It's official, finally. At the close of business on Tuesday, Sept. 13, the Fort Monmouth commissary will shutter its doors for good.
Washington got the news first and now New Jersey's lawmakers are throwing down.
In a joint statement released Tuesday, U.S. Senators Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Representatives Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ-6) and Rush Holt (D-NJ-12), "slammed the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) for its decision to close the Fort Monmouth commissary when the base closes next month."
The lawmakers had been hot on the case of the DOD for more than a year trying to get the department to cease or delay closure of the commissary which serves, according to the governor's office, 22,000 area veterans. In June, the governor joined the growing chorus calling on the department to hold off on the closure.
In July, Patch interviewed Holt after he met with members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense to gain support for a two year extension for the beloved fort store which delivers food and household goods to military personnel and retirees at significant savings.
At that time a representative for the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) said that DOD policy would only allow for the store to stay open if there were 100 active duty military using it, a criteria, he said, Fort Monmouth's commissary wouldn't meet.
In February, state lawmakers hailed a small victory when they got the support of Army Secretary John McHugh who reccommended to the DOD that the commissary stay open on a trial basis for an additional two years.
During the months since this request the DOD remained silent about the secretary's request, which left local officials, veterans and retirees pulling out their hair. In June Freeholder and veterans advocate Lillian Burry said she had it on good authority that the DOD was leaning in the direction of keeping the store open. "We've received a stay of execution," she told the board of the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA).
That stay turned out to be just six weeks when the closing was moved from Aug. 1 to Sept. 13.
On Wednesday, the DOD finally confirmed that it would not extend the life of the commissary.
"After careful review and analysis, the DOD approved the DeCA oversight Board of Directors recommendation to discontinue commissary and exchange operations at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey," said a DOD spokeswoman.
According to the spokeswoman, when a military installation closes, generally the commissary does too.
"In this constrained budgetary environment," the spokeswoman said, "the department must take advantage of all previously approved and programmed savings, so we can realign resources to better support force structure changes."
Bruce Steadman, director of FMERA, the authority charged with redevelopment of the fort property, was not pleased at the news.
"Clearly we are disappointed that the undersecretary did not take the governor’s recommendation to keep it open for two more years. Army Secretary McHugh had made the same recommendation," Steadman told Patch on Wednesday. "This is a huge disappointment for the community, the customers of the commissary, for FMERA and for the rest of the stakeholders. The governor’s office is planning on appealing to Secretary (of Defense Leon) Panetta, and have requested a copy of the independent review board’s report to the undersecretary.”
The DOD says closing the commissary will save the department an estimated $2.8 million annually. Authorized patrons can still enjoy the commissary benefit by using the commissaries at Lakehurst NAES (30 miles), Joint Base Lakehurst-McGuire-Dix (46 miles) and Fort Hamilton (45 miles).
For those military families in Monmouth County under their own "constrained bugetary environment," and who have counted on the average 25-30 percent discount as part of their budget, this may seem a bitter consolation.