Commissary veterans continue to serve

Retired Army Staff Sgt. Robert Michaud and retired Sgt. 1st Class Richard Estes, Vandenberg Commissary baggers, bag groceries, Nov. 18, 2015, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Michaud and Estes are military veterans who continue to serve in the commissary. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jim Araos)

Retired Army Staff Sgt. Robert Michaud and retired Sgt. 1st Class Richard Estes, Vandenberg Commissary baggers, bag groceries, Nov. 18, 2015, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Michaud and Estes are military veterans who continue to serve in the commissary. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jim Araos)

Retired Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dianne Welch, Vandenberg Commissary computer assisted operator, scans the inventory Nov. 18, 2015, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Welch retired at Vandenberg  as aircrew life support and continued to serve in the commissary. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jim Araos)

Retired Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dianne Welch, Vandenberg Commissary computer assisted operator, scans the inventory Nov. 18, 2015, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Welch retired at Vandenberg as aircrew life support and continued to serve in the commissary. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jim Araos)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- During retirement from the armed forces, many veterans live out their lives as seemingly regular citizens. Although unnoticeable to most, there are several veterans with distinguished military backgrounds who continue to serve at the Vandenberg commissary. 

The Commissary hires a variety of veterans ranging from all military services, which diversifies the wide range of skill sets to get the mission accomplished.

"The military gave me the skills in management and supervising to where I can run any operation," said retired Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer James Harkins, Vandenberg Commissary director. "I have a veteran in every department, and every department manager is either a veteran or has worked under the Department of Defense in some way."

As a retired Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer, Harkins has used the skills he has learned from his 26-year career to operate and manage the Vandenberg Commissary.

"I have a total of 23 baggers who are veterans and 10 Defense Commissary Agency staff members who are veterans," said Harkins. "It's easier to run a commissary with so many military serving under it because we understand each other."

Each veteran has a unique history of military service and continues to serve the mission long after their retirement.

"I've done about everything you can think of in the Army," said retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Richard Estes, Vandenberg Commissary bagger. "I was a truck driver, radar operator and missile crewman for the MIM-14 Nike Hercules surface-to-air missile. As an Army singer, my group sang for President John F. Kennedy in 1962. I fought in the Vietnam War in 1966 and got out of there unharmed. I retired and left my last duty station in 1980 after serving for 20 years."

With the great number of retirees employed here, even local Vandenberg retirees continue their service at the Commissary.

"I retired here at Vandenberg when we had a helicopter squadron as an aircrew life support specialist," said retired Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dianne Welch, Vandenberg commissary computer assisted operator. "I worked on the UH-1 Hueys here and deployed to the Gulf War with the A-10 Warthogs."

Although their military service has ended, the good nature of camaraderie and esprit de corps still resonates within their veteran community.

"I just enjoy the camaraderie with the other baggers," said Estes. "I don't just want to sit at home and die. You want to keep yourself busy -- that's what life is all about."

The Vandenberg commissary's military family has tied the connection between generations of military service. Although they don't wear a military uniform, their service continues.

"I can't thank my people enough for the job that they do here," said Harkins. "We are a team, and we take care of our military and retired veterans."