Exchange is proud to serve Soldiers, families and retirees for 120 years—and beyond

By Exchange Director/CEO Tom Shull

This summer marks an historic milestone for military families and their quality of life. July 25 will mark the 120th anniversary of the then-War Department’s decision to establish the post exchange system on every Army post “wherever practicable.” Today, “practicable” means there is an Exchange in all 50 states, five U.S. territories and more than 30 countries.

For 12 decades, the Army & Air Force Exchange Service has gone where the Army goes. From the American frontier, World War II, Vietnam and today in Afghanistan, we have proudly served alongside Soldiers. Throughout the years, what the Department of Defense’s oldest and largest military retailer has brought a taste of home to the front lines while supporting Soldiers’ families on the home front.

The Exchange’s history dates back to sutlers, who sold goods out of tents to troops during the French and Indian War from 1756 to 1763. Later came canteens, small rooms where Soldiers could get food, drinks, pens, paper and more. In the late 1800s, these canteens changed their names to “post exchanges.” From there, the modern-day Exchange was born, when, in 1895, post commanders were authorized to set up exchanges at every post.

If only the Soldiers of those long ago days could see us now! The modern Exchange benefit has come a long way from those first tents and canteens. Beyond the Main Store, the Exchange has grown to include Expresses, Military Clothing, fast-food restaurants, bakeries, school lunches and even Internet service in both garrison and deployed locations.

Today, the Exchange delivers a modern shopping experience—the buildings are clean and energy efficient. And, the Exchange offers something for every member of the family, from the main store to the mall to the food court. All over the world, the Exchange team strives to deliver world-class customer service to all shoppers—and serving military retirees is a critical part of this mission. The Exchange stood alongside you while you served, and we want to take care of your needs into the future.

One of the Exchange’s core values is family serving family. The Exchange team takes care of its own not only through goods and services, but also by improving quality of life on Army posts around the world. Exchange earnings provide dividends to support Army Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs for Soldiers and their families. In the past 10 years, the Exchange has distributed more than $2.4 billion for MWR to fund quality-of-life improvements. The Exchange has no shareholders—100 percent of our earnings support service members and their families.

If you don’t live near an Exchange, please come see us at, the Exchange’s online shopping site. Last fall, the Exchange gave its first major overhaul in 10 years. The updated site offers the best navigation, product selection and service we’ve offered in 120 years. The Exchange’s online product assortment is now updated regularly and includes many of the same items found in our brick-and-mortar locations.

During my Army service, I commanded C Company, 1-22 Infantry Regiment. The regiment’s motto, “deeds not words,” is a fitting description of the bravery and selflessness demonstrated by those who defend our country. This motto communicates the need to act and sacrifice. This is a phrase the Exchange takes to heart in our service to you.

The Exchange team appreciates the sacrifices you and your families have made for our country. It’s an honor to serve you and yours. Here’s to the next 120 years of service to Soldiers, families and retirees!

Tom Shull, a former infantry company commander, is the first civilian Director/CEO of the Army & Air Force Exchange Service. Before coming to the Exchange, he served on the National Security Council staff in the Reagan White House and served as CEOs for several renowned retailers and consumer goods companies.