Exchange associate Rhea Aguon brings a unique and somber perspective to our core value “Family Serving Family.” The retail business manager in Kuwait/Jordan lost her brother, Army SGT Eugene Aguon, when he was killed in action May 16, 2013, in Kabul, Afghanistan, while escorting a NATO convey.
Four years later on Sept. 8, 2017, Rhea Aguon, who has been deployed for 16 months from her native Guam, flew a flag on board a C-17 transport aircraft from Kuwait to Afghanistan’s Bagram AB and then on a CH-47 Chinook helicopter to Kabul to remember her brother. Three days later, Bagram AB Exchange managers honored Aguon by presenting her with a plaque recognizing her courage and strength while covering the same ground as her brother.
“Working for the Exchange, I understood what the words ‘Family Serving Family’ mean, but it was not until I lost my brother when I felt the true meaning and impact of what it was all about,” said Aguon, who has worked for the Exchange for 13 years. “The camaraderie and support from the military community and my Exchange family have been inspiring.
It makes me want to do more every day, whether it be helping fellow associates or taking care of our customers, because we’re all connected. We are family serving family.
Aguon’s honoring of her brother won accolades from the store manager at Bagram AB all the way up to Exchange Director/CEO Tom Shull.
“The bravery you displayed in remembering and celebrating Eugene is moving and inspiring,” Shull said. “It is also a reminder of the deep connection we share with our heroes.”
Jason Rosenberg, senior vice president of the Exchange’s Europe/Southwest Asia Region, said the memory of Aguon’s brother lives on with so many people, including his Exchange family, through Rhea.
“Your impact on so many of our Warfighters’ day-to-day quality of life has been nothing short of amazing,” Rosenberg said. “It is such an honor to serve with you, Rhea, especially at the tip of the spear. Truly the spirit of family serving family.”
Bagram AB Store Manager Sean Childers said: “Rhea’s bravery and dedication to the Exchange and our mission inspired each one of us to continue to serve our heroes at home and abroad. Rhea’s story truly encompasses ‘Family Serving Family.’ It’s times such as these that bring us all together and embody the deep connection we have with each other and the heroes we serve.”
‘Gave me peace’
Aguon added that she had the chance to do something that not many military families can do: go back to the places where their loved ones and fallen heroes took their last breaths. The trip made her even more determined to serve the Nation’s Warfighters.
“I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to go where my brother went, to see what he saw and to feel a little of what he felt,” she said. “It gave me peace and made me feel like he was right there with me. It makes me passionate about helping our troops in harm’s way to make sure they are taken care of because they are my family out here, too. They risk their lives keeping us safe and protecting us, they deserve it.”
What made the trip so important to Aguon is her deployment from her native Guam started as a promise to her brother. When he learned that he was deploying to fight in Afghanistan, sister Rhea promised that she would try to go, too, as an Exchange associate.
“When the time came for him to deploy, he asked me if I would go and I told him, ‘Next time,’” Aguon said. “When he died, I learned to never use those words lightly again. For three years, I struggled inside, unable to forgive myself.”
Resolving a promise
When given the chance to deploy again, Rhea was scared but unbent. She left for some of the world’s most dangerous countries, but she didn’t care. Afghanistan was the most terrifying, but rather than being consumed by fear, she felt the intense love for her brother and a resolve to keep her promise to him.
“Every person who works for the Exchange, regardless of position or location, has an important role in providing the types of goods and services that our troops deserve,” Aguon said. “We should take pride in what we do because we all help to improve the quality of life of our heroes every day. That is what’s so amazing—and something to be very proud of.”