I know Thursdays is usually reserved for food and drink posts but I’m making a slight exception. I mean this is about ketchup…but it’s mainly military.
Some of you may have heard about Ketchup-Gate, it’s on about every military spouse related website out there. It was named by NextGen Mil Spouses after this article from the Washington Post about how commissaries are a huge part of defense spending and basically how some are trying to eliminate them. It focuses on the apparently 12 varieties of Ketchup at the grocery store. But there have been others, like this one from HuffPo which cost some uproar in March.
There have been lots of responses to these, but the most recent and a great argument is from Amy Bushatz on SpouseBuzz with her open letter to those that are so vocal about the “lavish” benefits military families are entitled to, from pay to on-post grocery stores. After reading the whole article from Washington Post – I can say that I think looking for a better financial model for the commissaries is a good idea but fully eliminating them would not go over so well. Let me share a story:
A good friend of mine from college visited last summer and wanted to see the base. He’d never been on any installation before so I decided to do a quick driving tour (James was deployed so couldn’t show off his work area, cool vehicles, etc.). His first reaction: “There are traffic lights!” I laughed, and said “well of course.” We talked for a bit and he really just thought of the base as a place for all the military stuff, where the Soldiers worked, etc. But in reality it’s a town, and in the case of JBLM a city. Last year when I worked on post I learned that during the day, with all the service members, their families, and civilian employees: the population makes JBLM the 7th largest city in Washington. 7TH LARGEST! (The garrison commander at the time half-jokingly called himself the mayor.) Sure all these people don’t live on post but a lot do. Hence, the need for stores.
Is the commissary the nicest grocery store? No. Does it always have the best products? No. Is it always the cheapest? No. But is it convenient for the people that live and work on post? Of course. Does it provide groceries? Yes. Do retirees drive hours to shop tax-free? Yep and they always will.
But can you imagine if your neighborhood grocery store just closed? No? Well that’s what it would be like. I don’t always shop on post, for me it’s just not convenient, but if I really need milk and I’m on post I’ll go there. One exception: I buy most of our alcohol on post (liquor tax in WA is crazy high). I also know people that live on-post that drive off post to buy things, whether they want to shop at the farmers market or the low prices of WalMart. Or they just don’t carry what they are looking for on post. Or they just love Target. But just cutting it? Not entirely an option.
Here’s another thing that upsets me: the stats in these articles about what service members make per year just aren’t correct. (Read Amy’s post on SpouseBuzz for a great breakdown.) Oh and free base housing? Nope. Families get BAH and if you live on post that money goes directly to the housing office to pay for your home (you know rent/overhead/etc). If you live off-post (like we do) it comes as a part of your paycheck. And then you pay your rent/mortgage.
In short, our military families aren’t living off the government. Does the commissary need a new financial plan that’s sustainable? Of course. The defense budget is huge, and I think we can all agree the federal budget could use a nice long look-over/re-working. But the commissary is more than a place for all the ketchup in the world, it’s the local store for thousands of families.
So, what do you think of Ketchup-Gate? Slightly overblown or on track? What other misconceptions about military life have you heard and/or shot down?