DALLAS—When civilian stores and restaurants in Hurricane Irma’s path closed or ran out of essentials, Army & Air Force Exchange Service locations across Florida were typically the last to close and the first to reopen, highlighting the Department of Defense retailer’s unique capabilities and tireless dedication to serving those who serve.
“Our associates’ level of passion and dedication is truly amazing,” Exchange Director/CEO Tom Shull said. “The Exchange is grateful for the lengths these associates went to before, during and after Hurricane Irma to make sure service members and their families had the supplies they needed for recovery. Their commitment to serving is simply unmatched.”
Shull visited Exchanges across Florida to show his appreciation for associates’ devotion to Soldiers and Airmen as Irma battered the state. Shull toured the Express at U.S. Southern Command in Doral; the Homestead Air Reserve Base Express near Miami; facilities at MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa; and the Patrick Air Force Base Exchange near Melbourne. He thanked the teams for standing strong during the storm and recognized associates who went above and beyond.
As Irma barreled toward Miami, the six-person SOUTHCOM Express team kept the store open as long as they could. The team was without a lead manager during the storm—a new manager for SOUTHCOM and Homestead ARB Exchange facilities was PCS’ing as the storm roared in. Manager Arleth Caro, Shift Supervisor Curtis Hedrick and Laborer Allegra Hartsell stepped up, making sure troops had water, gas cans, batteries, flashlights and other emergency supplies. Shull coined the trio for their efforts.
Caro, who lives about 45 minutes away from the Express, came to work once she received the green light that the store was reopening.
“I went home made sure my home was good, but I came right back,” she said. “I had to be ready for my troops.”
Homestead ARB Express
As Irma headed their way, Warehouse Foreman Jeff Moss (temporarily promoted to shift manager) and Shift Supervisor Mary Garcia (temporarily promoted to facilities manager) led the charge at the Homestead ARB Express, 25 miles south of Miami. The pair teamed up to keep Exchange management apprised of Command’s requests and made sure the store and fuel pumps were secured as the fierce wind and rain pounded the installation. When the installation reopened, the Express was the first gas station in the area to begin dispensing fuel.
“I had a long line,” Garcia said. “I was afraid we were going to run out, but we made it.”
Shull thanked the duo for their courage “I can’t thank you enough for holding everything together” Shull told Moss and Garcia. “Thank you!”
For Moss, stepping up when the eight-person team was without a lead manager just came naturally. Moss, a specialist in the Army Reserves, says he is all in, always.
“This is my job—this is what I do,” he said.
Rhenetta Santos, manager of the MacDill AFB Burger King, made sure her team was prepared for Irma. She ordered plenty of food before the hurricane slammed the area. When restaurants outside the gate ran out food, she had plenty.
“I tried to stay positive for our customers and our associates,” Santos said. “It’s my job to keep morale up.”
Shull praised Santos’ can-do ahead of the storm.
“Thank you for your positive attitude,” he said as he presented her with a challenge coin. “Thank you for all you’re doing.”
MacDill Store Manager Lajima Marshall-Pierce, Operations Manager Michickia “Sha” Carter and Sales & Merchandise Manager Robert Jordan were among several MacDill associates Shull recognized during his visit.
MacDill facilities closed for three days, and Jordan was instrumental in making sure the store remained protected, using sandbags to secure areas while Marshall-Pierce handled command’s requests and concerns.
Marshall-Pierce and several associates were without power in their homes for several days. Yet, they still came to work to support service members.
“We were the first to get here and the last to leave,” Jordan said. “That’s our standard.”
Shull honored several Patrick Exchange associates who worked to get the store up and running after Irma.
Customer Service Supervisor Brigida Puppa, who cut her leave short to help the store prepare to reopen, and Operations Manager David Gentry, who drove a truck loaded with water and other supplies to Homestead ARB received coins from Shull.
“Thank you for being all in for service members and your fellow Exchange teammates,” Shull said. “You are stellar examples of leadership.”
Col. Kevin Williams, 45th Mission Support Group commander at Patrick AFB, thanked Shull and the Exchange team for the terrific support.
“Thank you all for the tremendous amount of work that you did,” Williams said. “I know it was a lot—not only having to deal with damage at home but also having to tend to the men and women and their families here.”
Back to normal
Shull praised the teams across the state for making sure operations returned to normal as soon as possible.
“The troops were excited to have their Exchanges back in action,” Shull said. “When we are open, that signals a return to normalcy. You bring a sense of calm, a sense of restoration. Thank you for all you have done and continue to do to keep our Nation’s service members safe and ready.”
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