Beer and wine may be here to stay in military commissaries — at least in some.

There are now 26 commissary stores selling beer and wine, and the new commissary director would like to increase that number.

“I wouldn’t call it a pilot program any more,” said John E. Hall, who became CEO and director of the Defense Commissary Agency on June 4. The pilot program began with 12 stores in 2018. His predecessor, Bill Moore, added 14 stores in November; no announcement was made.

“It’s really about the convenience. Most commercial grocery stores you go into offer beer and wine,” said Hall, in an interview with Military Times. It remains to be seen what happens beyond the 26 stores, he said. “I clearly would like to go beyond the 26.” There are 236 commissary stores located around the world.

Commissary and exchange officials will work on the next steps, Hall said. The 26 commissaries sell a limited selection of beer and wine at exchange prices, on concession from the exchanges, plus the commissary 5% surcharge at the cash register charged on all products.

“We don’t want to be the Class 6 store,” said Marine Sgt. Maj. Michael Saucedo, the senior enlisted adviser in the Defense Commissary Agency. He reiterated that it’s a matter of convenience — being able to grab a bottle of wine at the same time you’re buying a steak, or some beer to go with burgers.

With more than double the number of stores selling beer and wine, commissary officials saw an increase in sales of those libations in June, month over month, compared to June 2022. There was an increase of 153% in dollar sales of beer and wine, and 144% in unit volume. And so far in fiscal 2023, commissaries have sold $3.6 million worth of beer and wine, a 119% increase over the same period in fiscal 2022, Hall said.

The 14 additional commissaries selling beer and wine are on Army and Air Force bases.

But the additional sales in commissaries doesn’t translate into an overall increase in beer and wine sales on the 26 installations. Instead, it’s a shift in sales from the Army & Air Force Exchange stores to the commissaries, AAFES officials said. In the first six months of the 14 additional stores, overall sales of beer and wine on installations increased less than 0.5% across the beer and wine category, showing a 5% shift in sales from AAFES stores to commissaries — yet increasing administrative and inventory costs for AAFES, said Chris Ward, a spokesperson for AAFES.

“The resulting shift in patronage [to commissaries] resulted in a loss of transaction count which created negative Exchange earnings, decreasing funding for the services’ critical quality of life programs,” Ward said.

Similar to the way tobacco is priced in commissaries, beer and wine is purchased for resale from the military exchanges, to minimize any potential impact on exchange profits and dividends to morale, welfare and recreation programs. There are limited selections of the libations in commissaries, as officials don’t want to displace other important items.

The 14 additional commissaries selling beer and wine are:

  • Alabama: Fort Novosel
  • Colorado: Fort Carson
  • Florida: Eglin Air Force Base, MacDill Air Force Base
  • Georgia: Fort Gordon
  • Kentucky: Fort Campbell, Fort Knox
  • Ohio: Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
  • South Carolina: Fort Jackson
  • Texas: Fort Bliss; Fort Cavazos 1 – Clear Creek: Randolph Air Force Base
  • Washington: McChord Field, Fort Lewis

There are three Navy commissaries among the original 12 locations selling beer and wine: those at Port Hueneme, California; Lakehurst Naval Air Engineering Station, New Jersey; and Little Creek, Virginia. “Any assessment and further discussions among the resale partners remain ongoing in order to determine next steps for a coordinated approach following the conclusion of the pilot,” said Courtney Williams, spokeswoman for the Navy Exchange Service Command.

The other nine stores in the original 2018 pilot are: Twentynine Palms, California; Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada; White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico; Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina; Arnold Air Force Base, Tennessee; Fort Sam Houston, Texas; and Fort Myer and Quantico Marine Corps Base, Virginia.

When Defense Department officials authorized the sale of beer and wine in a pilot program starting in 2018, they took steps to be mindful of DoD’s overall efforts to deglamorize the use of alcohol. Commissary officials follow DoD requirements for the exchanges regarding the sale of beer and wine, including minimum age; eligible purchasers and quantity limitations; responsible use of beer and wine; segregation of stock and compliance with inventory controls, ration controls and signage; and other regulations. Distilled spirits are not included in the commissary sales.

There has long been a concern about excessive drinking in the military, and concerns that the military promotes a culture of drinking. “Excessive and problematic alcohol use is a national public health issue that directly impacts suicide risk,” stated the February report from the independent Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee. They noted research indicating an increased risk of suicide in those who meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder. Trends are similar in the military, the committee stated, citing data that in 2021, 18% of service members who died by suicide had an alcohol use disorder diagnosis.

Some have questioned why alcohol is sold on military bases, but the committee didn’t recommend banning the sale of alcohol on bases.

They recommended banning the promotion of alcohol on DoD property, by placing a moratorium on in-store advertising for any type of alcohol in on-base retail establishments. They also recommended increasing the purchase price of alcohol sold on DoD property, and limiting the days and times when alcohol can be sold on DoD property.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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