HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – “Whenever anybody sees the PX truck, that is all you hear about – people saying ‘Oh, the PX truck is here,’” said Lance Cpl. Cody Turner, a combat engineer with 9th Engineer Support Battalion. “It’s definitely a morale booster for all the Marines at the [Forward Operating Bases].”
Forward operating bases, patrol bases and combat outposts are widely spread throughout Helmand Province, Afghanistan, and many service members – like Turner, who is currently at FOB Shukvani – do not have the luxury of a Post Exchange. Without access to a permanent PX, acquiring a small “taste of home” can typically only be achieved through care packages.
Luckily for the service members deployed to remote locations, the Warfighter Exchange Services Team travels throughout the area of operations to ensure the Marines and sailors are able to purchase some “morale boosters.”
“Our mission is to provide for the guys on the front lines and the outlying PBs and COPs who don’t have a PX at their location,” said Sgt. Nathan Rogers, a Marine Corps Community Services Marine and member of the WES Team. “We get them the basic items they need and the items they want.”
WES Teams, which consist of anywhere from two to eight Marines, complete multiple missions while moving throughout the battlespace. The teams consist of at least one MCCS Marine to run the PX and one disbursing Marine to ensure the service members have access to cash. Additionally, postal Marines are often times attached to the WES Team to bring mail and pick up packages that are then sent home.
The Mobile PX
Managing a traveling store is not easy. The MCCS Marines are constantly shopping, stocking, sorting and selling.
The process starts when the Marines prepare to leave Camp Leatherneck and head to a FOB or in some cases multiple FOBs. The Marines first have to stock their mobile store, which is a large container that is typically moved from one location to the next via seven-ton truck.
“Typically a unit will email us a list of items they want or request,” said Rogers. “We then go to the PX [on Camp Leatherneck], pull the items from the warehouse. We then come back to our compound and pack up the container.”
Once the MCCS Marines have their mobile stores stocked with drinks, snack foods, hygiene items, electronics, magazines and more, the Marines are attached to a combat logistics patrol that is headed to the FOB in need.
“The container will get loaded up on a seven-ton, and we will catch a patrol out to their position,” said Rogers. “Once we get there, we just open it up like a regular store that was there permanently.”
Having a mobile store visit a remote FOB in Helmand Province is a great luxury for the service members deployed there, but without access to cash the store is useless. That is where the disbursing Marines come in to play.
“Basically, we follow the PX team,” said Sgt. Mario Sanchez, a disbursing technician with 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward). “We provide support for them, so when Marines come out, they can pull out cash from their paycheck and have money to spend on the truck.”
While on a WES Team mission, the disbursing technicians take down information from service members who would like to get cash. Once the correct information is given, Marines are able to take an advance on their upcoming paycheck.
“A lot of these Marines – especially at the smaller bases – they don’t really have a lot of things, so when the PX truck comes here it’s a great morale booster for them,” Sanchez said. “So the opportunity for them to take out money and for me to be able to give them that money, it really makes a difference for them.”
Whether the WES Teams travel to larger forward operating bases where several hundred service members are stationed or they travel to smaller patrol bases where only a handful of Marines are, the WES Team Marines take pride in knowing they are providing a morale boost for fellow deployed service members.
“I enjoy it because of the sense of gratification I get from the Marines,” said Sgt. Christopher Sherrill, a MCCS Marine and member of the WES Team. “The Marines really appreciate it. We are able to take stuff out to them that they wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else.”