By David Pendered
Georgia’s two senators and 12 of 14 congressmen sent a letter Wednesday to the Department of Defense, requesting the commissary at Fort McPherson remain open until a replacement is opened at Dobbins Air Reserve Base. The closure is set for Sept. 28.
“These heroes have earned this benefit through service to their nation. … Service members and veterans in the Atlanta area deserve access to the commissary they were promised by their government,” states the letter sent to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Lithonia) and signed by all but two members of Georgia’s congressional delegation.
The battle to keep the commissary open is the latest wrinkle in the military’s plan to convert the shuttered base to civilian use. Progress on residential and commercial redevelopment has been waylaid by the great recession and other issues.
Part of the trouble regarding the commissary is that a planned replacement facility at Dobbins has not been opened. An estimated 60,000 veterans reside in metro Atlanta and the only commissary in the region is the one at Fort McPherson.
Commissaries are an important benefit for active and retired members of the military. Goods cost, on average, 30 percent less than they would at a civilian supermarket because they are sold at cost plus a 5 percent surcharge to “active duty military personnel and retirees, members of the Reserve and National Guard, and their families,” according to the Defense Commissary Agency. The agency runs more than 250 commissaries worldwide.
One indication of the value the military places on commissaries is that a new one opened Aug. 31 in Chinhae, South Korea, to replace one built in the 1960s.
According to a statement about the new commissary in South Korea, it will feature, “fresh produce, fresh meat, chill, frozen and grocery sections. Made-to-order, fresh-baked cakes and breads, and fruit and vegetable trays.”
Political pressure to maintain the commissary at Fort McPherson is being brought to bear by groups including the Fort McPherson Action Community Coalition and Georgia Stand-Up.
Fulton County Commissioner Robb Pitts sent letters on Sept. 9 to Congress and boards of commissioners in DeKalb, Clayton, Cobb, Gwinnett, Henry and Bibb counties, asking them to support the effort to keep the commissary open, according to an email from Pitts’ office.
Two rallies were conducted last week – one on Sept. 5 and one Sept. 7 – to draw attention to the pending closure and the failure to open a replacement facility at Dobbins.
The letter sent by Johnson was signed by (in order of their signatures):
- Rep. Hank Johnson;
- Sen. Johnny Isakson;
- Sen. Saxby Chambliss;
- Rep. David Scott (D-Atlanta);
- Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Marietta)
- Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Grantville);
- Rep. John Lewis (D-Atlanta);
- Rep. Tom Price (R-Roswell);
- Rep. Sanford Bishop, Jr. (D-Albany);
- Rep. Austin Scott (R-Tifton);
- Rep. Paul Broun (R-Watkinsville);
- Rep. John Barrow (D-Augusta);
- Rep. Doug Collins (R-Gainesville);
- Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ranger).
The two congressmen who didn’t sign are Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Savannah) and Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Lawrenceville).