AAFES Supports Deployed Troops With Public Phone Card Sales
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 30, 2004 The Defense Department has granted approval for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service to sell prepaid phone cards to the general public for donation to Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom service members.
By law, only patrons with military exchange privileges can shop at AAFES retail stores, but officials announced this week that the exchange service would begin selling phone cards to normally ineligible people and organizations on its Web site.
"It is truly an effort by the Office of the Secretary of Defense to reach out and to make sure that we keep our troops connected to home," Army Maj. Gen. Kathryn Frost, AAFES commander, explained. "Everybody wants to do something for the troops to let them know they care, and this is a way they can do it."
The general said hundreds of people and several civic organization have called wanting to make a purchase since word got out about the program.
Those wishing to purchase the cards can log on to the site and click on the "Help Our Troops Call Home" icon. The cards can be designated for an individual service member, or sent to "any service member" and distributed by the American Red Cross.
Frost said phone cards also can be donated to the Air Force Aid Society and Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, as well as the Fisher House. All are nonprofit charitable organizations that support service members and their families in need.
AAFES officials said most calls from the Middle East to the United States originate from one of their 54 calls centers. AAFES has four phone centers in Afghanistan with 98 phones in operation, 19 in Kuwait with 571 phones, and 31 in Iraq, with 936 phones.
Frost said new phone centers will added as requirements are identified throughout the U.S. Central Command area of operations.
The average price for a call is 32 cents per minute from Iraq and Afghanistan, and 19 cents per minute from Kuwait.
The AAFES price is about 8 cents per minute cheaper than its closest competitor, according to Frost. And beginning May 1, she said, the price per minute when calling from Iraq and Afghanistan will be reduced from 32 cents per minute to 25 cents per minute when using the 550-unit prepaid card.
The general emphasized that the special 25-cent rate applies only to 550-unit prepaid cards purchased from AAFES post or base exchanges and other contingency operation stores operating in the theater of operations, she said.
AAFES also is allowing normally ineligible patrons and organizations to purchase gift certificates for deployed service members through its "Gifts from the Homefront" program, Frost said. The certificates are sold by a commercial vendor through the AAFES Web site or by calling (877) 770-4438, toll-free. She said the certificates can be sent to service members overseas and used for purchases at AAFES facilities.
AAFES is a joint command of the Army and Air Force for authorized patrons to buy goods and services. The organization donates a percentage of its earnings to military morale, welfare and recreation programs.
According to its annual report, AAFES donated about $229 million to MWR activities in 2003. Frost said a percentage of the proceeds from phone cards sales will go to MWR funds.
"So when Americans buy the cards, they are helping troops in two ways: They're connecting them to home, and they're contributing to morale, welfare and recreation programs."