Commissaries, one of the military's most prized benefits, are in a struggle this year to cut operating costs and, at the same time, attract and keep patrons who increasingly are lured off base to shop for groceries at Wal-Mart or other discount "super" stores.
Air Force Major General Robert J. Courter, director of the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) since December 1999, came to the job with two goals: make commissary shopping more valuable and attractive (particularly to young enlisted families), and turn DeCA—with its 300 stores and 17,000 employees—into a more "business-like" operation.
Counter said too many commissaries need repairs, some staffs need to be streamlined, and prices are not delivering the value patrons expect from the benefit. He wants DeCA to turn that around through new sales programs and fiscal discipline.
Counter, known for his hard-nose management approach, is unpopular with some DeCA employees, as measured by complaints made to members of the House Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Panel, which oversees commissary operations. Courter has been criticized as being demanding and abrasive.