MEHTAR LAM, AFGHANISTAN
LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – When soldiers speak of a base in Afghanistan being “built up,” there are several places on the base they typically mention.
First on the list, inevitably, is whether or not the base has a post exchange store, and how large that store is. If a base has a large dining facility or gym, soldiers will also often say it is “built up.”
Forward Operating Base Mehtar Lam, home to a few hundred soldiers, most from the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry “Red Bull” Division, took a big step toward being “built up” Dec. 20. It may not have all the amenities like you’ll find at Bagram Air Base, but FOB Mehtar Lam now boasts a post exchange store.
At exactly 3 p.m., U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Brian Nichols, the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment first sergeant, cut the ribbon outside the connex trailer which houses the post exchange, officially opening it for business.
“One of the biggest things the post exchange brings is a morale builder for the soldiers,” U.S. Army Capt. Shane Hunter, HHC, 1st Bn., 133rd Inf. Regt. commander, said.
“There are a lot of things you can’t do over here that you can do in the States. One of the things people in the States take for granted is going out and spending money on something, even if it’s only a dollar.
“This gives the soldiers the ability to feel a little more like they’re at home, to go out and buy something like a cold drink, a sweat tea, or a Monster energy drink, even if it’s only for a dollar.”
Hunter, who hails from Grundy Center, Iowa, said when the 1st Bn., 133rd Inf. Regt. assumed control over FOB Mehtar Lam in early November, bringing a PX to the base was one of the items on a list of ideas to improve the FOB from the previous unit. Before the PX, Hunter said soldiers would often have to travel to the larger bases at Bagram and Jalalabad to get things they need.
To make the idea of the PX to become a reality, Hunter said he and Nichols contacted various units to find out the process. They said they also drew up plans for the layout of the store together.
Nichols, who is from Boone, Iowa, said he then went to Bagram Air Field and attended a class given by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, the company which runs PXs throughout the world. There, he said he learned how to order the products for the store and to run the cash register.
The FOB also offers a few stores run by local nationals, where soldiers can buy items representative of Afghan culture, as well as movies and electronics. The PX, however, offers more goods soldiers typically use on a daily basis, such as towels, shower shoes, foot powder, personal hygiene and feminine products, tuff boxes to send things home in and clothes hangers. Pillows and refrigerated cans of Arizona sweet tea, which sold for a dollar each, were also among the day’s top-selling items.
Hunter said he came up with the list of items for the initial order of goods for the PX based upon a survey of what soldiers in his company said they’d like to see.
He said the store can be stocked with a maximum of $15,000 in merchandise at one time. He said on opening day the store held closer to $12,000 because there were some items, such as candy and snacks, Ssldiers eat on missions, that had not yet arrived. He also said that the more the store sells, the more products they will be able to carry.
The first official customer of the PX was 1st Bn., 133rd Inf. Regt. battalion commander U.S. Army Lt. Col. Steve Kremer, from Cherokee, Iowa. He entered the store first to check it out, although an unidentified soldier made the first purchase, rushing to the counter to buy a pack of cigarettes.
Two junior enlisted Ssldiers, U.S. Army Pfc. Gregory Shadlow, a supply specialist from Waterloo, Iowa, and U.S. Army Pfc. Jeremiah Crisel, a chaplain’s assistant from Sanborn, Iowa, both soldiers from HHC, 1st Bn., 133rd Infantry Regt., will serve as the official “shopkeepers” of the PX, stocking the store and processing its transactions. At the end of its first day of business, the store had sold more than $750 in merchandise.
Shadlow, a supply specialist, is well-versed in running a store, having previously owned a bar in the civilian sector.
“Running the store is a lot of fun,” Shadlow said. “I get to joke around with everybody on base as they make their purchases, which is great.”
The PX will be open from 3 to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Hunter said, and that when units from the smaller outposts come to the base, they can also schedule it to be open.
||MEHTAR LAM, AF
This work, FOB Mehtar Lam adds post exchange, by SFC Ryan Matson, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.