2 AF retirees have their Military Star accounts paid in full

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The Army and Air Force Exchange Service made wishes come true for three grand-prize winners of the worldwide "Military Star - Your Holiday Bill is on Us" sweepstakes, and for one retiree, the prize was a way of saying "thank  you" for sacrifices made decades ago.

Retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. James Jones, retired Air Force Master Sgt. Catherine Lawrence and Texas Army National Guard Sgt. Clayton Anders were grand-prize winners out of 4.7 million entries worldwide. The winners, who bought holiday gifts at the Exchange, all had their Military Star accounts paid in full.

"These three grand-prize winners prove real heroes win our sweepstakes," said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Sean Applegate, Exchange senior enlisted adviser. "The Exchange is honored to pay it forward to these individuals, and we're looking forward to bringing this sweepstakes back for 2016."

The prize presentation to Jones, who served at Ubon Air Base, Thailand, during the Vietnam War, was especially poignant.

"So few who served during this time were thanked for their sacrifices when they returned home," Exchange Director and CEO Tom Shull said during the presentation to Jones at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. "It's so important to honor his service. What he did so many years ago for all of us is a true sacrifice."

At the end of the presentation, Jones ripped an oversize statement, symbolizing his $2,339 bill being wiped clean. Because his bill was less than the $2,500 minimum prize, he also received a statement credit.

"When I first heard I'd won, I thought it was a hoax," said Jones, who lives in Shreveport, Louisiana. "It was a wonderful surprise. Having this bill paid does take a load off my mind."

Lawrence, too, had her mind eased by having her $3,305.70 balance paid off during a presentation at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. She opened her Military Star card in November and used her card at shopmyexchange.com  to buy Christmas gifts for her teenage son and nieces. She also splurged on herself -- buying a 55-inch TV she had been wanting for years.

"I have to stretch my budget," said Lawrence, whose 23-year military career ended when she suffered permanent nerve damage after shattering two vertebrae in her neck while exercising to prepare for deployment. "I'm a single mom, and I take care of my disabled dog, too. Having this bill paid means less stress on me, especially since I'm disabled."

Anders, who serves in the Texas Army National Guard, had his $3,735 Military Star account wiped clean.

The Military Star card is an exclusive line of credit for the military family to use at any Exchange. During November and December, shoppers were automatically entered in the sweepstakes each time they used their Military Star card to pay for purchases at any Army or Air Force Exchange location or on shopmyexchange.com. (Courtesy of AAFES News)