33 Years After an Unlikely Start, VP of Hardlines Dan Koglin Retires From the Exchange

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In early 1990, Dan Koglin had just graduated from the University of New Mexico and was between jobs. He went to the career center on campus to see what companies might be coming there in the near future.

He was reading a description for the Army & Air Force Exchange Service when an Exchange Human Resources recruiter walked out of a small office and asked him what he thought. After Koglin, who came from a family of small-business owners, expressed some skepticism about the challenges of working for a retail organization, the recruiter cheerfully quipped, “You’re hired!” But joking aside, the recruiter asked Koglin if he wanted to come in for an interview.

“I was in flip-flops, shorts and a T-shirt, and had long hair and a beard,” Koglin says. “I said, ‘I don’t think I’m ready for an interview.’ He said, ‘I don’t care, you can come on in.’”

Koglin went in. A follow-up interview at nearby Kirtland Air Force Base was quickly arranged. A few weeks later, he was at Fort Hood (now Fort Cavazos) for training.

“It began as random happenstance,” Koglin says. “The rest is history.”

At the end of August, Koglin, now Vice President of Hardlines, will add a new chapter to that history when he retires from the Exchange, 33 years after that unlikely beginning.

Vice President of Hardlines Dan Koglin with his wife, Cheri, on the Pont des Arts “Love Lock” bridge in Paris. Dan Koglin is retiring in August 2023; Cheri Koglin, executive assistant to Exchange Director/CEO Tom Shull, is staying with the Exchange. (Photo courtesy of Cheri Koglin)

The early days

Koglin was familiar with retail and the military, thanks to his father, who served four years in the Army as a military intelligence instructor but had to leave to run the family business when Koglin’s grandfather died.

“My grandfather on my mom’s side was career Army,” he adds. “My grandfather, Wesley Dalton Harris, earned the Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star for actions during Operation Market Garden in World War II. If you’ve ever seen the movie ‘A Bridge Too Far,’ there’s a scene that re-creates the incident where my grandfather was wounded and ultimately rescued by his squad.”

But the Exchange was new to Koglin. He was used to retail because of the family business but he would quickly learn about working with the military and about the organization’s structure.

After his training at Fort Hood, he was offered options for where to continue training on the job. He chose Kirtland because he had a family in Albuquerque and didn’t want to move them right away. He was assigned a sponsor, Dave Gentry. “I walked into the store, and I realized that Dave Gentry was in my marketing class at UNM,” Koglin says.

Koglin credits Gentry, Nick Williams and Dennis King with giving a good experience at Kirtland. The mentors rotated him through different areas of the store, so he gained experience on the sales floor, in the stockroom and at front and central checkouts. After his in-store training was complete, he returned to Fort Hood as a sales area manager.

“I was there during Operation Desert Storm,” he says. “We were open 24 hours a day. Immediately after that, I took over a little thing called the Picnic. It was a Shoppette, as we called them back then. It was a small, stand-alone convenience store. That was a unique experience for me because it was mine. There was a lot of freedom back then for individual managers, particularly in Shoppettes, to tailor assortments and pick planograms and try programming things.”

Koglin oversaw adding a small snack bar to the Shoppette, which wasn’t common then. A Class Six was added to the original store. “I learned a lot about operating an individual facility and how to adapt assortments to the area you’re in,” he says. “The Shoppette was in a troop area, so there was a troop concentration of customers. That sort of thing versus being a in a housing area was a good learning experience.”

Koglin moved on to Fort Riley, where he was store manager at the Forsyth Express; Tinker Air Force Base, where he managed the Home & Garden Center; and Barksdale Air Force Base, where he was sales and merchandise manager, before coming to Dallas headquarters, where he spent most of the “aughts” in various Softlines positions.

The sweet smell of romance

It was in Dallas that Koglin met his wife, Cheri, who is currently executive assistant to Exchange Director/CEO Tom Shull.

“I was a buyer for fragrances and cosmetics at the time,” he says. “I went upstairs to the Skyline Club for a birthday party. I was at the bar, and a woman who worked with me knew that I was the buyer for fragrances and that I always tried the new ones. I’d get tester bottles and spray them and see what people thought. She brought Cheri over and said, ‘Smell him. He always smells really good.’”

Cheri, who worked in Human Resources at the time, says that she was a little reluctant at first. “I said, ‘I’m not going to do that,’ but she said, ‘No, no, no, he works in fragrances and he always smells so good’,” says Cheri, who is staying with the Exchange. “I looked at him and he leaned over toward me, and I thought, ‘OK, you do smell good.’”

At first, Koglin wondered who this person who was sniffing him was. But he warmed up to her quickly. “I thought, ‘I like her. She’s cute, she’s friendly, she has a great smile’,” he says. “It kind of went on from there.”

During the next few months, they would run into each other at headquarters, where they knew a lot of the same people. “We started winding up at the same places,” Cheri says. “We had drinks together and he asked me out to dinner. I was a little hesitant at first because I didn’t think going out with someone you worked with was a good idea. But I agreed, and because we had already been talking as friends, we had a great time and just started seeing each other from there.”

They met in late 2005. They married in 2007. And in 2009, they moved to Germany.

Going where the troops go

From 2009 to 2015, Koglin was chief of the Europe Buying Office, working out of Mainz-Kastel and Sembach in Germany.

“When we moved over there, my youngest daughter was just turning 2, so she was able to go to school for a few years over there and she was just learning to travel,” Koglin says. “It was a very good experience for the family.”

