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Enlisted Shoppers Sound Off

By Rick Brink
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT LEE, Va., July 31, 1998 – Enlisted service members cleared the air about commissary hours, food stamps, crowded stores and a host of other matters when the Defense Commissary Agency top sergeant asked for their thoughts.

Army Sgt. Maj. Clevola Fedak completed a June tour of six commissaries in Texas and Oklahoma. It was the first of a series of trips she's planning for face-to-face meetings with enlisted service members.

"Our future rests with the young soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines," Fedak said. "I'm finding out what they like or don't like about the commissary, and then we'll see what we can do to make the commissary the marketplace of choice for enlisted service members."

Fedak met with enlisted members at Fort Sam Houston and Lackland and Randolph Air Force bases in Texas, and at Fort Sill and Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. Comments were favorable overall, said Fedak, who advises the agency director about enlisted shopper matters. Most unfavorable comments could be cured by more customer involvement, she added.

"I told them the commissary exists primarily to serve the active duty military population," Fedak said. "The commissary benefit is part of their paycheck. … If you don't shop the commissary, you're not getting the full benefit of your compensation." She said shoppers save nearly 30 percent on groceries -- that's more than $2,000 a year for a family of four. "That's 20 $100 bills in their pockets they can spend on something other than groceries."

Fedak said service members have a right to voice comments to the commissary officer when there's something they don't understand or like about their store.

"Shoppers vote with their pocketbooks," she said. "If they don't like a store, they go somewhere else. I understand that. But I ask enlisted shoppers to at least talk to the store manager or commissary officer first before giving up. … We're a benefit, so our commitment goes beyond just selling groceries."

She offered these observations on issues raised during her visits:

o Aisles are crowded with shoppers and product displays.

"Aisles crowded with shoppers means we're serving our customers," Fedak said. "We're constantly working on merchandising to ensure a smooth shopping flow, because we realize aisle displays sometime conflict with customer wants -- a relaxed environment, unhurried by other shoppers negotiating crowded aisles. Find out from the store staff about the best times to shop, and avoid paydays."

o Do stateside commissaries accept food stamps and WIC [Women, Infants and Children] vouchers?

"Yes," Fedak stated, "and young enlisted members with families should take time to learn about the programs. Don't worry that cashiers and store workers will embarrass you -- one couple complained to me about a cashier's derogatory remarks about their food stamps, and I learned the commissary officer had already counseled the out-of-line cashier. Food stamps and WIC vouchers help young families meet their nutritional needs. Many military families use them, and that is their right."

o My commissary's hours are inconvenient.

"Funding constraints set the number of hours each store can be open," Fedak noted, "but within their limit commissary officers can arrange hours to fit local shopping patterns and customer needs. Talk to the commissary officer about the last customer survey -- it might be time for another. The 30 percent savings, though, might be enough incentive to shop the commissary despite personally inconvenient operating hours."##

Fedak regularly visits commissaries as part of her job. She also serves as the commissary agency's liaison with the services' senior enlisted chiefs. She can be contacted by e-mail at: fedakch@hqlee.deca.mil.

(Brink is a public affairs specialist at Defense Commissary Agency headquarters, Fort Lee, Va.)

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