Government Shutdown Puts Congress Between Soldiers and Their Groceries

With government in gridlock, military commissaries close for lack of funding.

A U.S. soldier shops at the Bagram Base in Afghanistan.
National Journal
Tom DeFrank
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Tom DeFrank
Oct. 3, 2013, 10:13 a.m.

Amer­ica’s sol­diers may be earn­ing their pay dur­ing the gov­ern­ment-shut­down show­down, but they aren’t able to buy gro­cer­ies at mil­it­ary com­mis­sar­ies.

All 175 com­mis­sar­ies in 46 states and the Dis­trict of Columbia were closed in­def­in­itely on Wed­nes­day, a De­fense Com­mis­sary Agency spokes­man con­firmed.

“We are closed un­til the gov­ern­ment shut­down is re­solved,” DECA me­dia spe­cial­ist Kev­in Robin­son said.

The com­mis­sar­ies are mil­it­ary gro­cery stores that sell food items to sol­diers, re­tir­ees, and their fam­il­ies at cost plus a mod­est sur­charge. Pat­rons save about 30 per­cent on their food bills com­pared with com­mer­cial gro­cer­ies; little won­der the com­mis­sary be­ne­fit is con­sist­ently rated the most pop­u­lar perk of mil­it­ary ser­vice in cus­tom­er sur­veys.

Sixty-eight com­mis­sar­ies in 12 coun­tries, Pu­erto Rico, and Guam will re­main open, however.

Iron­ic­ally, many pat­rons of shuttered do­mest­ic com­mis­sar­ies are fam­ily mem­bers of a “spon­sor” serving in Afgh­anistan, the Horn of Africa, and oth­er hot spots. They’re strug­gling to make ends meet at home alone, and their gro­cery bill just surged.

“You can be sure a lot of those House Re­pub­lic­ans will start hear­ing from their mil­it­ary con­stitu­ents about this,” one locked-out com­mis­sary pat­ron fumed.

Many com­mis­sar­ies are loc­ated at bases throughout the South in con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts rep­res­en­ted by many House GOP law­makers adam­antly op­posed to fund­ing the gov­ern­ment un­less Obama­care is de­fun­ded or delayed.

Mil­it­ary fam­il­ies plainly saw the crunch com­ing, however, and pre­pared for the shut­down as they might have in ad­vance of a hur­ricane — by blitz­ing com­mis­sar­ies and clean­ing off store shelves.

Total com­mis­sary sales for the last day the com­mis­sar­ies were open totaled $30.6 mil­lion, more than double the nor­mal daily volume, and the top sales day in 13 years.

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