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All About The Military Exchange

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The Military Exchange offers service members and their families tax-free shopping for anything they might need in their daily lives. At your local Exchange, you can find all types of items, from toys to candles to clothing to electronics.

The Exchange has a customer base of 31 million that includes active duty service members, military retirees, national guard, reserves, 100% disabled honorably discharged veterans, and Medal of Honor recipients, as well as all of their families. You would need to use your military ID to purchase anything, and sometimes to even walk into the facility. As of 2017, all honorably discharged veterans can shop online.

There are more than 4,000 facilities in 34 countries, all 50 states, 4 territories, and Washington DC and they are the 61st largest retailer in the US.

The History of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES)

Before the Exchange was started, sutlers, which were civilian merchants, traveled from military camp to military camp selling merchandise at highly inflated prices. Post traders then replaced the sutlers. They were business owners who paid the War Department for the rights to open their shops on military bases. In July of 1895, the War Department directed all post commanders to open Post Exchanges or PX at their installations, and so the Military Exchange was created.

In 1941, the Army leaders created the Army Exchange Service to assist with establishing, coordination and financial support for thousands of post Exchanges throughout the world during World War II. By 1944, there were 175 PXs throughout Europe. In 1946, Exchanges opened in Tokyo, Yokohama, and other mainland Japanese cities as well as Okinawa.

In 1948, the Army Exchange Service became the Army and Air Force Exchange Service or AAFES, after the United States Air Force was created in 1947. They are called the Base Exchange or BX on an Air Force installation instead of a PX.

In 1960, AAFES began selling automobiles overseas in a deal with American Motors Corp.. Chrysler, General Motors, and Ford soon followed. In 1984, Burger King was the first national brand fast-food company to join the AAFES family, opening in Ansbach, Germany. These days you can find quite the selection from Subway to Pizza Hut to Taco Bell to Starbucks.

In 1992, the Deferred Payment Plan that had been used overseas was expanded to the continental US and eventually became the Military Star Card in 2000. Their website was launched in 1996 as aafes.com and is now Shop My Exchange. In 2002, the first Exchange opened in Afghanistan, starting with a tent but later being replaced with a building.

Starting in 2008, AAFES introduced more nationally recognized brands to its stores with Bassett Furniture, Coach Handbags, and the Martha Stewart collection. In 2009, they opened the world’s two largest Exchanges in Ramstein and Okinawa.

Changes Coming to the Exchange In 2020

Another big change will be coming in 2020 that was made because of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA.) All service-connected disabled veterans will now have access. Currently, those with a 100% service-connected disability did have access to the Exchange, but on January 1st, 2020, the Exchange will be open to all veterans with a service-connected disability, Purple Heart recipients, former POWs, and primary caregivers of veterans.

What Types of Stores Does the Exchange Include?

The facilities include the main stores, military clothing and sales, convenience stores such as troop stores, Express locations, and Class Six, specialty stores that carry furniture and outdoor living merchandise, movie theaters, and quick serve restaurants under licenses such as Subway and Boston Market. There are also mall stores and kiosks which include barber shops and wellness services. Many of the Exchange buildings look like a small mall, or strip mall.

Why Should You Shop at the Exchange?

Some people might wonder why you should shop at the Exchange or if doing so is worth it. The Exchange is tax-free. This means if you buy a $299.00 game system for your kids, they will ring you up for $299.00 only.  You ou will not have to pay any tax on it. On bigger items this will save you quite a bit of money depending on the local tax rate. However, you may not notice as much on smaller products.

As far as cheaper prices go, that also depends on where the Exchange is located, and what else you have access to. Some products will be cheaper, and others might not be. Doing price comparisons is a good idea. The Exchange does offer a price match program which will allow you to do most of your shopping at the Exchange, even if you see a lower price somewhere else.

Those in overseas locations will see the Exchange a little differently. It might be the only place to purchase American style products, or to pick up a favorite snack from home. And for the service member, it might be the only option of a place to shop in their area.

Another big reason to shop the Exchange is to support your local military community by shopping there. This is because 100% of the Exchange’s earnings go back to support the military community. 60% goes to support quality-of-life programs that are critical to maintaining force readiness and residency. The rest go back to renovating stores and opening new ones. So, when you spend your money at the Exchange you can be helping improve the quality of life for members of the military, including your own family.

What Else Does the Exchange Do for the Local Community?

The Exchange is also a major employer of military families. 85% of the Exchange’s 35,000 associates are connected to the military. Nearly 11,800 veterans and military spouses work for the Exchange. If you are looking for a good local job, working at the Exchange can be a smart option.

Does the Exchange Ever Have Specials or Promotions?

Yes they do. Currently they have a special tax-free weekend promotion where during tax-free weekends they are offering an additional percentage off.  This percentage is equal to your state’s tax rate.They also have Deal of the Day and a Clearance section. You can also save money using the Military Star Card Rewards Program.

The Navy Exchange (NEX,) Marine Corps Exchange (MCX,) and the Coast Guard Exchange (CGX) operate independently.  They are separate from the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) but also available on military installations worldwide.


About the author

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Julie Provost is a freelance writer, blogger, and owner of Soldier's Wife, Crazy Life, a support blog for military spouses. She lives in Tennessee with her National Guard husband and three boys.