The U.S. military’s largest overseas commissary officially opened for business Wednesday at the Eighth Army’s new home on the Korean Peninsula.
The $15.1 million, 89,491-square-foot store is four and a half times the size of Camp Humphreys’ old commissary, which had reached its limit in supporting a population that has ballooned from 7,000 to 26,000 and will soon peak to more than 40,000.
“This is the best commissary I’ve ever seen and I’ve been around for a long time,” Eighth Army commander Lt. Gen. Michael Bills said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday. “This is a work of art.”
As shoppers checked out the store for the first time, a taekwondo demonstration team kicked wooden planks in front of stacks of pudding boxes and South Korean girls in traditional dress danced in the aisles.
The commissary, which resembles many modern stateside grocers, features wide aisles, a full-service deli and bakery and a massive produce section that takes up nearly a quarter of the building.
Bills recounted a time 41 years ago when Humphreys was just an airstrip and a couple of buildings surrounded by rice paddies. “If you told Pfc. Bills … that he was standing on what would be the largest garrison overseas, he would have never believed it,” he said.
The commissary stands alongside a new post exchange as one of the twin anchors to Humphreys’ massive $204.5 million downtown and entertainment complex. It’s among the most visible pieces of the $10.7 billion construction project that fulfills a 2004 agreement between Seoul and Washington to move the bulk of U.S. forces 40 miles south of Seoul.
Sgt. 1st Class Darlene Evans, who is assigned to the Eighth Army with her husband at Humphreys, said it’s “little things” like the grocery store and PX that make life at the base easier.
“It makes me feel I was back at home,” said the 44-year-old from Omaha, Neb. “I found everything I needed and then some.”
Marilyn Tassin, whose husband is stationed at the base, was shopping with her 2-year-old son, Nicholas, who was riding in a big pull wagon. She was one of the first people in line for the grand opening.
“The deli is really nice and so is the bakery – we didn’t have anything like that at the old store, and the aisles are a lot bigger,” said the 25-year-old from Portland, Ore.
Tassin also said it was nice to see workers from the old commissary. She high-fived cashiers and baggers as she made her way through the checkout line.
“It was nice to see familiar faces,” she said.
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