This holiday season, the Exchange puts military families first

By Tom Shull, Army & Air Force Exchange Service Director/CEO

As the holidays draw near, your Army & Air Force Exchange Service family is honored to celebrate another year of serving you and your family.

In 2016, your hard-earned Exchange benefit continued to thrive to deliver maximum value to the "greatest customers in the world." Earnings as a result of shopping your Exchange continued to "pay forward" support to military Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs including Army Child Development Centers, Youth Services and fitness centers, Air Force Outdoor Recreation services, Warfighters' combat uniforms, overseas school lunches for their children and many more Quality-of-Life programs critical to maintaining force readiness, and resiliency.

We thank you for allowing us to partner with you and your family to support these important family and support programs. It is our privilege to continue the Exchange's 121 year old commitment to providing 100 percent of earnings to those we serve through a virtuous circle that has generated $2.4 billion for military Quality-of-Life programs over the past 10 years.

Black Friday is just around the corner, and your Exchange has the brands and value you need and want. Part of meeting our commitment to military families is ensuring you have the best selection of this year's hottest holiday gifts, including the latest TVs, apparel, handbags, appliances and computers, with prices and service that cannot be beat.

We look forward to serving you and recognizing your distinguished service this Black Friday in store at 0400 in the continental United States, 0500 in Guam, 0700 in the Pacific and 0800 in Europe. CONUS stores will also open at 0800 on Saturday, Nov. 26; stores in Europe and PAC will open at normal business hours. All Exchange stores will open at normal business hours on Sunday, Nov. 27. For those of you looking to get an early start on the Black Friday deals, we have deals beginning on Thanksgiving Day and running through the weekend < Caution- > .

While everyone loves a good deal, what really matters this time of year is family. You may have noticed several retailers that have in recent years opened on Thanksgiving Day are keeping their doors closed this year to allow their team members to spend time with their families. While this will be the first time in some years many retailers outside the gate will do this, the Exchange has consistently put its core value of "Family Serving Family" first when setting holiday hours.  Thanksgiving has been and remains a day for family and fellowship for its nearly 35,000 associates-85% of whom share a family connection to the military.

As families around world come together to celebrate the holidays, military families separated from family and friends, some by entire continents, are never far from mind. You may have noticed the words "Our Customers Are Heroes" displayed on the walls of your Exchange. Because of our special connection to our military, the Exchange enjoys a unique understanding of the fact that it truly takes a hero to meet the challenge of military service.

Our team is committed to recognizing each hero who honors us by walking through our doors with the respect and dignity their service deserves. We are focused on meeting not only the immediate needs of service members and their families, but also the long-term readiness and resiliency of those who stand ready to defend our great Nation's freedoms at a moment's notice. It's our way of saying 'thanks' to you and the rest of our country's heroes for making the sacrifices that protect us all.

While serving in the Army, I commanded C Company, 1-22 Infantry Regiment. There, the regiment's motto of 'deeds not words' was deeply ingrained in me. Today, travelling the world and meeting service members of every stripe in the Exchange's more than 2,500 facilities, I see this motto reflected in the actions of the amazing people we are so privileged to serve.

Thank you for your service. Thank you for shopping your Exchange. Thank you for allowing your Exchange family to be of service to you and yours this holiday season.

Tom Shull, a former infantry company commander, served as Military Assistant to Robert C. McFarlane, National Security Advisor to President Reagan. Currently, he is the Army & Air Force Exchange Service's Director/CEO and has served as CEO for retail and consumer packaged goods companies.