Those 18-hour days apparently paid off.

The Defense Commissary Agency has named its top performers for 2003, and the store at Aviano Air Base, Italy, grabbed honors in the large-overseas category.

It’s the first time that Aviano has earned the honor, according to Ron Foster, the store director.

“There’s no real secret to it,” he said. “It’s just a lot of hard work.”

And a lot of hours.

Between the main store and the smaller, adjoining Grab ‘N’ Go outlet, someone’s selling groceries at the location for an average of 18 hours a day. So the 109 full-time and part-time employees — including 88 Italian nationals — are kept busy.

“They really took ownership in the store,” Foster said. “I’m really proud of them.”

Foster said Aviano was honored before as the top store in its category in the early 1980s. But the commissary was then located across town. At that time, it was included in the small-store category and was run by a predecessor of DECA.

The current facility opened in November of 2000.

Earning small commissary overseas honors for 2003 was Cairo, Egypt. Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Calif., won the small commissary award for the States. Naval Station Everett Smokey Point Support Center, Wash., was named the top large commissary in the States.

All 274 commissaries around the world can participate in the competition, based on areas such as management, customer service, accounting and grades for specific departments.

Surveys of employees, customers and installation officials are also conducted during visits to the stores by DECA officials.

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