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Is it hoarding or panic buying? Some military stores are limiting quantities of sanitizing products

With incidents of “panic buying” of sanitizing products in attempts to ward off the new coronavirus, some local military commanders and military stores have placed limits on the amount customers can buy.

That’s none too soon for some customers. Some are wondering whether people are buying much more than what’s needed for a few weeks’ emergency supply for a quarantine. And it might be time for some customers to brush up on the Defense Department rules that prohibit selling or giving away items you buy in military stores to unauthorized customers. The stores are a benefit for authorized customers only.

Donald Dodson said he saw a couple “grossly hoarding sanitizers and related products,” at the commissary at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, on March 7. “Their large shopping cart was bulging with these products …guessing from the amount in their cart, what they bought on Saturday should last them for years!”

He spoke with a commissary manager “who was polite but cautious in her response.”

Most other commissary shoppers were being considerate, he said, in an email to Military Times. Dodson was medically retired from the Army in 1971, and is also a retired federal special agent.

Commissary and exchange officials have been working with industry to make sure shelves are replenished. For example, commissary officials have been increasing their deliveries of high-demand items to Europe and the Pacific. Because of delays in shipboard supply containers, the commissary agency has increased air shipments of high-demand items to overseas stores where needed. Some of those items include hand sanitizers, sanitizing wipes, toilet paper and disinfectants.

In some cases, stores have placed limits on what customers can buy, which is similar to what many stores in civilian communities have done.

Here’s what’s happening:

Commissaries

Stores in many locations, both stateside and overseas, have placed limits on certain products.

“Given the rapidly changing situation, commissaries are working with local installation leadership to evaluate and, if necessary, institute quantity restrictions where needed in order to assure a reasonable level of stock availability for all authorized patrons,” said Kevin Robinson, spokesman for the Defense Commissary Agency.

In addition, commissaries will follow suit when stores outside the gate take action to impose limitations on the sale of hand sanitizers and related products.

Exchanges

A number of Navy Exchanges have imposed limitations on certain products, said Courtney Williams, spokeswoman for Navy Exchange Service Command. The first was the Navy Exchange in Guam, which placed limits on hand sanitizers, makes and disinfecting wipes, of one of each per customer, per day. NEXCOM officials give local stores the authority to consult with installation leadership about the situation, based on what they see happening to supplies in their stores. Officials recommend limiting purchases to two of each item per day, per customer, if needed.

To date, Williams said, NEXCOM isn’t seeing any issues with its distribution centers in getting these products to stores. They’re also using local procurement sources.

Rationing at some Army and Air Force Exchange Service stores overseas has been implemented as a result of local command guidance, said AAFES spokesman Chris Ward. As of this writing, all AAFES stores in Italy, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Kosovo, Bosnia, Romania, Bulgaria and most of Germany are rationing sanitizing and cleaning products to three of each item per customer, Ward said. In South Korea, the command has limited the purchase of masks and hand sanitizers to one per ID cardholder.

A word of warning

There are strict rules about what you do with items you buy in the commissary and exchange. By DoD regulation, commissary and exchange customers aren’t allowed to sell or give away any items bought in these stores to people, organizations or activities that aren’t entitled to commissary and exchange privileges. (That doesn’t apply to limited gifts bought for friends and family members.) Nor can you use these purchases to support a private business.

“Purchases in excess of an authorized patron’s or family’s reasonable use or need are also an abuse of privileges,” according to the DoD regulation.

Violation of the rules could cause you to lose your commissary and exchange privileges, or even result in disciplinary action.

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