The Department of Defense has designated Feb. 24 through March 2, 2008, as Military Saves Week. This is part of the DoD Financial Readiness campaign, and the purpose is to encourage Soldiers and their Families to establish positive fiscal management habits. Financial security directly impacts Army readiness and reduces stress for Soldiers and their Families.

As leaders at all levels in the Army seek ways to support the Chief of Staff of the Army's Family Covenant and positively impact the quality of life for Soldiers and Families, one simple solution is often overlooked.

Encourage Soldiers and their Families to shop at AAFES.

Most people are aware of the significant savings through the tax benefits and discount prices at their installation AAFES establishments. What they may not realize is AAFES pays a dividend back to the Army, specifically to the Army's Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command (FMWRC), on all purchases. Shopping at AAFES directly impacts the quality of life programs at your installations. In fiscal year 2006, AAFES contributed more than $108 million to Family and MWR programs and activities.

In the fall of 2007, FMWRC partnered with AAFES and BOSS representatives at five installations to help educate Soldiers and their Families on the tangible and intangible benefits of shopping on the installation. The AAFES Awareness Campaign centered on in-store tours and briefings, and many featured local radio stations, promotional give-aways, and product trials.

All of the events included random drawing among participants for AAFES Gift Certificates valued at up to $250. At Fort Lewis, WA, more than 300 Soldiers participated in the program and were treated to Monster and Sobe Life Water drinks, a CD signing by members of Drowning Pool, and music from local radio station 104.9.

The sponsors drew the Soldiers in, but the AAFES tour kept them there. Joshua Suttus walked away from the event with the realization that "they are providing us the essential we need as Single Soldiers!"

Virtually all of the participants in all five locations (more than 95%, according to exit surveys) felt they learned more about the benefits AAFES provides to them and their installation.

"It's important to raise awareness about how AAFES supports the community," according to Robin Hovey, (title) at FMWRC.

FMWRC plans to conduct a second AAFES Awareness Campaign in the fall of 2008, and wants to add more locations, better prizes for participants, and more products and give-aways through sponsors. The goal is to conduct these events at 50 locations in 2008.

"Our Soldiers and Families have so many choices of where to spend their money," she said. "When they realize how much they and their communities benefit from spending those dollars right on the installation, they become loyal customers."

"They receive great prices, tax breaks, and their local MWR gets paid dividend," she said. "When our Soldiers and Families shop at AAFES, everyone wins."