Reservists Need Commissary Cards for Extra Shopping
By Bonnie Powell
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORT LEE, Va., Apr. 16, 1999 Reservists who don't have their Commissary Privilege Card yet may be spending up to 30 percent too much for their groceries.
Congress voted last fall to double to 24 the number of commissary visits reserve component members and "gray-area" retirees can make each year. But you still need the Commissary Privilege Card to get in the door. Guard and Reserve units issue the cards to their members.
Gray-area reserve retirees are those under age 60 who will be eligible for retired pay when they hit that magic number. The shopping privilege also applies to the dependents of reserve component and Retired Reserve personnel.
"Service in the National Guard and Reserve is now more challenging and more difficult then ever before," said Charles L. Cragin, acting assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs. "Doubling the commissary access for reservists and their families helps to level the playing field and improve their quality of life."
According to Col. James Scott of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, "many reservists feel it's a significant entitlement. The problem is lack of awareness -- the reservists don't always know about the benefit or take advantage of it."
John Gannon, a retired sergeant major who is a key volunteer with reserve and family support groups, agrees. During his travels, he talks to thousands of reservists and many of them don't understand the significant money they can save at the commissary.
"How do you know you can't save money if you don't go?" he asks them. "It's a major benefit to reservists. They might not see it now, but if they don't start using it now, one day they will wake up and their biggest benefit will be gone!"
"We encourage all Guard and Reserve personnel to use their shopping privilege," said Bill Ritz, a commissary management specialist who oversees the Defense Commissary Agency's Guard and Reserve shopping policy. "They will enjoy shopping for groceries in modern stores and get great value in the bargain."
For calendar 1999, the services indicate they will issue two 12-visit cards to authorized reserve component and Retired Reserve members. The calendar 2000 card will contain 24 blocks.
To shop the commissary, reservists (or immediate family) need a valid ID card and a current Commissary Privilege Card that entitles them to 24 shopping days. Cards, usually obtained from the Reserve or Guard unit administrator, are stamped or initialed at each store visit. Reserve and Guard personnel on active duty are entitled to unlimited commissary visits and do not have to present their cards.
Gray-area reserve retirees usually get their cards by mail, but "judging from some of the phone calls I've gotten, it's not automatic," said reserve affairs spokesman Lt. Col. Terry Jones. "Often when they were processed out, no one told them about the benefit."
Scott said retirees who want "into the system" should obtain a card by mail by contacting their regional personnel support team. Reservists needing a privilege card should contact their unit administrator or call: Army Reserve, 1-800-325-1869; Navy Reserve, 1-800 535-2699, ext. 5500 or (504) 678-5500; Marine Corps Reserve, (703) 784- 9317; or Air Force Reserve, 1-800-525-0102, ext. 227
The new DoD policy also allows National Guard members on state active duty for federally declared disaster operations (and their dependents) to use commissary stores during the period of their active service. The required documentation is a military order stating that the National Guard member is serving in support of a federally declared disaster.
Internet-connected reservists can obtain information on commissary shopping and the privilege card at http://www.army.mil/usar/ar-perscom/pasd.htm#anchor000008 or http://www.arpc.org/director/dr/cards.htm.
[Bonnie Powell is public affairs officer of the Southern Area Office of the Defense Commissary Agency Eastern Region at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.]