Soldier, Retirees win big with Exchange's 'Your Holiday Bill Is On Us' contest

The Army & Air Force Exchange Service made dreams come true for three grand-prize winners of the Military Star "Your Holiday Bill Is On Us" sweepstakes—and for one young Soldier from Fort Bliss, winning has changed her life.

As a grand-prize winner, Sgt. Kakala Loketi had her Military Star account paid in full. During a presentation at Freedom Crossing at Fort Bliss, Loketi took scissors to an oversize Military Star statement, symbolizing her $8,200 bill being wiped clean.

"This is a huge relief for me and my family," said Loketi, who is married and has a 4-year-old son. "A weight has been lifted off me."

Loketi, who will soon head to Korea for a yearlong deployment, said she primarily used her card for family emergencies. She also would help young Soldiers in her unit who were low on money by buying them basic necessities, including gas.

"The Military Star Card allowed me to take care of my Soldiers," she said.

Two Army retirees also received grand prizes in the worldwide contest. Retired Col. Steve Schwaiger, who was stationed at Joint Base Langley-Eustis and now works on base as a civilian contractor, received a $2,500 credit. Retired Army Lt. Col. Jon Riches, who lives in Abilene, Texas, also received a $2,500 account credit during a presentation at Dyess Air Force Base.

For Schwaiger, his prize came at the perfect time. He and his wife just bought their first home. His wife and teenage daughters are weighing in on how to spend his winnings.

"I'm taking everyone's orders—it's kind of like a Christmas dream list," he said.

Riches, an 80-year-old Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm veteran, hasn't decided how he will spend his prize. He says visiting Dyess and shopping at the Exchange strengthen his military connection.

"I've always felt at home in the military," Riches said. "It's nice to go back and feel spirit of the military community at Dyess and with the Exchange."

The Military Star card is a line of credit for use at the Exchange—no matter where military members serve. During November and December, shoppers were automatically entered in the sweepstakes each time they used their Military Star card to pay for purchases at any Army or Air Force Exchange location or on The Exchange received nearly 4 million entries in the worldwide contest.

Besides the grand prizes, 10 second-place winners received $1,000 statement credits, and 25 third-prize winners earned $500 credits. Click here to see a complete list of winners.

"The Exchange is honored to 'pay it forward' to Sgt. Loketi, Col. Schwaiger and Lt. Col. Riches, who have devoted their lives to service and sacrifice," said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Sean Applegate, Exchange senior enlisted advisor. "This contest allowed us to make dreams come true and change lives."