At the time, Cheri was the executive assistant to the senior vice president and had just been promoted, but when they moved to Germany, there were no positions available for an executive assistant, so she left the Exchange. At first she was disappointed, but things worked out.

“It was tough for me, but once we got there, I realized what a great opportunity it was, because even though I was leaving a job that I loved, I got to stay home with my daughter,” she says. “That was the best thing. I was her daycare. I taught her to read and write. We literally had school every day until she started kindergarten, and when she started kindergarten, her teachers were so impressed with her.”

In Germany, Koglin’s team did a little bit of everything, giving him further experience in categories he hadn’t worked with yet. He enjoyed running the office and being there with his family.

“From a buyer’s standpoint, you get a better appreciation for what the Exchange does when you live overseas,” he says. “I’d tell my teammates in Dallas, ‘Look, I am your customer.’ If we needed school supplies, and if the PX didn’t have the paper we needed, we were out of luck because we couldn’t get it elsewhere. It gives you a better appreciation for the special needs of our overseas customers.”

Koglin gained an even deeper appreciation during trips to Iraq and Afghanistan during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. He didn’t deploy, but he would travel to the regions for about six weeks to work as chief inventory inspector while remaining based in Germany.

“It really gives you perspective when you go to a place like Tallil or Basrah in Iraq,” Koglin says. “I was at Forward Operating Base Salerno in Afghanistan. It’s right up against the Pakistani border. The PX was just a Quonset hut, but those guys had a sense of ownership. Soldiers would come to help offload product, and they’d help stock. They really appreciated our presence there. You don’t see Walmart, you don’t see Costco, you don’t see Sam’s Club over there. It’s the PX, and the troops know that the people who were in the PX are there for them.”

Although his trips were relatively short compared with full deployment for troops or other Exchange associates, Koglin says he got the full experience, including one morning when he was headed to a gym at Camp Liberty in Iraq, and decided to stop at the latrine first.

“On the way back, rockets started coming in,” Koglin says. “You run for cover and you wait it out, then Apache helicopters fly around and eventually there’s an all-clear. So I got my gym bag and headed over the gym. The gym was gone. It was gone. That stuck with me. There were some injured Soldiers in there.”

Koglin says he has also been in convoys that were shot at, but he keeps it in perspective.

“I was just there a few weeks,” he says. “I can’t imagine what it was like to live there for months if not years at a time. It gave me a great deal of respect for people who fully deploy. I visited a lot of different posts. The managers who deployed didn’t go anywhere else. The PX becomes a big part of your life. People go to the PX just to have something to do.”

During one of his visits to Salerno, a group of Soldiers that had been at a remote observation post for weeks returned to the camp. “They went to the PX and literally all the guy that I talked to wanted as a bag of potato chips and a Monster energy drink,” Koglin says. “And I’m thinking. ‘Wow, that’s pretty simple. He’s just happy he can go to a little ramshackle PX in a Quonset hut and get his Monster and his bag of potato chips. If he’s happy, I’m happy. We’re at the end of the supply chain, in the middle of nowhere, but I’ve made a customer happy.’”

Dan and Cheri Koglin with their daughter, Sarah. (Photo courtesy of Cheri Koglin)

Back to the States

In 2015, the Koglins returned to Dallas, where Cheri rejoined the Exchange. “A position became available just prior to us moving,” she says. “I applied for it and Leigh Roop, the CHRO at the time, was gracious enough to hold it until we PCS’d.”

Dan returned as divisional merchandise manager for Military Clothing. He quickly fell in love with the category.

“There were similarities to my brief experiences downrange, because it’s a direct connection to the Soldiers and the Airmen. It gave me good experience dealing with outside agencies. I got some of that being over in Europe, but you get even more when you’re in Military Clothing. When I was promoted to vice president of Hardlines, the Military Clothing experience and being in Europe really prepared me for the job.”

The promotion happened in September 2020, in the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic. Koglin took on his new position in an era of remote work and just months before a February 2021 ice storm caused pipes to break at Exchange HQ, creating flood conditions that threatened crucial equipment.

“My predecessor, Chris Burton, did a really good job of creating a sense of camaraderie and teamwork,” Koglin says. “When everybody was teleworking, maintaining that sense of camaraderie was a challenge. But I’ve got a good team, and I enjoy the people I work with because they care about the team and they care about the mission. If you have a good team, you can start looking at the big picture, things like bringing the partnership with The Home Depot to fruition. The sorts of things where you have opportunities to do large things that have a direct and positive impact on the organization.”

Koglin is a photographer who shoots mostly wildlife and landscapes, and he plans to pursue that further after retirement. He says he will probably do some volunteer work and substitute teaching. He will miss Team Exchange’s camaraderie and its sense of mission.

“As Mr. Shull says, ‘My dad always said that as long as my family is taken care of, I’m all in for the Army’,” Koglin says. “That’s our purpose. We’re a family and our mission it to keep the military family happy and safe and provide for them. At the end of the day, whether you’re a buyer at headquarters or a store associate or a logistician at a distribution center, you’re providing something important to somebody in the military and they’re at the other end of that transaction. Don’t ever lose sight of that.”

 

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. Karen Anderson on August 22, 2023 at 11:43 am

    Beautiful Journey Enjoy your family and you will be missed.

  2. Julie Mitchell on August 22, 2023 at 3:09 pm

    Congratulations on your retirement, Dan!

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