The Exchange, with facilities in more than 30 countries, has long been the provider of home comforts and necessities to service members. Toiletries, barbers, beauty shops, franchised restaurants, and energy drinks are just some of the products and services AAFES brought to Iraq to support Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. Much of the proceeds go to fund Morale, Welfare, and Recreation programs provided to service members. In 2008, the Status of Forces Agreement signed between the U.S. and Iraq set the course for the withdrawal of troops by the end of 2011. Now, as service members redeploy from Iraq in this historic drawdown, the AAFES facilities are following suite, while still carrying out their mission.
“We’re here for the Soldiers and we’ll go that extra step to have what they need to help them fulfill their mission,” said Debbie Gomez, AAFES manager for Contingency Operating Base Adder.
Many U.S. bases across Iraq have already closed, and service members on COB Adder have started seeing the volume of AAFES services shrink. As fewer troops remain, fewer facilities are needed.
“It’s a good feeling knowing we’re going home,” said Staff Sgt. William Rose, with the 89th Transportation Company. Rose, now on his third deployment since 2003, said he has seen the spectrum of services provided by AAFES build up and drawdown.
While service members continue to come to COB Adder from other bases in Iraq, the shelves at the post exchange will be restocked for as long as possible, said Gomez. “We have other [bases] that are assisting us in the drawdown to make sure that we are fully stocked.”
In addition to the goods sold by AAFES, the barbershops are packing up their clippers in preparation to move out of the country. Service members will find alternatives to get the military haircut in the time after the barbers leave.
“I’ve had a haircut a week since I’ve been here,” said Staff Sgt. Emanuel Alvarez, Headquarters Company, 25th Infantry Division. “It’s surreal knowing that we’re on the way out, getting my last haircut from the actual AAFES workers now; we’re going down to clippers and shaved heads, it’s going to change things a little bit.”
The available services at COB Adder will remain open as long as possible to continue the mission of supporting service members packing up to leave, said Gomez. “We’re serving the best customers in the world, and we have,” she said.
From tents and trailers, to larger and larger buildings, and back again, the presence of the Exchange has evolved over the course of operations in Iraq. Even POGs, the cardboard circles redeemable at AAFES services in place of metal coins have become scarce. Holding true to their motto, “We go where you go,” AAFES facilities are making an exit along with the troops departing Iraq.
November 19, 2011: Written by Pvt. Andrew Slovensky, 362nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Redistributed by www.SupportOurTroops.org