Online exchange being considered

Tom PhilpottBy Tom Philpott

Military Update

Defense officials are weighing a proposal from the director of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service to allow the nation’s 22 million honorably discharged veterans, and perhaps an equal number of their family members, to shop online for military exchange products and discounts.

Shoppers who use the AAFES website enjoy savings of up to 25 percent on many brand name products.

They also avoid state and local sale taxes on their purchases just like on-base shoppers do.

By providing online discounts to millions of deserving veterans and families, said Thomas C. Shull, chief executive officer of AAFES, the exchange services would see overall profits soar while protecting the benefit in tough budget times and ensuring that quality-of-life programs for military families continue to be funded by exchange profits or “dividends.”

Shull pitched his idea in a May 8 memorandum to the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, with review and comment also sought from top manpower officials in the Army, Navy and Air Force.

A spokeswoman for Acting Under Secretary Jessica L. Garfola Wright said the proposal “is undergoing staffing and no decisions have been made.”
Allowing veterans access to online exchange shopping, Shull assured officials in his memo, “will not adversely affect the benefit to currently serving and retiree personnel in any way.”

Indeed, he added, it will enhance the benefit by increasing profits and, therefore, increasing dividends to support the services’ Morale, Welfare and Recreation “funding accounts.”

Preserving the shopping benefit “is in the best interest of the entire military community,” Shull added.

Then he summarized why it’s in jeopardy, citing “announced and planned troop drawdowns, large cuts to the DOD budget for Morale, Welfare and Recreation activities, and fewer personnel and families living on the installation, all of which are leading to a greatly reduced customer base and decreased earnings/dividends.”

In a phone interview Tuesday from AAFES headquarters in Dallas, Shull, a West Point graduate and retired reserve major, said his online proposal is a “win-win-win” idea. It would help veterans, help exchanges and help to protect force “readiness and resiliency” by ensuring that exchange profits can sustain on-base quality of life programs.

AAFES is the largest of three exchange services. Defense officials might reject Shull’s plan unless all three support it.

Tom Philpott can be contacted at Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, Va. 20120-1111, or by e-mail at:
milupdate@aol.com