‘Happy birthday to ya!’: DeCA celebrates 27 years of delivering commissary benefit

by Tamara Eastman

Note: For photos related to DeCA’s anniversary on the agency’s Flickr page, go to



FORT LEE, Va. – Back on Oct. 1, 1991, when the Defense Commissary Agency was activated, some predicted that it wouldn’t last two years.

Twenty-seven years later, the agency is still delivering the valued commissary benefit worldwide, and ever-evolving to meet the changing needs of our military members and their families, according to retired Rear Adm. Robert J. Bianchi, DOD special assistant for commissary operations.

“I am excited about all the possibilities that lie ahead for DeCA,” Bianchi said. “We are laser-focused on offering the best savings possible and maintaining the relevance of the commissary benefit as we continue a proud history of service to the military.”

The commissary benefit itself has been around since 1825 when Army officers began purchasing goods at cost in Subsistence Department warehouses. And, 42 years later, the modern concept of commissaries began in 1867 when enlisted men were allowed the same shopping privileges that officers had enjoyed previously.

Before DeCA was created, military commissaries were initially run by the individual military installations. After World War II, the individual service branches began running their own commissaries: the U.S. Army Troop Support Agency (TSA), the Navy Resale Support Office (NAVRESSO), the Marine Corps Services Command and the Air Force Commissary Service (AFCOMS). The U.S. Coast Guard operated scaled down stores inside their exchanges.

In 1989, Congress directed the Department of Defense to conduct a study on the separate military systems. As a result it was recommended that the separate systems be consolidated into one agency in order to save money and improve customer services. Thus, the Defense Commissary Agency was established in May 1990 and by Oct. 1, 1991, the agency assumed control of all commissaries.

Since 1991, DeCA has seen many changes as it adapted to the evolving retail environment and the needs of the military service members it serves. For example:

  • The agency can now employ variable pricing to offer products that commissary patrons buy most at more competitive savings compared to what’s sold in commercial stores.
  • The addition of private label store brands under the names Freedom’s Choice for food items; HomeBase for nonfood items; TippyToes for baby products; Full Circle Market for natural and organic food options; and TopCare for health and beauty care items.
  • DeCA is launching a new and improved CLICK2GO program, its online shopping and curbside pickup service, which allows customers to place their grocery orders online, then drive up at the commissary and have their groceries brought to their car by commissary employees.
  • Customers can use self-checkout systems and choose bagger-less lanes. 

Over the years those eligible to shop in the commissaries have included active duty in the armed forces and their immediate family members; retirees and their spouses; active duty Reserves and National Guard; honorably discharged veterans with a 100 percent service-connected disability; and recipients of the Medal of Honor. The list grew recently with the addition of DeCA civilian employees.

“As we move forward, this agency will keep charging to deliver a premier customer experience in every store by providing a relevant and vital benefit,” Bianchi said.

Subscribe to our Stripes Pacific newsletter and receive amazing travel stories, great event info, cultural information, interesting lifestyle articles and more directly in your inbox!

Follow us on social media!

Facebook: Stars and Stripes Pacific
Flipboard: Stars and Stripes Community Sites

Looking to travel while stationed abroad? Check out our other Pacific community sites!
Stripes Japan
Stripes Okinawa
Stripes Korea

Recommended Content