Our Rich History of Serving Those Who Serve

As the Exchange celebrate its 122nd anniversary, we are again reminded of our rich history of serving those who serve, going wherever our Nation’s Warfighters go.

This commitment sets the Exchange apart from all other retailers, cementing lifelong emotional connections forged with Soldiers, Airmen, their families, military retirees and, beginning Veterans Day 2017, all honorably discharged Veterans.

A little room

Today’s $8.3 billion, complex and diverse Army & Air Force Exchange Service actually grew out of a little room.

In 1880 at Vancouver Barracks, in what is now Washington state, Col. Henry Morrow, commander of the 21st Infantry Regiment, opened a tiny canteen to keep his Soldiers on base and away from the nearby town’s temptations.

In this combination social club-general store, Soldiers could buy food, beverages, newspapers and magazines. They could also unwind by playing billiards, cards and other games, and purchase paper, pens, ink and stamps to write letters to their loved ones back home.

Canteens to post exchanges

Col. Morrow’s idea proved successful, and canteens opened at military posts throughout the West. The War Department took notice, changing the names of the locations from “post canteens” to “post exchanges” to disassociate them from sometimes bawdy military canteens in Europe at the time.

On July 25, 1895, the department’s General Orders No. 46 directed commanders to establish a post exchange at every installation. From there, the post exchange system grew, looking after troops from Guadalcanal to Greenland, from Alaska to Afghanistan.

Going beyond the vision

Today, the Exchange includes multiple brick-and-mortar stores in 34 countries and all 50 states, a thriving internet business, a mall management operation and one of the largest private label credit portfolios.

Throughout the Exchange’s storied history, our associates have gone far beyond Col. Morrow’s vision, bravely following troops through world wars, the Cold War, Korean War and Vietnam War, as well as conflicts in Southwest Asia and the Middle East.

Closer to home, our mobile field exchanges (MFEs) have been common sights at relief efforts, including hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and other natural and man-made disasters. On 9/11, these MFEs served thousands of first responders at the Pentagon and World Trade Center.

As long as we have associates like you working for our honorable organization, there is no doubt that we will continue to positively impact military resiliency and readiness for another 122 years and beyond!

Tip of the spear

In 2016, the Exchange served thousands of American troops engaged in military exercises in Poland, Ukraine, South Korea, Japan and other locations around the world.

This past January, we deployed MFEs and field barber shops to three locations in Poland to serve 3,500 troops bound for locations throughout Eastern Europe.

Impacting resiliency, readiness

Thank you for all you do to support service members and their families each and every day. There truly is no greater honor than serving those who serve. As long as we have associates like you working for our honorable organization, there is no doubt that we will continue to positively impact military resiliency and readiness for another 122 years and beyond!

One team! One fight!

See where we’ve served the troops by checking out the searchable, downloadable Exchange history album on Flickr. The album, which already has more than 2,900 views, contains more than 540 pictures. 

Exchange Director/CEO Tom Shull, center, right, receives his five-year service award from Deputy Director Mike Immler and Chief HR Officer Leigh Roop. After being presented the award, Shull took a group photo with Exchange senior leaders. Shull said he is “grateful to be at the Exchange and be on the team.” He acknowledged the team’s commitment to constant improvement and renewed strength of the Exchange benefit saying, “Thank you for getting us to this point. Each year seems to be getting better and better. I thank each of you for everything you’ve done to make it happen. We do this together.” Shull is the longest-serving CEO, commander or director in the Exchange’s history.

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