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Consumer Watch: Commissary complaint brings up eligibility, supply and demand

Aug. 12, 2009 - 10:51AM   |   Last Updated: Aug. 12, 2009 - 10:51AM  |  
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A reader complains that his commissary at Fort Hamilton, N.Y., is being "raided" by people who are not eligible to shop.

People who are not in uniform bring others to shop at the commissary, he says.

"They will take three or four shopping carts and clean out all of the fresh produce, meat and dairy," wrote the shopper, who asked that his name not be used. "That commissary benefit is critical to living within your means while stationed in a city like [New York]."

After reading that letter, I conducted an experiment at a commissary in the Washington, D.C. area. As an authorized shopper, I instinctively had my ID card ready to produce at the commissary entrance as usual, in case they asked for it.

They didn't, but that's not unusual, because not all installations require IDs to be checked at commissary entrances. But if they don't check at the entrance, they should definitely check at the cash register.

After my shopping, I headed to the cash register. The cashier never asked me for identification. A week later, I went back to the same store and sailed through again without being asked for my ID.

Part of the issue may be that most people whip out their IDs at the register without being asked. I watched shoppers ahead of me and behind me do this. I'd never even noticed how automatic this is with us commissary shoppers.

Perhaps that habit makes cashiers a little complacent.

Defense Commissary Agency spokesman Kevin Robinson verified that it is Defense Department policy for all shoppers to be identified as authorized patrons at the point of purchase the register.

"If a commissary cashier forgets to ask for a customer's ID at the point of purchase, it is an oversight and not DeCA or DoD policy," Robinson said.

ID cards are checked at the entrance only when the installation commander determines it is necessary because of installation security requirements.

The installation commander also determines "whether visitors will be authorized to accompany patrons into the commissary," Robinson said. But only authorized patrons are allowed to make purchases, regardless of who they bring in with them.

Because commissary prices are low when compared with stores outside the gate, he said, the fresh meat, produce and dairy departments are very popular with customers.

"The store invites customers who plan to make large purchases to let the staff know a couple days in advance so they can order appropriate quantities."

As for customers who don't find what they're looking for? Ask a department manager for help.

"Usually it's a matter of restocking after a rush," Robinson said.

TVs, computers

From Aug. 19-30, if you use your Military Star Card to buy a new TV or computer valued at $699 or more at the Navy exchange, you will get six months with no interest, no down payment and no payments. But have that money available in your savings account so you can pay the credit card balance off after six months to avoid interest charges.

Save a nickel a gallon

You'll get a discount of 5 cents a gallon on gas at Army and Air Force Exchange Service gas stations when you pay with a Military Star Card, the exchanges' credit card, under a program that started Aug. 8. That's up from the 3 cents a gallon discount implemented earlier.

In addition, AAFES will periodically offer more savings on gas. The first promotion will be Aug. 21-23, when drivers will save 20 cents per gallon (up to 20 gallons) when paying with the Military Star Card.

As always, do some comparison shopping with other gas stations. And pay the credit card balance each month or you'll negate any savings.

Marine Corps money orders

The Aug. 3 column reported that Army and Air Force Exchange Service stores have stopped selling money orders. Marine Corps exchanges do not sell money orders, because those stores were included in the AAFES contract. Marine Corps Exchange officials plan to issue a request for proposals for a contract to bring back the money order service, spokesman Bryan Driver said.

Questions or comments? E-mail staff writer from reader">Karen Jowers.

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