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W.Va. military takes care of its own

By Megan Workman
Kenny Kemp
Retired Air National Guard member Gerald Ratliff and his wife, Frances, both 70, fill their cart Saturday at the military commissary on-site sale with food they'll use for their Thanksgiving meal. The National Guard complex in Eleanor hosted the annual sale, which ends Sunday.
Kenny Kemp
Disabled U.S. Army veteran Harold Clark and his wife, Teresa, wait in the checkout line Saturday. The two-hour wait was just too long for their 3-year-old son, Caleb, to stay awake.
Kenny Kemp
Connie Dunlap waits in the 2-hour-long checkout line Saturday. Dunlap went to the commissary on-site sale without her husband for the first time. U.S. Navy Vietnam veteran Michael Dunlap, who enjoyed going to the sales, died in January.
Kenny Kemp
Ashley Meade of Hometown, Putnam County, walks the aisles Saturday.
ELEANOR, W.Va. -- Vietnam veteran Michael Dunlap always drove the buggy.When the U.S. Navy veteran and his high school sweetheart wife, Connie, would walk down the aisles of the military commissary on-site sale, he was the one who pushed the cart, Connie said."My husband loved these sales. He always had a buggy full of everything," Connie, 64, said Saturday at the West Virginia National Guard's annual commissary sale in Eleanor.On Saturday, though, Connie walked with the cart by herself for the first time since her husband died from surgery complications in January."I called my daughter this morning and told her I couldn't go, I couldn't do it," Connie said between tears. "But she said that I could do it. Today was hard, but I'm OK now."About 350 people shopped Saturday at the two-day sale, said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jenny Mae Pridemore. Although the sale didn't start until 10 a.m., Pridemore said people started lining up outside the armory at about 7:30 a.m.The sale continues Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.Military commissaries provide groceries at savings to service members that average more than 30 percent compared to civilian stores, Pridemore said.Current and retired servicemembers from any branch of service can stroll down aisles of fresh meat, produce, household-cleaning and personal-care items, canned goods, holiday items, beverages and a variety of nonperishable goods.Because there are no permanent commissaries in West Virginia, The National Guard partners with the Defense Commissary Agency to bring the on-site commissary sale program to armories around the state. The Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, provided the supplies for the sale.Wright-Patterson brought everything on three trucks. Once it's gone, it's gone, Pridemore said.What sells out the quickest in the Mountain state?Meat, Pridemore said."At the first sale, in August 2008 in Kingwood, West Virginia, they had to make two trips back to Wright-Pat for more meat," Pridemore said with a laugh. "They've gotten a feel for what the West Virginia population likes to buy."
Gerald and Frances Ratliff, both 70, like the sale's steaks, ribs and burgers.The couple looked over their coupons as they stood next to their buggy full of food for their Thanksgiving meal. Canned pumpkin piled on top of potatoes, pie crusts and cranberry sauce were a few items they planned on taking to their son's Jackson County home for Thanksgiving.They even bought diapers, as gifts for their great-grandkids, said Gerald, a retired Air National Guard and Air Force veteran."This sale really is a benefit for people who have earned it," Gerald said. "We follow [the commissary sales] all around the state."Next year, there are 10 sales planned in West Virginia. The next sale in Charleston is planned for the weekend of March 2-3.Harold and Teresa Clark go to three commissary sales a year. The Poca family, along with their 3-year-old son, Caleb, showed up at 10:30 a.m. Saturday and, by 2 p.m., they were finally checking out.
About 20 people and their buggies stood in the checkout line at one time, which snaked around a couple corners inside the armory.Two hours after they first stepped foot in the long line -- and young Caleb had fallen asleep in his father's arms -- servicmembers bagged the Clarks' groceries.Harold, an Army veteran who was disabled by a roadside bomb, said the sale helps his family buy everyday items -- such as juice and diapers for their son -- at a discount so they can provide their children with some extras. The Clarks also have a 16-year-old daughter."It allows us to give a little more for our kids," Teresa said. "We can go to the Disney store and get them a toy because of the money we save."Ashley Meade, 30, wanted to give a little more to her husband, Peter, who is deployed in Afghanistan. The Hometown resident filled her cart with Kool-Aid, peanuts and soap that she plans to put in boxes and send overseas to her husband, who left Sept. 1."This is one of the big things they offer to their families and spouses," Meade said, "so I like to take advantage of it."The military does take care of the spouses, Connie Dunlap said, and she will come back."This is a family," she said as she inched her cart closer to the checkout line, "and this sale is preparing me for the holidays I'll have with my family."Reach Megan Workman at or 304-348-5113.
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