A retired Army major general and former retail executive will lead a Pentagon task force that is examining the case for a possible merger of the military exchange and commissary systems, Defense officials announced Thursday.

Keith Thurgood, who was also the chief executive officer of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service from 2007 to 2010, will start work Monday.

If the task force business case analysis confirms that consolidation is the right approach, and if Defense Department officials back that finding, Thurgood will serve as the consolidated organization’s executive director until the permanent position is advertised and filled, according to a May 29 memo directing the task force’s formation.

The retired Reserve major general has more than 28 years of military service and has held executive positions at PepsiCo & Frito-Lay Inc., Sam’s Club, Overseas Military Sales Corporation, and MedAssets, Inc. He will take a sabbatical from his current position as clinical professor at the University of Texas at Dallas.

He could serve up to two years on the task force.

The task force will examine “back office” operations of the exchanges and commissaries, such as information technology, human resources and accounting. It will first determine whether the exchange systems ― AAFES, Navy Exchange Service Command, and Marine Corps Exchange ― could be combined with one corporate “backbone.” Then members will determine whether the Defense Commissary Agency could be merged into that system.

Consolidation of the stores wouldn’t necessarily mean that commissaries and exchanges would be combined into one store. Officials are also looking at keeping the individual branding of the exchange stores on military bases, as they combine behind-the-scenes operations.

“With General Thurgood’s leadership, understanding of the customer experience, and private sector experience in the retail space, the task force will evaluate our potential to generate efficiencies and scrutinize the above-the-store business aspects of the exchange system, with a goal of validating and defining our execution plan for the way forward,” said John H. Gibson, II, DoD’s chief management officer, in the DoD announcement.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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