DECA rebuilds commissaries in hurricane-ravaged area
by Rick Brink
Efforts to recover commissary operations at Hurricane Katrina-ravaged locations in Mississippi and Louisiana were progressing this week as officials raced to set up some sort of commissary services at the Naval Construction Battalion Center, Gulfport, Miss., DeCA officials said.
"This Herculean effort is being done with the cooperation and help of DeCA workers on-site, the Navy and Air Force as well as other public service organizations in the area. We're all working toward establishing some sort of commissary operations as quickly as possible, which will greatly help the entire disaster relief effort," said Patrick B. Nixon, DeCA's chief executive officer and acting director.
Hurricane Katrina entirely disrupted commissary operations at Gulfport, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., and Naval Support Activities, New Orleans, affecting the families of the more than 170 employees of those stores. The commissaries remained closed this week, and by today DeCA still had a few employees of the New Orleans store who haven't been in contact with the agency since the storm.
A top priority of the agency is to contact all employees affected by the hurricane, Nixon said. All DeCA employees and/or their family members displaced by Hurricane Katrina can call the following phone numbers for entitlement information and other guidance: DeCA Telephone Help Lines, 210-925-1109 or toll free 877-925-6655; Debbie Bracket, 210-925-2832; and Jessie Farmer, 210-925-4831. There's also the DeCA E-mail Help Address: Katrina.Help@deca.mil.
Last week, the agency dispatched a team of employees from its headquarters, Fort Stewart, Ga., MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Hunter Army Air Field, Ga., Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Ga., and Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., commissaries led by Ed Jones, the DeCA East deputy director. They arrived at Gulfport on Friday and, working out of RVs, began damage assessment and cleanup operations.
At Gulfport, officials will use an adjacent site for a temporary store that can house a 5,000-square-foot sales area, while repairs are being made to the existing commissary. The site may be operational within a few days, Nixon said.
At Keesler, the store sustained major flood damage, and among the three closed stores, it is the store that was hardest hit. Cleanup operations have begun and reconstruction plans are being coordinated with the installation. An operational date has not been determined.
At New Orleans, the commissary sustained very minimal damage. The primary mission there is to support recovery operations. The commissary will remain closed until the installation commander notifies DeCA to reopen. The parking lot is being used for a helicopter pad and troop feeding in support of the Army's 1st Cavalry and 82nd Airborne divisions.
The Defense Commissary Agency operates a worldwide chain of commissaries providing groceries to military personnel, retirees and their families in a safe and secure shopping environment. Authorized patrons purchase items at cost plus a 5-percent surcharge, which covers the costs of building new commissaries and modernizing existing ones. Shoppers save an average of 30 percent or more on their purchases compared to commercial prices - savings worth about $2,700 annually for a family of four. A core military family support element, and a valued part of military pay and benefits, commissaries contribute to family readiness, enhance the quality of life for America's military and their families, and help recruit and retain the best and brightest men and women to serve their country.