After 43 years at commissary, Bitburg employee retires

By LISA HORN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 14, 2004

In 1960, Al Heinen got his start stocking shelves at the Bitburg commissary.

Forty-three years later, Heinen is still at the Bitburg store and will retire Feb. 29 as deputy store administrator.

A lot has changed since the 20-year-old store worker was hired. At the time, he spoke very little English and was completely unfamiliar with the commissary concept.

“I said, ‘commissary, what’s a commissary?’” Heinen said.

Cash registers were manual, as was performing inventory.

“In the old days, we had these old registers that if the power went off, we’d get the store workers to crank the register,” Heinen explained. “Now when the power goes off, we have a backup generator that kicks in. We’re not losing any data, nothing.”

If a particular item sold out, getting the product from the States and back on the shelves could take months. Today, commissaries receive their products from a centrally located warehouse in Germany and product orders often can be filled on the same day.

In between his time at the Bitburg commissary, Heinen also served as the manager of the Trier Commissary Annex, a small store that served roughly 50 to 60 families, he said.

“I loved working in the commissary,” said Heinen, whose first job was as a professional baker. “First of all, because there were different hours. As a baker, you start at, like, 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning.”

The better hours and the chance to help customers are just part of the reason Heinen’s career at Bitburg has spanned four decades.

“Customer service was always my No. 1,” he said. “I love to be out there in the store, talking to customers. This is what motivates me — to be around people, customers, employees.

“I still love my job, I can tell you that. I’m really going to have a hard time leaving,” said Heinen, whose retirement plans include more time for family, Volksmarching and bicycling.

Over the years, Al Heinen has worked nearly every job at the Bitburg Air Base, Germany, commissary, even providing service with a smile at the bakery. He retires Feb. 29, after 43 years of service.

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