By Story and photo by Natalie Lakosil July 10, 2012
FORT HUACHCUA, Ariz. - The senior enlisted advisor for the Army & Air Force Exchange Service visited Fort Huachuca for the first time June 27.
During his visit, U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Tony Pearson toured the Exchange, and met with Huachuca personnel to address Exchange-related issues on the installation.
"Well I just recently came on board June 4,, and I am still understanding the organizational structure. The Exchange is looking at the 'branding' concept, and the change in the outward appearance of the store to bring more customers in. That's what we are doing currently," Pearson said.
"As for the future, there are moves to open an open-market concept. We currently have one at Fort Bliss and are looking at other places for that. There is a lot of potential for Fort Huachuca especially the Exchange; I have been to all of the facilities and there is a lot of positive energy here," he added.
The Exchange is a joint military command with a retail mission to provide quality products, services and food to servicemembers, their families, Reserve and Guard members, and military retirees. Exchange sales generate earnings to supplement Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation activities as well as Air Force Services programs.
The Exchange operates department and convenience stores, gas stations, restaurants, theaters, vending and other businesses on military installations in all 50 states, five U.S. territories and more than 30 countries.
Pearson is one of 72 active duty service members assigned to the Exchange to carry out this mission. The Exchange also employs more than 43,000 civilian associates world-wide.
"For every dollar earned, 67 cents comes back to the military community from the MWR dividend. Last year Fort Huachuca got back more than $515 thousand -- so shopping at the Exchange is a win-win," Pearson said. "You get great products at a great price, and your spent money comes back to the installation through the dividend."
During his visit, Pearson met with Huachuca customers and Exchange associates, answering questions and concerns about the Exchange.
Some of the biggest complaints with one group, the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers group was not having a 24-hour or late night food facility on Fort Huachuca, not enough variety in food, crowding at lunch time and not enough variety in products and brands at the Exchange.
In response to the 24-hour facilities and late night hours, "There were not enough people utilizing the facilities when we did offer it, and our hours are based on customer traffic," said Exchange Fort Huachuca General Manager, Colleen Murray.
"If you want it, you have to use it," Pearson added regarding AAFES facilities.
One Soldier shared his concerns. "There is not enough variety, for one. They have certain brands but not any I would wear, the clothes are too small, and there are cheaper places off post. I can go to Walmart, and it is cheaper and more of a selection. Pricing is fine at the Exchange but selection is nonexistent. Anything that would carry my size would be good," said BOSS secretary Spc. Chris Pryce, Company B, 40th Signal Battalion.
"Absolutely I understand with the clothing issue, because I have long arms. When I buy shirts, I have to have them tailored or buy short sleeves. So we can see what we can do," Pearson added.
"Part of my job as the senior enlisted advisor is to visit bases throughout the world and find out what the Exchange can do to better to serve its customers and fix existing problems," Pearson said.
"Also educating our customers on the Exchange benefit is the most important part of my job. Our goal is to be your number-one choice for retail shopping. You can go anywhere to purchase an iPod or a TV, but when you buy from the Exchange, that's money going back to support our troops," Pearson added.
"More importantly, military clothing is the only place our military troops can buy uniform items on base without mail ordering them, making it our goal to have what they need when they need it so they can be outfitted properly," he said.
Pearson is based in Dallas, Texas. Contracts for new food facilities are in the works, according to Murray.
For more information about the Exchange and Exchange programs, visit www.shopmyexchange.com.