Commissaries celebrate 226 years of Coast Guard service

Photo used with permission.

Photo used with permission.

FORT LEE, Va. -- While the Defense Commissary Agency’s 25th birthday on Oct. 1 is fast approaching, the agency salutes the people it has had the privilege to serve for the last 25 years: the men, women, and families of the military community.

In August, DeCA observes the 226th birthday of the U.S. Coast Guard. Congress established the Coast Guard, at the time it was called the “Revenue Cutter Service,” on Aug. 4, 1790.

The Coast Guard is a multi-mission service unique among the U.S. military branches. It has a maritime law enforcement mission as well as duties as a federal regulatory agency and is not controlled by the Department of Defense. Until 1967 the Coast Guard had been a branch of the Treasury Department, but then control was transferred to the Department of Transportation.

In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Coast Guard transitioned to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2003. It can be transferred to the Navy Department by the president at any time or by Congress during wartime. This transfer has only occurred twice: during World War I and II.

The Coast Guard began selling groceries to its community after the Navy began using commissaries in 1909 and 1910. After the first and second world wars, all services, including the Coast Guard, discovered that commissaries were a valuable inducement to enlistment and retention.

The Coast Guard never had many commissaries in the modern sense of the word. Instead, most USCG grocery stores were located inside their exchanges. By the 1980s, there were 15 such stores; 11 of them located on bases on or near the Atlantic Ocean, two near the Pacific, and two more located near the Great Lakes.

When DeCA started up in 1991, it assumed control of one of the few true commissaries the Coast Guard owned: the store on Governors Island, located south of Manhattan, squarely on the approach to New York City’s harbor. Base Realignment and Closure actions shut down the Governors Island installation in 1996, but DeCA took control of the Coast Guard’s commissary at Kodiak Coast Guard Station, Alaska, located on Kodiak Island in the Aleutians, at virtually the same time.

Today, DeCA continues to manage the Kodiak store, the only Coast Guard store on DeCA’s books. Located in a large building that also houses the station’s exchange, credit union, post office, and several concessionaires, Kodiak is one of DeCA’s most unique stores. Its exterior is unglamorous, but designed specifically to stand up to harsh weather and heavy snow.

No exterior signage advises what functions are housed inside, but it’s safe to say the station’s population knows exactly where their commissary is. After all, it supplies vital goods for people stationed at a location that truly is ‘at the far end of the pipeline.’