Commissary baggers provide invaluable service

Story and photos by Airman 1st Class Tony R. Ritter
Ramstein Public Affairs

Paper or plastic may be the only thing on your mind at the commissary checkout but for your commissary bagger, this decision is only the beginning of the customer service experience.

Every day, baggers at your local commissary provide an invaluable service to customers. They help the checkout lines move faster and more efficiently, they minimize product damage by using proper techniques to bag items and they help customers get their groceries out to their car safer and faster.

The role they play in the commissary’s customer service chain not only lends support to our local military community, but also provides a pleasant work experience and a way of earning income for individuals of various ages and nationalities.

“Baggers run the gamut, from teenagers to retirees, U.S. citizens, and local nationals, and usually on a variety of flexible schedules,” said Thomas Milks, Defense Commissary Agency Europe director.

But baggers are not government or commissary employees; they work under a license agreement with the installation commander. They are paid solely by the tips that commissary patrons offer in exchange for bagging and carryout services.

“The nature of their employment could be compared to private contractors who agree to perform work for voluntary contributions,” Mr. Milks said. “In other words, they work for tips only, in all sorts of weather and conditions.”

The customer’s tips are an extra income for some and a source of survival for others.

“Many teenagers worked as baggers to buy material wants but I worked as way to survive,” said Tech. Sgt. Kenneth Bellard, 435th Ramstein Public Affairs technician. “The funds I received allowed me to have three meals a day of one dollar burgers from a local fast food restaurant.”

Each commissary has a head bagger who hires, schedules, coordinates and oversees bagger activities. Though the opportunities are equal for everyone, Ramstein’s head bagger expressed a particular consideration for students.

“We also try to concentrate on the students and school age kids because of the very limited number of employment opportunities for them on the local economy,” said Charlie Searchwell, Ramstein commissary head bagger.

Though a customer’s tip is the sole income of a commissary bagger, the benefits of being a bagger extend beyond the monetary contributions.

“Each time I carried out a cart of groceries, I had an opportunity to peak into my customer’s life through a short conversation,” Sergeant Bellard said.

Kelly Benning, a teacher with the Department of Defense Dependents Schools Europe, whose three daughters have worked as baggers at the Ramstein Commissary said being a bagger is a great opportunity for teenagers.

“They’re interacting with others while developing social skills,” she said. “They also learn courtesies and how to manage their time and money.”

The baggers are always there working hard and because of this, the customer may occasionally take their service for granted. So, the next time your trunk closes over your just purchased groceries, remember your courtesy and contribution can go a long way.

“We are happy to have the service of the baggers. They provide an invaluable service to the commissaries and customers alike,” Mr. Milks said. “This system has been in place for over 50 years and works very well.”