Exchange Celebrates 128 Years of Serving Military Community

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On July 25, the Exchange celebrates 128 years of service to Warfighters and their families. Wherever Soldiers, Airmen and Guardians serve, the Exchange is there.

“The Exchange is dedicated to its legacy of serving Warfighters and their families,” said Exchange Director/CEO Tom Shull, an Army Veteran. “Wherever our troops go, the Exchange is honored to support them.”

On July 25, 1895, that the War Department issued General Orders No. 46, directing all Army commanders to establish “post exchanges” on their installations.

“Post exchanges” was a new term for “canteens,” which began in November 1880 at Vancouver Barracks, Washington, where Col. Henry Morrow, commander of the 21st Infantry Regiment, had noticed that members of his garrison who visited unsavory places in a nearby town often were returned to the guardhouse as disciplinary problems.

Morrow decided to give them a place where they could carouse while getting into less trouble. On Nov. 29, 1880, Morrow formerly opened the first canteen, a room in one of the buildings at Vancouver Barracks where Soldiers could play cards and shoot billiards while enjoying food and drink.

The canteen was a hit, and the idea grew in popularity throughout the West, leading to the establishment of the post exchange system. Those exchanges grew into the Army Exchange Service, which became the Army & Air Force Exchange Service on July 26, 1948.

From those humble beginnings, the Exchange has grown into the Department of Defense’s largest retailer, with exchanges in more than 30 countries, 50 states, four U.S. territories (Guam, Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa) and the District of Columbia.

The Exchange offers tax-free goods and services at more than 5,000 facilities on military installations worldwide, including department stores, convenience stores, Military Clothing stores, restaurants, barbershops and salons, mall vendors and more, as well as ShopMyExchange.com.

Throughout its history, the Exchange has supported deployed service members at the tip of the spear with the best tastes and comforts of home. Exchange associates have served troops on the front lines, during natural disasters and throughout a global pandemic.

“Team Exchange is passionate about its support of service members, retirees, Veterans and military families,” Shull said. “Every day, they embody the Exchange’s core value of ‘family serving family.’”

Since 2013, the Exchange has hired more than 57,000 Veterans and military spouses, and has set a goal to make that number 75,000 by 2030.

On Veterans Day 2017, all honorably discharged Veterans received a lifelong online military exchange shopping benefit—roughly 18 million Americans. On Jan. 1, 2020, all Veterans with service-connected disabilities earned in-store shopping privileges (roughly 4.1 million shoppers). On May 1, 2021, 575,000 Department of Defense and Coast Guard civilian employees received online and in-store shopping benefits.

Shopping the Exchange strengthens the military community. 100% of Exchange earnings support military communities. In the past 10 years, the Exchange benefit has provided $3.5 billion in earnings for critical military Quality-of-Life programs.

“The Exchange is truly honored to serve those who serve,” Shull said. “Team Exchange will continue to strengthen the hard-earned benefit for our Nation’s heroes—past, present and future.”

To learn more about Exchange the Exchange’s history, see the interactive history timeline at https://publicaffairs-sme.com/Community/history.

 

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