Wednesday, August 30, 2006
From Forest Fires to Fallujah, AAFES Goes Where Troops Go
DALLAS, Aug. 30, 2006 – True to its motto of "We Go Where You Go," the Army and Air Force Exchange Service has mobilized its next-generation Tactical Field Exchange in support of some 550 active-duty soldiers helping control wildfires that have burned across Washington's Okanogan and Wenatchee national forests. "AAFES has pulled off another superb operation in record time," said AAFES' Fort Lewis General Manager JW Merriman. "Our associates were able to open the exchange less than six hours after pulling into camp. We opened our doors at 8 p.m. and remained open until 10:30 p.m., serving exhausted troops who had just returned from fighting the 100,000-acre fire."
The mobile equivalent of a stationary post or base exchange found on an Army or Air Force installation, TFEs are 40- to 53-foot trailers that have been converted into mobile retail stores to support contingency deployments. Military operations in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo validated the need for this quality-of-life support to deployed servicemembers, as did last year's hurricane relief operations for Joint Task Forces Katrina and Rita, AAFES officials said.
Once the TFE arrives on site, receives merchandise and sets up -- usually done within 24 hours -- the unit is open for business around the clock, as long as needed. AAFES maintains a fleet of TFEs for use in support of training exercises, war zones and natural disasters. While the exterior of the TFE sent to Washington may look similar to those serving troops throughout Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, all comparisons end with the paint and logo.
"Our new TFEs are being designed through lessons learned in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan," said Lt. Col. Steven Dean, AAFES' chief of contingency plans. "The feedback we are receiving indicates that the new units will result in better work environments for associates and reduced support requirements from supported units. The TFE in Washington is just the first in a group of self-sustaining exchanges AAFES will be deploying in the years to come."
Like the older versions, the new TFEs carry a basic stock assortment that includes water, personal care items, basic clothing items, snacks, soft drinks and entertainment.
"While personal sacrifices and inconveniences are a way of life for troops, TFE support plays a significant role in enhancing morale, readiness and mission effectiveness," Dean said. "Whether troops are on patrol in a war zone or battling fires in the Pacific Northwest, TFEs make it possible for AAFES to provide support to almost every corner of the globe."
Task Force Blaze, made up of many Fort Lewis units, is expected to last up to 30 days. The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, requested the deployment due to a critical shortage of civilian firefighting crews and unfavorable weather forecasts. The task force includes 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment; 23rd Chemical Battalion; 5th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment; 4th Battalion, 6th Aviation Regiment; 29th Signal Battalion; and the 28th Public Affairs Detachment.