BAGHDAD - Over a span of eight years, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service has provided troops with options other than eating at the dining facility or shopping at the same concession stands. The AAFES motto is “We go where you go” and their mission in Iraq is to sustain the needs of troops serving away from home.
Now the military mission here has changed, and as Operation New Dawn nears its completion, the AAFES concessions currently serving service members and civilians on Victory Base Complex are beginning the closure process.
Effective April 1, all non-essential concessions, such as brand-named fast food operations, gift, jewelry, rugs, t-shirts and electronics shops will be closed.
“The closure timing is linked to the proposed closure of each forward operation base,” said Lt. Col. Larry Hart, senior liaison officer and AAFES officer-in-charge (forward) with AAFES military operations. “It is imminent that a delicate balance is maintained for class-six support as we thin and consolidate the AAFES footprint.”
During this transition process, troops will have fewer options to dine and shop. The quality of life for service members and civilians on VBC will also evolve, as they must now face the inevitability of sustaining themselves without many of the amenities they have enjoyed.
“It takes away from the variety that is given to the people out here,” said Sgt. 1st Class Dexter Avery, a tactical satellite non-commissioned officer-in-charge with the Company B, 40th Expeditionary Support Battalion. “It was great that… fast food restaurants were made available to us because sometimes simple things like this make us feel a little bit closer to home.”
As changes occur in the coming months, VBC residents will also have to adjust by finding alternate resources for the things they want and planning ahead. Hart suggested that troops remain flexible and recognize that 2011 is a year of expectation management.
“With AAFES closing down their shops, I have to depend on care packages for most of my personal hygiene products, snacks and reading materials,” said Warrant Officer Luis Figueroa, an electronic maintenance supervisor with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 40th ESB.
“It is somewhat of a downfall because it will be harder to purchase keepsakes to send back home,” Avery said. “Although it is important to have some memorabilia from deployment, the honor of serving in Iraq with the support of AAFES is a memory of its own.”
Quality of life for service members in Iraq continues to be a priority for AAFES. Essential services including the Post Exchange, beauty and barber shops, alteration shops and internet services will remain open until 60 days prior to the base closure. Living with limited amenities is a challenge that must be faced as U.S. forces approach the end of their mission here.
“It is going to be rough, but it is something we have to deal with,” said Figueroa. “We are warriors, therefore, we have that ability to adapt and overcome any obstacles that come our way.”