Fort McPherson itself ceased operations Sept. 1, 2011, but its store, called a commissary, has remained open.
Franklin Henderson of Stone Mountain, a disabled Army veteran who often made the drive to East Point, said its closure will impact anywhere from 50,000 to 300,000 retired personnel and their families.
“People 80, 90 years old have to drive two hours to shop for groceries,” he said about the nearest commissary at Fort Benning in Columbus.
When the base closed, Henderson, a member of the DeKalb County Veterans Council, said the plan was for a new commissary to be built at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta.
That has not materialized.
“It’s like a broken promise,” Henderson said.
Dobbins spokeswoman Senior Airman Elizabeth Van Patten confirmed the lack of progress.
“There is no known date when the commissary will be built on Dobbins and so we don’t know when the groundbreaking will be,” she said.
According to veteran Wayman “Duane” Williams of Conyers, a member of the Greater Atlanta Association of the U.S. Army, money was set aside for its construction.
“The total cost of that new commissary is alleged to be $23 million,” he said. “That cost should and must be included in the Defense Commissary Agency budget as a line item by Congress. Both Sen. [Johnny] Isakson and Sen. [Saxby] Chambliss, plus Congressman [Phil] Gingrey assured us it would be seamless.”
But a soft economy and sequestration – an across-the-board reduction in 2013 budgets, including a $37 billion hit to the defense department – have made that a harder target to hit.
“We have known since [the Base Closure and Realignment Commission in] 2005 that the commissary at Fort McPherson would eventually close,” Isakson said. “I have worked with my colleagues in Congress for several years to delay this closing and to open a commissary at Dobbins. Unfortunately, the Dobbins project will not be able to proceed right now because of a lack of funding.”
Defense Department spokesman Kevin L. Robinson confirmed the funds have been reallocated.
“Military funding for a replacement commissary at Dobbins Air Reserve
Base has been superseded by direct mission support requirements,” he said.
Keeping the East Point location open is not an option, either.
“The property containing the Fort McPherson commissary is scheduled to transfer to the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority in September,” Robinson said. “The commissary will close to coincide with the transfer.”
In lieu of a bricks-and-mortar store, the commissary agency will hold tent sales at Dobbins.
“Going forward, DeCA will provide periodic on-site sales of limited bulk food and household products at Dobbins ARB to partially make up for the lack of a full-time
commissary,” Robinson said.
Isakson said he will not forget his commitment.
“I will continue to work to see the Dobbins commissary through because I know how much our service members and veterans value this well-deserved benefit,” he said.