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Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Military retirees fight for benefit, Fort McPherson commissary to stay open another year

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My Mom and Dad made today's paper

Today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution  (see picture left) carried this story (below) about how Fort McPherson, a local military base, is closing, but the commissary will remain open another year for the benefit of Atlanta’s 53,000-plus veterans.  The article quotes my parents, Mary and Starley Roehl.  Thanks, AJC, for getting the word out to local veterans who thought that Atlanta no longer had a commissary.

Military retirees fight for benefit, Fort McPherson commissary to stay open another year

Grocery at closed Army post is only such facility in the Atlanta area.

BYLINE: Steve Visser
Staff
DATE: September 17, 2011 PUBLICATION: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The (GA)
EDITION: Main; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
SECTION: Metro News
PAGE: B1

Retirees can pack a strong political punch — especially those from the armed forces.

Military retirees, with an assist from their elected officials, maneuvered the Department of Defense into keeping the commissary at Fort McPherson open even though the Army post itself has closed.

Their argument: North Georgia is loaded with military retirees who shouldn’t have to drive two hours to cash in their retirement perk of discounted food for life.

Until recently the grocery at the south Atlanta post was scheduled to close Sept. 13. The DOD in July closed the larger commissary at Fort Gillem in Forest Park. Both McPherson and Gillem were part of a base closure program.

“It was going to close but then it was extended,” Rick Brink, spokesman for the Defense Commissary Agency, said of the Fort McPherson facility. “These things can be fluid. Retirees love their commissaries.”

Retired Lt. Col. Craig Allen, who lobbied to keep the commissary open, suspects a barrage of email directed at Washington from the estimated 53,000 military retirees that live around metro Atlanta helped his cause.

“I don’t think there was an organized campaign … just individuals,” said Allen, of Marietta. “I think with the elected officials getting involved, writing letters to various people, I think that is what kept it open, as well as the publicity.”

Allen said military retirees can save 30 percent shopping at the commissary. “To me that is big savings,” he said. “We go to Publix and Kroger and we can’t believe how much everything costs.”

Retired Lt. Colonel Starley T. Roehl and his wife Mary, of East Point, have used the commissary since he retired from the Air Force in 1968 and settled in the metro area in 1983. He said they couldn’t have handled driving to Fort Gordon in Augusta, Robins Air Force Base south of Macon or Fort Benning near Columbus to grocery shop at those base commissaries.

Mary Roehl said the prospect of the commissary’s closing spawned hoarding by shoppers on her recent trip to Fort McPherson. “One woman had eight packages of frozen wings,” she said. “I counted.”

Georgia congressmen had lobbied the DOD to keep the McPherson and Gillem commissaries open until a $23 million commissary — approved in 2009 but not yet funded — could be built at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta.

The DOD in late August agreed to keep the McPherson commissary open for one year, though it has not committed to keeping it open until one is built at Dobbins. Entry is through the Lee Street gate.

“It became quite clear that North Georgia has to have a commissary,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Not having a commissary in North Georgia is not acceptable.”

Written by Sheryl A. Roehl

September 17, 2011 at 12:32 pm