Story by Kevin Robinson on 07/11/2019FORT LEE, Va. The commissary at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, California, reopened to limited shopping July 9, less than a week after two major earthquakes rocked Southern California.
"Outstanding news, and we appreciate the Herculean lift it has been for our commissary team members to get to this stage in the game," said Navy Capt. Paul M. Dale, base commander. "Thank you very much."
The China Lake Commissary opened at 9 a.m. with water and other emergency purchases available at the front of the store, said store manager Philippe Gonzaga.
"All the refrigeration went out so we currently do not have any meat, frozen, chill and limited produce items," he said. "We can't allow patrons to freely roam at the moment due to the shelves not being totally secure and with all the teams running around cleaning and fixing equipment. However, if there is something that a customer absolutely needs, an employee will attempt to locate it for them."
Although basic services are slowly returning, China Lake is not "mission capable" and remains closed except for mission essential personnel, according to the installation's Facebook page. Power and water have been restored to most of the base since the July 5 earthquake, but engineers are still assessing the structural integrity of its buildings.
Other available base services included the Navy Exchange and barbershop, and medical and dental operations, and morale, welfare and recreation facilities.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the epicenter of the two earthquakes, the first being a magnitude 6.4, which occurred July 4, and the second a 7.1 which hit the next day, was located on the base. China Lake is about 150 miles north of Los Angeles in the Western Mojave Desert.
In addition to the store at China Lake, commissaries had products fall off the shelves at Edwards Air Force Base, the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Fort Irwin and Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, which also suffered a cracked ceiling window. Except for China Lake, all stores are operating under normal schedules, said Michelle Frost, the Defense Commissary Agency's West Area director.
After the July 4th earthquake, the situation at China Lake was more a matter of cleaning up fallen products and restoring power, Frost said. However, the July 5th quake wasn't as forgiving. The commissary sustained cracks in its floors and walls, displaced ceiling tiles, hanging electrical wires and damaged shelving. Also, the loss of refrigerant for the refrigeration system, combined with the loss of power, meant most of the products in chilled and frozen cases had to be discarded. Before any repairs could be done, engineers had to ensure the building was structurally safe.
"Until all the hanging wires and ceiling tiles and grids were addressed we did not want our folks in the store," Frost said. "Once we got the all clear to enter the building our support teams worked relentlessly to clear debris and fallen products on the floor."
That support team on the ground consisted of China Lake Commissary personnel augmented by a small army of DeCA field engineers, employees from several other commissaries in California and Nevada, maintenance contractors, the base food safety inspector and the Seabee Battalion, assistance from commercial suppliers and vendors, and long distance support from DeCA headquarters in areas such as logistics, human resources, contracting, resource management, store operations, promotions and sales.
It could be several weeks before the store can return to normal operations. The pathway to recovery starts with restoring refrigeration, strengthening and restocking shelves, and making all the safety precautions to be prepared for any more large earthquakes. However, the ability to reopen even for emergency shopping emphasizes DeCA's commitment to serving its patrons during a crisis, Gonzaga said.
"We have received and are still receiving calls from our regular patrons, and they have been very understanding and are awaiting for our return to regular operations," he said. "They are especially happy that we are still open despite having limitations and are happy that we are doing all we can to support them during this extremely stressful time."
About DeCA: The Defense Commissary Agency operates a worldwide chain of commissaries providing groceries to military personnel, retirees and their families in a safe and secure shopping environment. Commissaries provide a military benefit, saving authorized patrons thousands of dollars annually on their purchases compared to similar products at commercial retailers. The discounted prices include a 5-percent surcharge, which covers the costs of building new commissaries and modernizing existing ones. A core military family support element, and a valued part of military pay and benefits, commissaries contribute to family readiness, enhance the quality of life for America's military and their families, and help recruit and retain the best and brightest men and women to serve their country.