This month, on July 25, the Army & Air Force Exchange Service celebrates 121 years of serving Soldiers and their families. Since 1895, the Exchange has ensured Soldiers on the front lines have a lifeline to America while taking care of their families on the home front.
Our journey is a part of your journey. Whether it was buying toiletries out of a makeshift PX in a newly liberated building in France or off a helicopter that just landed at a forward base in Vietnam, buying a new car for delivery once you returned to the States or buying American-brand peanut butter for your child in an overseas Shoppette, I hope the PX is part of your kit bag of memories.
Today’s Exchange is making memories for today’s Soldiers on the frontlines in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Poland, we recently took our mobile field exchanges to serve the largest NATO exercise since the end of the Cold War and to Cameroon in support of the U.S. Army Africa’s Task Force Mamba, in support of the humanitarian assistance and counter-insurgency missions.
Closer to home, the Exchange is expanding its support of current and former Soldiers to include dentistry, optometry and optical services as well as durable medical equipment shops.
In May, the Exchange opened its newest dental clinic at Fort Stewart. This location, in addition to dental clinics at Forts Hood and Irwin, sees more than 1,400 patients a month. The Exchange wants to expand this service and is seeking approval for dental clinics at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Luke Air Force Base and Joint Base Langley-Eustis.
For years, military families have counted on the Exchange to take care of their vision. The Exchange operates 99 optical shops and 49 optometry clinics worldwide, offering eye exams, glasses and contact lenses. Clinics at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and Joint Base Charleston opened in 2016, and locations are set to open at Forts Knox, Bragg, Riley and Rucker later this year. For those not near a military installation, eyewear and contact lenses can also be found at the Exchange online Marketplace at www.shopmyexchange.com/marketplace.
At Forts Bliss and Belvoir, the Exchange provides medical equipment including CPAP machines, walkers, braces, bandages, special shoes and other hard-to-find medical supplies. This year, the Exchange is set to open more durable medical equipment stores at Buckley Air Force Base, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Luke Air Force Base, Fort Stewart, Patrick Air Force Base, Joint Base Andrews, Fort Knox, Fort Rucker and Nellis Air Force Base.
When retired Soldiers turn to the Exchange—whether it’s for a dental exam, contact lenses or medical supplies—they help make life better for those who wear the uniform today. Exchange earnings provide dividends to support Army Quality-of-Life programs for Soldiers and their families. In the past 10 years, the Exchange has distributed more than $2.4 billion to fund Quality-of-Life improvements. Last year alone, record earnings of $402 million generated a dividend of $237 million.
No matter where or when you served—from Vietnam to the Global War on Terror—the Exchange team appreciates all you and your families have sacrificed. It’s an honor to serve you and take care of your well-being.
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.
By Tom Shull, Army & Air Force Exchange Service Director/CEO