Commissaries Bringing Healthier, Fresh Food Closer to Home for Army Soldiers

U.S. Army soldier grabs a salad from a Culinary Outpost kiosk
U.S. Army Private 1st Class Loida Delgadillo of 2nd battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, grabs a pre-made salad from the Culinary Outpost kiosk, to eat at her convenience. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. ‘Tian Nevitt)

Soldiers at 10 Army posts have better access to healthy snacks and fresh deli items as part of a new program that puts commissary kiosks and outposts near their barracks or workspaces, according to the Defense Commissary Agency.

Through a partnership with the Army, commissaries have installed kiosks in locations "convenient to soldiers on duty in the middle of the day" and stocked them with items such as sandwiches, salads, sushi, fresh fruit, drinks and other wholesome foods, DeCA officials told in a recent interview.

Service members can use their meal cards to pay for the items, which meet Army standards for healthy diet and nutrition, according to Defense Commissary Agency Director John Hall.

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"It essentially delivers the [commissary] benefit to where they are, as opposed to them having come to us," Hall said.

More than a decade ago with the country fighting two wars, then-Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho launched an initiative for her service to understand and respect what she called the "performance triad" -- adequate sleep, physical activity and good nutrition.

The idea was that overall performance and mental and physical health would improve if soldiers focused on these pillars of wellness.

While the Army worked to improve the quality of food at mess halls, adopting a color-coded system that labeled the healthiest foods as "green" and those that should be consumed in limited quantities as "red," it often has struggled to draw soldiers to these facilities, given the availability of fast food establishments on installations and the number of overtasked service members simply searching for a quick, easy meal.

The kiosks and commissary delicatessens appear to be a popular option for those looking beyond burgers and fries for healthy choices, according to Hall.

"They can pre-order [a sandwich from the deli] and just come in and pick it up" at the commissary, Hall said. "What we want to do is expand that -- instead of the service member

having to take 15 minutes to drive the commissary and 15 minutes back, we can deliver it and put it at their location."

The kiosks are available to those with a DoD Common Access Card. Those who have a meal card can use it, but other forms of payment are taken as well, including debit and credit cards.

Marine Sgt. Maj. Michael Saucedo, DeCA's senior enlisted adviser, said the agency has worked with installation commanders to put kiosks where they are visible and most likely to draw customers.

At Fort Wainwright, Alaska, for example, there is one inside a barracks. In other locations, they are collocated at fitness centers, Saucedo said.

"Service members can go work out, walk right next door, use the kiosk and go right on up to their rooms," Saucedo said.

In the past three years, DeCA officials have worked to make the commissary benefit more accessible and attract new customers, rolling out the Click2Go online ordering system and curbside pickup program, and a grocery delivery pilot program at eight installations.

The kiosks are available at Fort Wainwright; Fort Carson, Colorado; Fort Stewart, Georgia; Fort Riley, Kansas; Fort Johnson, Louisiana; Fort Drum, New York; Fort Liberty, North Carolina; Fort Bliss and Fort Cavazos, Texas; and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

DeCA is working with the Air Force to bring kiosks to installations in Alaska and plans more outreach to entice the remaining services to consider the program.

The kiosks have generated $5.5 million in sales for DeCA since last year, according to Hall.

"It's working really well with the Army," Hall said. "The Army just asked us last week to greatly expand it. ... This [could be] really a great service for all the services."

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter and Threads @patriciakime.

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