The Army & Air Force Exchange Service brings some of the comforts of home to U.S. troops deployed in more than 150 countries. Beginning Veterans Day 2017, the service will expand to offer tax-free shopping for life for all veterans who have served honorably. Tom Shull, CEO of the Exchange discusses efforts to ensure U.S. troops and their families are provided with essential services, improving their quality of life experience, as well as the expansion of the service to include veterans. This discussion continues in part 2 of the Army and Air Force Exchange.
Interview recorded Oct 11, 2017. Hosted by Robert Traynham.
Read a partial transcript of this interview below:
Robert T: With US troops deployed in more than 150 nations worldwide, the tastes and comforts of home can be hard to come by. But in nearly a quarter of those countries, service members don’t have to look far to find the American brands and products to which they’ve become accustomed. Hello everyone, and welcome to Comcast Newsmakers. I’m Robert Trayhahm. Joining me is Tom Shull. He’s the CEO of the Army & Air Force Exchange Service. Tom, welcome to the program.
Tom Shull: Thank you, Robert.
Robert T: You know, my father was stationed overseas in Thailand, and I remember him speaking very fondly [00:00:30] of having a good American cooked meal with his buddies, and I used to ask him, “How did you get that over in Thailand?” And he would say either “It was shipped over by your mom,” or perhaps, “I went to the Exchange to get the food, and the name brands just brought a lot of comfort to me and my buddies.” So when I knew when I was going to sit down with you, Tom, this morning, I thought of my dad and him being over in a foreign land, wearing our country’s uniform, and the little creature comforts of [00:01:00] home really brought things home to him, literally and figuratively.
Tom Shull: Right, what we’re so honored to so is provide, literally, a lifeline for so many troops and their family members, a taste of home, as you just mentioned. We go where you go is our motto, and so we go into the most difficult situations along with the troops and provide those needed provisions, which they love, and they have for 122 years. We’ve served service members, now, honorably for [00:01:30] 122 years [crosstalk 00:01:31].
Robert T: So Tom, walk us through. How does this work? Are you a non-profit or are you part of the US government? Walk us through your mission and your scope.
Tom Shull: Sure. We are part of the US government. We’re a Department of Defense agency, but we are non-profit. A lot of people think we make a profit. No, everything we earn, we give back to the community in the form of quality of life programs like fitness centers, child development centers, school lunches overseas. So we do military clothing, combat uniforms, everything that they need for [00:02:00] their day-to-day living, we provide.
Robert T: It’s interesting. You provide much more than just food. It sounds like you provide a suite of services to improve the quality of life experience, if you will, not only for the soldier, but also for his or her family?
Tom Shull: Right. We work in partnership with the commissary, which does provide the needs of our basic food. We provide all the food courts, restaurants, as well the convenience stores. We call them Expresses, but they’re basically … The old term was Shopettes. Your father probably knew them as Shopettes, but [00:02:30] we provide the food through the Shopettes as well.
Robert T: I imagine that from a morale standpoint, it really helps with the troops’ morale. Am I not correct with that?
Tom Shull: Absolutely. We were recently supporting in Florida, the first responders and the troops who had been displaced or affected by Hurricane Irma. An example there was the garrison commander said when AAFES, [00:03:00] it’s referred to as AAFES was back up and running, “We knew we were back to normal.” So there’s a feeling of knowing that you can have a meal, or get a haircut, or go to the convenience store to get water and other critical food supplies. I think having that assurance is really important to service members.
Robert T: Tom, is it typical for you to, you meaning your organization, to go in after a hurricane, whether it’s Hurricane Harvey in Texas, you mentioned Irma and so forth, is that pretty common during hurricane season?
Tom Shull: It is. [00:03:30] We, in fact, in the case of Hurricane Sandy years ago, we provided all the gas to the first responders. We set up a tactical operation center in Fort Hamilton, here in New York. We literally set everything up to support the first responders so that they would have gas, and supplies, and everything they needed, emergency supplies to provide for the needs of those who were displaced, to help the firefighters, as well as the police, and [00:04:00] all the other first responders.