By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 7, 2012 – Despite the prospect of major defense cuts early next year, the Defense Department remains committed to resale programs that provide valuable benefits to uniformed members and employment for family members and veterans, a senior department official told the House Armed Services Committee today.
Robert L. Gordon, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy, joined other officials in giving testimony before the committee to underscore the importance of the military resale program.
“On my visits to military communities, I hear of the tremendous appreciation for, and in some cases, the need for commissaries and exchanges,” Gordon said. “Often, they are (the only) source of high-quality American made products — but equally important, they are the lifeblood to many of our installation support programs.”
Programs such as the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, the Navy Exchange Service Command, Semper Fit Exchange Service and the Defense Commissary Agency are not only a significant source of employment for military family members, but they bring quality-of-life enhancements to service members around the globe, Gordon and other witnesses explained.
“A strong exchange benefit is one of the cornerstones of the military way of life,” said Air Force Brig. Gen. Francis L. Hendricks, AAFES commander. “It enhances recruitment and retention, thereby aiding in the readiness of the armed forces.”
Hendricks recalled AAFES’ rapid growth in theater since the spring of 2003, when U.S. ground forces fought their way up the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. “Our first store in Iraq operated out of the back of a Toyota Landcruiser,” Hendricks said. “As troops advanced northward, so did our store.”
During the next eight years, AAFES established 95 sites throughout the theater, and more than 4,000 of its employees volunteered to operate retail stores and food activities in support of the troops. “We brought them familiar products and services and the food they craved,” Hendricks said. “In that moment, at that place, we brought a little piece of home to them.”
Humanitarian aid to military members and surrounding communities is but another virtue of the resale program, according to Thomas Gordy, Armed Forces Marketing Council president. When the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan in March 2011, military resale systems worked with industry partners and the services to ensure military families stationed in the devastated region had access to food, water, milk and other essential items.
“The resale stores in Japan remained stocked, while the stores outside the gate were empty,” Gordy said. “Not only did the system support our military families, but (supported) the recovery effort with essential supplies, providing the United States with another element of humanitarian support to our friends in Japan.”
Wherever in the world uniformed members and their families rely on commissaries and exchanges, the resale program’s budget-conscious prices can offer consumers significant savings advantages, said retired Rear Adm. Robert J. Bianchi, Navy Exchange Service Command chief executive officer. “Our 2011 annual market basket survey results show that customers save an average of 23 percent below commercial retail prices not including sales tax, generating over $500 million in non-pay compensation,” Bianchi said.