Inflation and supply chain concerns are having an impact on service members and their families, just as they’re affecting other families nationwide, but “our junior service members … feel the largest impact,” the top enlisted Marine told lawmakers Wednesday.

“If we can’t get a handle on those costs that are [burdening our] families, then that’s going to impact our retention,” said Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Troy E. Black, during a hearing of the House Appropriations military construction subcommittee.

Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., asked whether there are additional flexibilities or resources that the services may need to ensure that military families’ basic needs are met. “Some of my constituents have expressed concerns about rising food and supply costs in the commissaries,” Valadao said.

Black responded that inflation is affecting everything from food at commissaries and grocery stores outside the gate to child care. He also expressed concern that Basic Allowance for Housing rates may lag behind increased housing costs in local markets. “Obviously, those two things don’t align. Those are impacts to our families,” he said.

Last year, in response to skyrocketing housing costs, defense officials took the highly unusual step of providing a temporary increase in BAH for service members in 56 hard-hit housing areas around the country. The rates were offered for the last three months of the year, until the new, annually adjusted rates took effect in January.

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Russell Smith said he echoed the issues raised by Black, and added, “I can’t overstate how important the commissaries are to our folks. That does put affordable food in front of them. It gives them the opportunity to purchase it.”

In response to earlier questions about how the nationwide shortage of baby formula is affecting military families, Black said the current shortage highlights the ongoing challenges with the supply chain. He noted service members stationed in Okinawa and Guam are “at the end of the supply chain. There’s less and less opportunity for families to have what they need,” he said.

“There are challenges and things we need to get after, and this current challenge with the baby formula is just one of those,” Black said.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, chairwoman of the full House Appropriations Committee, said lawmakers will seek more information about the baby formula supply for military families.

“We need to work together with you as to how we’re providing for our service men and women,” she said. “I’m sure they’re frantic about being able to get a product so they can feed their babies. We’d really like to know what the situation is with the military, and then work with you as to how we can address it so that becomes part of the answer to this very serious crisis.

“Families shouldn’t have to choose between supply and safety,” she said. “We want to make sure that when we’re talking about families, we’re including our military families, as well.”

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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