After a Year of Support and Service, Exchange Closes Final Operation Allies Welcome Site
A little more than a year since the Exchange sprang into action to support Operation Allies Welcome (OAW), the final Exchange site—a canteen in Leesburg, Virginia—is closing up shop.
The Department of Homeland Security recently announced it would be ending OAW next month and shifting to Operation Enduring Welcome (OEW), a mission focused on helping Afghans and their families into the country through more traditional immigration channels. OAW helped provide rapid and essential support to at-risk Afghan guests as they began the process of resettling in the United States.
“When installation commands and their higher headquarters reach out to the Exchange, we solve for ‘yes,’ even if it’s something new to us, and we stay until the very end,” said Roger Neumann, vice president of contingency plans, who coordinated the Exchange’s OAW response. “That’s our job: to support the military in whatever way we can. We’re honored to do it.”
Exchange support took many forms, including mobile field Exchanges (MFEs), tent stores, rodeos, re-opened facilities at closed installations, troop stores, re-allocated Express stores, mobile barber shops, local food trucks and concessionaires. More than a dozen Exchange sites provided meals, snacks, cold drinks and hygiene items for purchase for guests as well as supporting troops.
Exchange associates received many expressions of gratitude from the guests, as well as military leaders. Col. Brian Biggs, Air Force Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officer, Air Forces Northern National Security Emergency Preparedness Directorate, First Air Force, assisted with OAW Phase 2 operations and wrote to Fort Belvoir General Manager Alex Mamaril, who oversaw the Leesburg canteen, to thank him and his associates personally.
“Thank you again for your incredible support over the last four-plus months,” Biggs’ note read, in part. “You’ve been life-savers over and over again and provided essential support to our Afghan guests.”
Associates, too, were grateful for the experience.
“On that first day, coming to the compound and seeing the line of people waiting for our doors to open, we were taken aback,” said Ryan Rodeback, Carlisle Barracks Express manager, who was one of the associates who primarily staffed the Leesburg site. “This operation was rewarding, and the memories gained will stay with me for a lifetime.”
Exchange OAW support by the numbers:
- 80,000 Afghan guests served
- 8 MFEs deployed
- 2,200,000 product units shipped to support sites—$11.3 million in merchandise
- 414 days from the opening of the first MFE at Fort Lee, Va. to the closing of the Leesburg canteen
- 7,765 miles from Afghanistan to Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, the farthest guests traveled to an Exchange-supported site
Look back at the Exchange Post’s coverage of Operation Allies Welcome support: