Misawa commissary manager takes a proactive approach to safety during COVID-19

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Melanie Bulow-Gonterman
  • 35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

When walking into a grocery store individuals tend to leisurely shop with no regards to the distance that they keep from other people. However, with the recent pandemic the routine shopping is noticeably different.


Mark Bissell, the Misawa commissary officer, has taken a proactive approach in ensuring customers can buy groceries while maintaining safe, social distancing at Misawa Air Base, Japan.


“The commissary team and I have implemented multiple protective measures throughout the store promoting the safety of employees and shoppers,” said Bissell. Walking into the Misawa commissary, you are required to wear a facemask and a commissary employee meets you are the entrance to greet you and asks for a form of identification.


One-way aisles systematically move you through the store, allowing shoppers to get their groceries while maintaining social distancing.


You will wait in line and stand on designated markings that place everyone 6 feet apart until you are called to the next available clerk, and even then, gloves are worn by commissary members to promote the safety of all members involved in this transaction.


Bissell is no stranger to crisis operations. In 2011, he worked at the commissary in Yokosuka, Japan, when the Great East Earthquake occurred.

“I was not the commissary officer at the time, but I was very much involved in the base’s efforts to get supplies up to the affected area by U.S. Naval ships,” said Bissell.


The Yokosuka commissary acted as a distribution point for the base.


“Two lessons I learned from the earthquake that I implemented were being prepared for almost everything and being open and pliable to change,” said Bissell. “The situation during any emergency changes daily, and we have been able to work within many of the guidelines passed down not only from the base but from our own headquarters chain of command.”


When Bissell arrived to the Commissary in 2018, he noticed there was a low stock on several key items, which over time he began to increase, ultimately, better preparing for any emergency situation that may arise. Bissell’s past experience better-equipped him to know how to react and keep a cool head when faced with a crisis.


“When the earthquake happened, I was only a department manager, but I saw my leadership keep calm. It had a similar effect on how I worked,” said Bissell. “I believe by remaining calm, my staff sees the kind of tone I set for the commissary, therefore allowing everyone else to remain calm as well.”


Being overseas comes with its own set of challenges and the biggest one is ensuring that you keep the popular products stocked.


On March 24th, Bissell experienced a similar kind of crisis following a notification of the first positive COVID-19 test in Aomori Prefecture.


Bissell described this day as organized chaos. To give you an idea of just how hectic it was the daily average of sales is $56,000. On this particular day in the first four hours sales were at $65,000 and by close of business there was approximately $108,000 in sales.


This increase in shoppers and sales caught the attention of 35th Fighter Wing leadership, who emphasized the critical role the commissary plays in the day-to-day operations of the base.


“With the exception of the commissary itself being exposed to a COVID case, in none of our courses of action will the commissary close, and even then, we will complete the deep cleaning as required and continue to keep it stocked,” said Col. Kristopher Struve, 35th Fighter Wing commander.


Since then, Bissell has continued to bring these words to fruition. He works with various agencies around base  to provide safety measures and keep the shelves full.


In addition to the staff at the commissary, the stateside logistics group is determining if items need to be air-lifted or stick to traditional shipping.


Bissell continued saying, there are three shipping contracts that get the products from the  docks or warehouses to the store. Also, the base itself is helping by making sure we have a smooth process at the gate to get the food through.


“It is said a lot that it takes a village to succeed and not just one individual, and I believe the Misawa community has proven that statement true in how we have reacted and pulled together to ensure we do everything possible during this trying time,” expressed Bissell. “I am truly proud to say I am part of this community.”