceries stores.

Dan Petrizzo, the base’s Retiree Activities Office director, said cuts to commissaries will hurt elderly military retirees like Kirkpatrick the most.

“It’s a cost savings for them,” Petrizzo said. “A lot of them didn’t retire with a lot of money.”

Retired Navy Capt. Dick Schaffert, a resident of Roy, said he also does his grocery shopping strictly at the Hill commissary.

“We use it for all of our needs,” he said. “And I tell you, we wouldn’t make it on our retiree pay if we did not.”

Schaffert says that during his military career, commissaries greatly eased his financial burdens. He said he feels bad for the service members of today’s generation who continue to see their benefits erode.

“Without the commissaries, I wouldn’t have made it — flat out,” he said. “And I know there are people in that same boat today. The all volunteer force is not going to volunteer when you take away those benefits that are so doggone important.”

Contact reporter Mitch Shaw at 801-625-4233 or mishaw@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23.

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