Mobile Field Exchanges in High Demand as Installations Welcome Afghan Guests
Mobile Field Exchanges (MFEs) have long been critical to bringing the comforts of home to Warfighters deployed all over the world. And in recent months, these 53-foot stores on wheels have taken on even greater relevance to military missions.
As of mid-September, all but two of the Exchange’s 11 U.S.-based MFEs are in active service. Seven of these are deployed in support of Operation Allies Welcome (OAW), helping installations provide essential support to at-risk Afghan evacuees while they complete the necessary steps for resettlement in the United States. An MFE is also deployed for a National Guard exercise at Camp Garfield, Ohio, and another is on standby at Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico, in the event of the need for natural disaster support.
The first MFE to support OAW opened July 29 at Fort Lee, Virginia. Additional units have deployed to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin; Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey; Fort Pickett, Virginia; Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico; and Camp Atterbury, Indiana.
“Our teams in the field have done an incredible job supporting those who have helped the U.S. mission in Afghanistan over the past 20 years,” said Contingency Program Manager Richard Silvis, who coordinates availability and movement of MFEs and other contingency assets. “I can send an MFE anywhere in the world, but I can’t run it. It’s the folks in the field who make it happen.”
Silvis said the first several weeks of the OAW support effort were intense, with quick action needed from the regions, Policy, Logistics, Contingency Operations and teams on the ground—often with little notice and few upfront details.
“At first, it was almost like the beginning of the pandemic,” Silvis said. “Nobody was sure how to make this happen; they just knew they had to do it. And at the end of the day, the teams came through and provided the outstanding mission support that the Exchange is known for.”
While MFEs typically carry a standard assortment of snacks, beverages and hygiene items geared toward active-duty troops, meeting the unique needs of Afghan guests required some quick thinking on the part of the Planning, Allocation and Replenishment contingency team.
“Our MFEs were designed for Soldiers and Airmen,” Silvis said. “They’re not typically stocked to serve families, like a full-blown retail store. Our retail folks had to find room for items we don’t typically stock in an MFE, like diapers. They’ve done an outstanding job getting these MFEs stocked with the items our Afghan guests need.”
In Europe and Southwest Asia, meanwhile, the Exchange has largely provided OAW support out of permanent structures or tents, with one MFE serving troops helping host the Afghan guests at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, from Aug. 29 to Sept. 30.
Most overseas MFEs are supporting non-OAW efforts, including Operation Atlantic Resolve in Poland and Lithuania and ongoing service for coalition forces at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. Two MFEs are also being prepped for deployment to the Torun and Drawsko Pomorskie Training Areas in Poland, where they will replace units about to be shipped back to the Germersheim Distribution Center for routine maintenance.
“Much of what’s going on in Europe and Southwest Asia is pretty normal from an operational standpoint, but it’s always good to support service members when they’re so far from home,” said Ricky Finley, Contingency Operations Liaison for the Exchange’s Europe, Africa and Southwest Asia Region. “We’re also planning support for the 2022 exercise cycle, with Defender 22 coming up in the spring and Saber Strike 22 in March.
“Of course, you also always have to be flexible and ready to deploy at any time should the need arise. That’s what the Exchange is here for.”