SEMBACH, Germany – Army & Air Force Exchange Service Director/CEO Tom Shull’s passion for taking care of Warfighters took him overseas this month for a firsthand look at how the Exchange benefit is thriving in the United Kingdom, Germany and the military’s forward training locations—the tip of the spear.
While in Europe, Shull visited 20 Exchange sites, from Germany’s Ramstein Air Base Exchange—the largest in the world—to the combination troop store/Express at Royal Air Force Alconbury in the United Kingdom. He also met with Army and Air Force leaders and toured Exchange restaurants, main stores, concession malls and the Germersheim Distribution Center to see how the Department of Defense organization is delivering a lifeline to America for troops far from home.
“My dad, who spent 30 years in the Army, used to say: ‘As long as my family is taken care of, I’m ‘all in’ for the Army,’” Shull said. “When he served in Europe, my family didn’t get back to the United States for five years. The Exchange was our lifeline. The hamburgers at the food court, Saturday matinees and familiar products sustained us when we were far from home.”
Shull, a former Soldier and infantry company commander who applied private-sector business practices to the Exchange once he took the helm in 2012, has led a dramatic turnaround of the 122-year-old Department of Defense retailer. By intensifying national brands, growing concessions and Express stores, transforming the online shopping experience and reducing costs, the Exchange has produced significant results for service members and families.
Earnings have increased from 3.2 percent of sales in 2011 to 6 percent of sales in 2016 — translating to more than $1 billion in support to critical military Quality-of-Life programs. This was achieved despite a 13 percent decline in the Exchange’s customer base from the ongoing military drawdowns during that time. As a result, in 2016, the Exchange generated $224 million in dividends to budget-constrained Army and Air Force Quality-of-Life programs, including child development centers, youth programs and fitness centers.
Shull’s visit to Europe allowed him to experience the unique lifeline to America the Exchange provides troops and families overseas. Exchange support goes beyond the main store. Conveniences of home—American restaurants; Internet service; Wonder bread, hamburger buns and tortilla chips made at the Exchange’s bakery in Grundstadt; Culligan water bottled at the Exchange’s Grunstadt plant; nutritious USDA-approved school meals for service members’ children; first-run movies; and combat uniforms below cost prove the Exchange is much more than a retailer.
“The Exchange plays a big role in troop readiness and resiliency,” Shull said. “We’re all in to support not only Soldiers, Airmen, Marines and Sailors but their family members as well. That support is so crucial.”
During his trip, Shull met with Brig. Gen. Richard Moore, commander, 86th Airlift Wing; Col. Curtis Juell, commander, 86th Mission Support Group; Col. Lance Varney, commander, U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria; and Lt. Col. Eric Heigel, deputy commander, U.S. Air Forces in Europe-United Kingdom to discuss Exchange support and partnerships across Europe.
The Exchange’s operation in Grafenwoehr is particularly crucial, Shull said. The Grafenwoehr Exchange plays a major role in supporting troops training in Poland at the tip of the spear.
“Grafenwoehr associates traveled hundreds of miles to Poland to set up and manage our troop store and mobile field exchange,” Shull said. “Our service at the tip of the spear represents the very best of what we do.”
— 30 —
The Army & Air Force Exchange Service goes where Soldiers, Airmen and their families go to improve the quality of their lives through goods and services provided. Exchange earnings provide dividends to support military morale, welfare and recreation programs. The Exchange is part of the Department of Defense and is directed by a Board of Directors, responsible to the Secretaries of the Army and Air Force through the Chiefs of Staff. To find out more about the Exchange history and mission or to view recent press releases please visit our Web site at http://www.aafes.com/about-exchange/public-affairs/press-releases.htm or follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ExchangePAO.