AAFES Civilians Voluntarily Deploying to Middle East
By Judd Antsey
Special to American Forces Press Service
DALLAS, Dec. 1, 2006 While most Americans plan to spend the next few weeks eating, shopping and generally having a great time with friends and family, many Defense Department civilians will be leaving their homes and families for 6- to-12 month voluntary deployments to support Army and Air Force Exchange Service post and base exchanges throughout Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
Friends for more than 25 years, graphic designers Gloria Michael and Kelly Northcutt have talked about deploying to live and work with the troops. With Michael getting closer to retirement, the two friends who live only six houses away from each other in Red Oak, Texas, decided now was the time to trek more than 7,000 miles to support troops half a world away.
Considering it will be her first time to travel outside the United States, Michael is understandably anxious. "I'm a bit nervous, because I haven't traveled a whole lot, but it is important that I take my support to our soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines on the front lines before I retire."
With an itinerary that calls for the two "battle buddies" to depart for the Middle East on Dec. 17, both Michael and Northcutt are coming to terms with the fact that this upcoming holiday season will be their first away from spouses, children and grandchildren.
"We made the most out of Thanksgiving and loaded up on holiday cheer," said Northcutt. "Hopefully, we can take some of that warmth and caring we shared to our troops in Iraq or Afghanistan."
While Northcutt and Michael prepare for their first deployment, some civilians, like Kadena Air Base, Japan, Burger King manager Marjorie Granvle, will be redeploying this month. A 13-year AAFES associate, Granvle's last deployment to Bosnia in 2000 was so rewarding that she signed up to spend the first half of 2007 with troops in the desert.
A wife and mother of two who has served the armed forces from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to her current position in Okinawa, Granvle says her family is supportive of her decision to deploy again. "They are sad to see me leave, but with the faith, love and support that we share in our hearts, we will be together for the holidays. This is my opportunity to support the troops and my country."
More than 450 volunteer AAFES associates like Granvle, Michael and Northcutt are deployed in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. To date, 1,800 AAFES civilians have deployed to provide comfort items and necessities in combat and contingency locations. Servicemembers depend on the PX/BX facilities these associates support for day-to-day health and comfort items such as soap, shampoo, toothpaste, snacks, beverages and entertainment items.
The merchandise assortment in the deployed environments typically includes basic health and hygiene items and snacks. Over time, that assortment is expanded to other items needed and requested by troops downrange. Today, AAFES stocks electronics, magazines, DVDs and even small appliances at its 58 PX/BX locations scattered throughout the contingency theater.
(Judd Antsey is assigned to the Army and Air Force Exchange Service.)