FORT SILL -- The check was symbolic but it represented real money which will go into programs and construction for Soldiers and their families.

When the amount of $1,358,474 was handed to Col. Raymond Lacey, Fort Sill Garrison commander, and Brenda Spencer Ragland, Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation director, by Mike Lanham, Fort Sill and Altus Exchange general manager, they received a boon to programs and construction projects for military families.

Command Sgt. Maj. Terry Hall, Garrison CSM, and several other representatives from across post were also on hand to celebrate the substantial windfall for Fort Sill Soldiers and families.

Congress determines the amount exchanges return to the installations; this is a percentage of the sales revenue from each exchange.

"Our sole mission is to provide funds back to FMWR to help them run their facilities and programs, and improve the quality of life for our Soldiers and their families," said Lanham. "One of the Exchange\'s guiding principles is to provide services and programs commensurate with the service and sacrifices of Soldiers and their families, whether here or deployed."

Lanham said the check represents a partnership with the installation and also with FMWR.

"It shows that we work together to provide the goods, services and support for Army families,"he said. Spencer-Ragland said FMWR funds $3 million to $4 million a year in construction to reinvest non-appropriated funds or money the government doesn't give FMWR.

"About 25 percent of all the construction FMWR is capable of doing each year comes from the dividends that AAFES provides to us," she said.

This construction directly benefits Soldiers and their families. Recent projects include the water spray park, playgrounds and renovating the golf course.

"Additional improvements we have coming up are fencing around the golf course and installing driving range lights. All of those projects are self-funded and come out of the $4 million pot,"she said."If AAFES wasn't here, we would see a 25-percent reduction in our reinvestment into this community and that's huge. So our Soldiers and their families should shop at AAFES because it is a direct investment in our community."

All the investment that has been going into Lake Elmer Thomas Recreation Area including the Outdoor Recreation programs like the batting cages, the archery range and the miniature golf is done with the financial support of this program, she said.

Along with money that goes to FMWR, some AAFES money goes back to the Soldiers and their families to help replenish unit fund programs.

Most of these programs wouldn't exist without the AAFES infusion of cash.

"Unit funds are used for things like organizational days and the All Ranks Ball. Also with their family readiness groups, they can use the unit funds to help provide activities when their Soldiers are deployed," said Hall.