Fort Lee Exchange
Starting May 1, DOD and Coast Guard Civilians will be allowed to shop at all Army & Air Force Exchange Service facilities in the U.S. The authorization extends to equivalent Navy and Marine Corps military stores as well. (Photo Credit: File Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEE, Va. – Starting May 1, DOD and Coast Guard Civilians will be allowed to shop at all Army & Air Force Exchange Service facilities in the U.S. The authorization extends to equivalent Navy and Marine Corps military stores as well.

The change in policy was announced by the Department of Defense on April 29. It only pertains to brick-and-mortar stores at this time. According to an AAFES news release, access to online ordering through ShopMyExchange.com will start later this year. The new authorization does not include the purchase of military uniforms or tobacco or alcohol products.

According to DOD estimates, the population of newly eligible customers is somewhere near 575,000 appropriated and non-appropriated fund employees. There are about 796,000 DOD civilians in the U.S., but close to a quarter of them already have exchange benefits as military retirees or spouses, for example.

The benefit of opening exchange access, noted AAFES Director and CEO Tom Shull in his agency’s press release, is the resulting increase in dividends for Quality-of-Life programs and the strengthening of the Exchange benefit for all service members as a result of greater buying power leverage.

In the last decade, the Exchange has contributed $2.2 billion to Child, Youth and School Services; Armed Forces Recreation Centers; and other programs that support troops and their families. All remaining earnings are reinvested in customer shopping experience enhancements.

Shull further acknowledged in the AAFES release that being allowed to shop at the Exchange “brings convenience to civilians” working on installations. “They can stop by (our stores) for essentials on breaks or (while traveling) to and from work instead of shopping outside of the gate – and 100 percent of those earnings go right back to the military community,” he said.

He offered the additional reminder that it’s tax-free shopping, which can result in significant savings on big-ticket-price items in particular.

“Exchange stores have the capacity and merchandise quantities to handle the expanded shopping base,” Shull further confirmed. “AAFES is honored to welcome civilians while strengthening the hard-earned benefit for (all service members).”

The privilege expansion marks the third time since 2017 the Exchange’s shopping base has grown. In January 2020, all Veterans with service-connected disabilities were welcomed back to shop in person. On Veterans Day 2017, all prior service members with an honorable discharge were “welcomed home” to shop tax-free at ShopMyExchange.com.

For more information on the new benefit, visit the Exchange’s online community Hub at publicaffairs-sme.com/Community. Team Lee members can follow the events and latest news from the Fort Lee Exchange at www.facebook.com/LeeExchange.