Commissaries are playing more of a role in the effort to increase healthy, fresh food options on military bases — to include a partnership with 10 Army bases to bring the food to kiosks/outposts where service members can use their meal card to purchase certain items.
Commissary officials are now working with the Air Force on a similar pilot program and would like to expand to the other service branches.
Other efforts are going on inside the store and out.
“We’re really expanding our deli operations” to reach single soldiers, said Defense Commissary Agency Director John Hall. “We’ve seen an increase in those sales as we make it convenient for them to order sandwiches, salads at lunchtime, particularly health options.”
Marine Sgt. Major Michael Saucedo, the commissary agency’s senior enlisted adviser, said that when he visits military bases he encourages leaders to view commissaries, with their selection of ready-to-eat items, as a meal destination.
“There are healthy options. We have dietician-approved options. … They can go in there and grab it,” Saucedo said, adding that commissaries have “front-of-the-line privileges” for service members, too.
In the Army pilot program, soldiers can pick up sandwiches, sushi, salads, breakfast sandwiches, fresh cut fruit and drinks. The kiosks and outposts “are located in places across the installation that are convenient to soldiers,” Hall said. “It’s taking the benefit where the soldiers are located.”
Anyone with a DoD Common Access Card can purchase the items and can use their meal card or other forms of payment. Service members purchase what’s available at the time of shopping. The dining facility personnel order the items for the kiosks and outposts from the commissary using a master catalog that has been vetted through an Army dietician.
For several years, there has been discussion about providing more healthy food options for troops on military bases, and enabling troops to use their meal card at locations outside the dining facility was one of the options discussed. A 2022 Government Accountability Office report questioned whether dining facilities are wasting money because troops don’t eat there. It called for better tracking to determine whether the facilities are meeting their primary mission of feeding the troops.
“The soldiers use the outpost like they would use a dining facility, except the outpost/kiosk is either in their barracks or centralized near their barracks area,” said commissary agency spokesman Kevin Robinson.
Some are contiguous to fitness centers, so they can walk next door and use their meal card at the kiosk. At Fort Wainwright, Alaska, there’s a kiosk in a barracks, and “soldiers can walk downstairs to the common area to take advantage of the commissary using their meal card,” Saucedo said.
Those 10 Army bases are Fort Bliss and Fort Cavazos, Texas; Fort Carson, Colorado; Fort Drum, New York; Fort Johnson, Louisiana; Fort Liberty North, North Carolina; Fort Riley, Kansas; Fort Stewart, Georgia; Fort Wainwright, Alaska; and Lewis Main at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.
“Every time I’m in a store at lunchtime, I see service members at the deli buying sandwiches, salads … so if we can deliver that, it just makes the benefit even better,” Hall said.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.