Army & Air Force Exchange Service celebrates 121 years of service, support

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On July 25, the Army & Air Force Exchange Service marks a milestone -- 121 years of serving Soldiers, Airmen, retirees and military families.

On July 25, 1895, General Orders No. 46 established the exchange on military installations, directing post commanders to set up an exchange at every post. Since then, exchanges have faithfully served alongside service members wherever they are called to serve, from Bagram to Barksdale, Benning to Baghdad and beyond.

"The Exchange's core value of 'family serving family' means we take care of Soldiers and Airmen," said Chief Master Sgt. Sean Applegate, Exchange senior enlisted adviser. "When military members deploy to remote locations around the world, the Exchange is with them, offering a lifeline to America through products and services."

While the Exchange's mission to support service members has remained unchanged for 121 years, the modern Exchange benefit has come a long way.

"Beyond the main store, the Exchange has grown to include Express convenience stores, malls, military clothing stores and name-brand fast-food restaurants," Applegate said. "Overseas, the Exchange also produces baked goods and bottled water in our regional plants. We also provide school lunches and even Internet service."

During the last few years, the Department of Defense's oldest and largest exchange service has focused on improving Soldiers' and Airmen's shopping experience by bringing well-known national brands to stores, malls and food courts and first-run movies to installation theaters. The Exchange also updated, improving navigation, product selection and service.

The Exchange also remains committed to ensuring Soldiers and Airmen have the products they need to stay resilient and maintain a healthy lifestyle, said Applegate.

"BE FIT shops with name-brand athletic wear and footwear are rolling out to Exchanges worldwide," Applegate said. "To ensure our troops are fueling their bodies the right way, Express locations are being stocked with healthy grab-and-go snacks, and restaurants with healthy choices are being added to the Exchange family." 

Two-thirds of Exchange earnings support military quality-of-life programs. In 2015, the Exchange distributed $237 million to fund these programs.  (Courtesy of AAFES)