The relationship between the Defense Commissary Agency and the Army and Air Force Exchange Service is more symbiotic than most people realize.

“We support them, and they support us,” said Army Maj. Dave Accetta, spokesman for AAFES-Europe.

Among other things, AAFES provides DECA with tobacco and related accessories, some soft drinks and products from the Gruenstadt facility near Kaiserslautern, Germany. Those items include bottled water, ice cream and bakery goods.

On the other end of the line, DECA furnishes AAFES with frozen goods, ranging from turkeys to popsicles. The commissary agency also stepped up in the early days of the Iraqi campaign to provide AAFES with various other goods, such as snacks and hygiene products for the troops.

However, DECA is often overshadowed by the exchange service, especially in wartime. Troops and family members know that AAFES operates downrange, but few, if any, ever hear or read about how involved DECA has been in the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2002, for example, a special operations unit serving in Afghanistan had a serious craving for some succulent steaks.

Like the fictitious Capt. “Hawkeye” Pierce from the TV show “M*A*S*H,” the unit went outside the war zone to satisfy its cravings. But instead of dialing up Adam’s Rib on Dearborn Street in Chicago — as Pierce and his fellow soldiers did in the TV show about the Korean War — members turned to Kapaun Air Station in Kaiserslautern, where DECA is headquartered.

Some members of the unit passed through Germany on their way back to Bagram Air Base, placed an order for more than 300 steaks and crossed their fingers. In the end, unlike “Hawkeye” and his cohorts, they left Germany with cartons full of steaks and enjoyed their feast downrange.

Said Bonnie Kanitz, the director of DECA-Europe: “We really do try to fulfill their wishes. The troops come first.”

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