Commissary to Airlift Items to Fill Empty Shelves

Empty sheoves ant the commissary

Commissaries in Japan and Korea will soon start receiving cold food airlifted from stateside in an effort to end shortages of some items in those stores.

Shipments started today and are expected to hit stores in Korea, Okinawa and mainland Japan by Jan. 16 or 17, officials said. Patrons there began noticing severe shortages of some items, such as yogurt and cottage cheese, late last year when an ongoing work slowdown by dock employees at ports on the U.S. west coast started impacting container ship deliveries.

Now officials with the Defense Commissary Agnecy (DeCA) say they will be spending $300,000 this week to contract a private carrier to airlift the items and backfill shelves. The price tag is expected to go down to $150,000 once stock has been refilled and only needs to be maintained, officials said.

"For the time being, contingency airlifts of critical short shelf life items to Korea, mainland Japan and Okinawa is one part of the solution we're working to improve the timely delivery of products to all our stores in the Pacific," said Joseph Jeu, DeCA's director and CEO. "We're also ramping up re-orders and looking at more local source options. And, we also want our patrons to know that there will be no change in price for the airlifted products."

Airlifting items is not new for DeCA. The agency currently spends about $35 million a year airlifting certain produce, such as bagged salad, to commissaries in the Pacific region, a source said. A contract rebid last year sought to require suppliers to instead cover that cost. That renegotiation, however, was delayed.

Meanwhile, commissaries in Europe, which were also experiencing shortages this month, should soon be back to normal, officials said. Those shortfalls, which mostly impacted frozen food, were caused by a perfect storm of Customs delays, a broken container ship, holiday port closures and bad weather. Officials expected all commissaries in Europe to be fully stocked with those items by Jan. 17.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at

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