Auditor General Jack Wagner has enlisted the aid of state military veterans to help save military stores in eastern and western Pennsylvania that may be closed by the Pentagon. Wagner, appearing in front of Pennsylvania Veterans of Foreign Wars here, asked for a unified front to keep the commissary and PX facilities open at the Charles E. Kelly Support Facility in Allegheny County and Willow Grove in eastern Pennsylvania.
“We must fight to help Pennsylvanians presently serving our country, and our veterans,” Wagner said. Wagner, a former U.S. Marine who served in Vietnam, noted that the stores provide discounts on food, clothing, and household items to more than 200,000 retired and active military personnel and their families – including Pennsylvania soldiers now serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Wagner made his remarks at the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ 43rd annual mid- winter conference Friday night in Carlisle, Pa.
The Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommended in 2005 the closing of the commissary and PX at the Kelly Support Facility in Allegheny County and the Post Exchange at Willow Grove in Montgomery County. Many members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation, its two U.S. senators, and Gov. Rendell had opposed the closings.
Wagner said that he wrote a letter to BRAC in 2005, opposing the closing of the Kelly Support Facility and Willow Grove.
“Closing military installations during a time of war is like taking cops off the street during a crime spree,” Wagner said. Additionally, as the state’s auditor general, Wagner said he was concerned that the base closings would have a negative impact on Pennsylvania’s economy.
After BRAC announced the base closings in August 2005, Wagner wrote letters to the Pentagon and to the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA), seeking additional information about shopping facilities at the two installations. He said the stores should remain open even if other base activities were eliminated, because they provided benefits that veterans had earned. He said that neither the Pentagon nor DeCA responded with details.
Wagner wrote a letter in December to Dr. David S. Chu, the Defense Department’s Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, demanding that he provide more public information.
Wagner wrote to Chu after meeting with Western Pennsylvania veterans who told him that they had detected signs that Kelly’s commissary, PX and clothing store were slowly being phased out. They said that the dining hall closed a year ago, the snack bar closed nine months ago, the barbershop opens only intermittently, and the military clothing store had dramatically reduced inventory and was being consolidated into the PX.
Closing the stores would have a devastating impact on military families who rely on them to help stretch pensions and paychecks, Wagner said. About 167,000 military personnel and their immediate families, from Western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, and northern West Virginia, are eligible to shop at the Kelly Support Facility; about 45,000 military personnel live within a 25-mile radius of Willow Grove. If these stores are closed, military families would have to travel to Carlisle; Dayton, Ohio; or Fort Dix, N.J., for commissary service, Wagner said. This would be a hardship on retired veterans and those with disabilities, and could force some families to relocate to be closer to commissary stores.
Wagner noted that a commissary and PX were saved at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis after the public lobbied its congressional delegation. He said that a new $12.5 million store will soon open at the base.
Wagner told VFW members that they must fight to preserve the benefits they have earned through military service.
“We must fight, not only for ourselves, but for future veterans,” Wagner said.
Source: Pennsylvania Department of the Auditor General