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On your mark … get set … shop.

Volunteer shoppers from U.S. military bases in several European nations are gearing up to price products and services on the economy in a survey that contributes in setting the cost of living allowance supplement paid to servicemembers.

“This is really important,” said Chief Petty Officer Jeff McGlamery, a COLA coordinator at Naval Station Rota, Spain, which starts its comparison shopping spree during the first week of October.

The base is looking for volunteer shoppers, he said.

“If we fail to do our survey and prices increase, we pay more out of our pockets for goods and services on the local economy,” McGlamery said.

“The more people involved, the quicker the survey goes. It takes a tremendous amount of time and attention to detail to do the survey correctly.”

Each year, military bases conduct a Retail Price Survey. That information, in part, helps set the COLA supplement military members receive.

The Overseas Cost of Living Allowance is a supplement designed to equalize the purchasing power between members living overseas and those living in the States, according to information posted on the Web site of the Defense Department’s Per Diem, Travel and Transportation Allowance Committee.

The average supplement is $300 a month and impacts 320,000 members living at 600 locations overseas, including Alaska and Hawaii. It currently costs the DOD about $1 billion a year.

Overseas base officials conduct two surveys that help determine the cost of living overseas, and helps the committee set the COLA payment: the Living Pattern Survey, done once every three years; and the RPS, done each year at roughly 200 locations.

The RPS prices out about 120 goods and services, from the cost of eggs and meat, to recreation, health care, clothing and electronics, McGlamery said.

Members of the per diem committee are traveling to several bases throughout Europe to train people to conduct the survey, which delayed the schedule start of the survey for some installations.

Those interested in becoming volunteer shoppers should contact their local COLA coordinators.

For more COLA information, see the Web site: https://secureapp2.hqda.pentagon.mil/perdiem. For details on the RPS, including the months each base is scheduled to conduct surveys, see: http://141.116.74.201/cola/appm/appm.pdf.

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