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Commissary closure disappoints military community

6:10 PM, Aug 10, 2011   |    comments
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TOPSHAM, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- News that the Department of Defense has decided once and for all to close the commissary in Topsham has hit Maine's military community hard.

The commissary, which serves 10,000 active and retired service members and their families is slated to close October 8.
The commissary gives those with military IDs deep discounts on groceries. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree says the benefit can be more than $4,000 a year. After October 8, the two nearest commissaries will be in Bangor and Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

The commissary in Topsham was a busy place Wednesday, with shoppers describing the decision as "sad." Some also feel like the military is reneging on its promise to veterans.

Judy Mills's husband served 30 years in the Navy. She said, "You're promised all this stuff when you come in and you think your government is going to follow through."

Hope Lavender's husband served 21 years in the Navy. She said, "To me, it's sad that military members serve all these years, and they're promised all these benefits and then the benefits go away."

The Department of Defense, meanwhile, says the $2.1 million saved by this closure is necessary as part of its Base Realignment and Closure process.

In a statement, a spokesperson wrote:
"Keeping the commissary open is inconsistent with sound fiscal policy in that it would prevent the department from achieving the full realization of previously approved and programmed cost reductions.

While the department empathizes with the desires to continue commissary operations, the cost of this support is not a good return on investment for the department."

Maine's congressional delegation is highly critical of the decision to close the commissary.

Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe have written a joint letter with Representatives Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud urging the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to reconsider.
The delegation had written multiple letters to the Department of Defense earlier this year, proposing the commissary sell some additional products to offset the cost of running the store. They say proposal was not answered.

Congresswoman Pingree said, "This was a very strong statement that they do not want to continue, but I think the whole delegation is united that there is a way to make this cost effective and this is a promise we made to ur veterans. We have to fight until those last doors close."

Congressman Michaud said, "I question the amount that it's going to save. But if you look at what it will do for soldiers as well as our veterans far outweigh what they will be saving."

In the statement, Sen. Snowe said, ""That these patriots must lose a key resource in their community during these difficult economic times is ill-informed and inexcusable."

Sen. Collins wrote, "It is unacceptable that the Defense Department reached this decision without responding to our earlier inquiries and our repeated attempts to urge DoD to pursue alternatives that would preserve the Commissary. Thousands of military men and women, veterans, retirees and their families rely on the Topsham-Brunswick Commissary and they deserve to have continued access to all the benefits that they have earned."

NEWS CENTER

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