Commissary major quality-of-life improvement at small base in Korea

This December 2011 photo shows the under-construction commissary at K-16 Air Base, which will officially open on May 17, 2012. Until now, the approximately 900 troops stationed at K-16 have had to travel an hour to the nearest commissary at U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan.



SEOUL — For the nearly 900 troops stationed at K-16 Air Base, buying groceries has been a logistical headache, since the nearest commissary is located 45 minutes to an hour away at U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan.

And because many servicemembers aren’t allowed to own cars in South Korea — particularly junior enlisted troops who make up a sizable portion of the population at K-16 — it’s also been a drain on the wallet, costing nearly $20 for a one-way taxi trip to Yongsan.

Until now.

On Thursday, a long-awaited commissary will open at K-16, with more than 4,500 items in stock and two regular checkout lanes.

The new commissary has been a major cause for celebration at the base.

“It’s been, make do with what’s at the PX, which is microwave food, no veggies, no produce or no real meat. Nothing like that,” said Spc. Rachel Pellicer, K-16 Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers president.

K-16, also known as Seoul Air Base, has a community activities center with several fast-food outlets, but “after two years of being here and eating Pizza Hut, you get pretty OD’ed,” she said.

Defense Commissary Agency spokeswoman Nancy O’Nell said the 3,585-square-foot commissary is a “quality-of-life enhancement” for troops at K-16 and nearby Command Post Tango.

The commissary will serve approximately 1,400 shoppers, including servicemembers, retirees, Department of Defense civilian employees and family members, according to DeCA. Construction on the $3.4 million, South Korea-funded project was completed last month.

K-16 will remain open after most bases in and north of Seoul close later this decade as part of a long-planned relocation of those troops to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek. After Yongsan closes, the population of K-16 is expected to grow by 60 percent to slightly more than 1,650 personnel, Yongsan spokeswoman Jane Lee said.

“A full-service commissary at K-16 providing familiar and well-known brand-name groceries fulfills a vital need,” she said.

K-16 is located on the outskirts of Seoul, but it’s a world away from Yongsan, the flagship U.S. military installation in South Korea, and its relatively posh – for South Korea – commissary with a sushi bar, deli, bakery and aisles stocked with fresh produce and dairy products.

And on a bad traffic day, the approximately 12 miles from K-16 to Yongsan may feel more like 200.

Troops can take the shuttle bus that runs between the two bases.

“If you want to buy groceries for the week or two weeks, that’s a lot of stuff to put on the bus,” Pellicer said.

Instead, most people “break down and pay for a cab, just because it’s easier,” she said.

Even the trip to the nearest E-Mart, a popular chain store similar to Wal-Mart, costs between 7,000 and 8,000 won, the equivalent of $6 to $7. Some taxi drivers refuse to make the trip because it’s too short, or, because they don’t speak English, have trouble following directions to the base.

Pellicer said she plans to clean out her refrigerator in anticipation of her first shopping trip to the new commissary.

“Almost every different group of people I talk to throughout the day, someone brings up the commissary and how excited they are,” she said. “We hope that they overstock it the first weekend.”



K-16 commissary hours of operation

Sunday, Monday and Thursday: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Friday: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Saturday: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Closed Tuesday and Thursday

Source: Defense Commissary Agency