The military commissary began in 1825 as a place to purchase goods at Army posts, paying at-cost pricing. Initially, the commissary was open only to active-duty military, and then in 1841, it opened to family members as well. The goal of the commissaries was to provide nutritious food no matter where the military was located – from near a city to the frontier away from the developed areas. A commissary was at every Army post, no matter the location. This included expanding to the Philippines and China in the early 1900s.
The Defense Department commissioned a study in 1989 that recommended the consolidation of the different military service branches’ commissary systems into one and in 1990 the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) was established. The commissaries of today continue to provide groceries and products to military families at a lower costs. Congress has mandated a 5-percent surcharge on the items to cover the costs of building new commissaries and modernizing and updating current ones.
When living in areas of a high cost of living, and in overseas locations where it may be difficult to get familiar groceries, the military commissaries have relied upon resources. The savings of groceries including no sales tax can save families lots of money. In a time when the cost of living is increasing all around the world, every little bit helps.
The patron list has historically included active-duty members and their families and expanded to include military retirees and their families in 1879. Now that COVID-19 restrictions have lessened, the patron groups are open to disabled veterans, Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war and their certified primary caregivers.