More than half a million Department of Defense and Coast Guard civilians will be able to shop in military exchanges in the U.S., beginning May 1. That’s earlier than expected.
The venues include Army and Air Force Exchange Service, or AAFES, stores; Navy exchanges; Marine Corps exchanges; and Coast Guard exchanges. The stores offer tax-free purchases at varying discounts.
The new benefit applies to appropriated fund and non-appropriated fund civilian employees, authorizing them to shop at military exchange stores in the United States and the U.S. territories and possessions. Previously, in-store exchange access for DOD and Coast Guard civilian employees was limited to those on service agreements, assigned overseas in foreign countries and the U.S. territories and possessions, and access was limited to overseas exchanges.
The DoD directive authorizing the change was effective April 12, directing that these new patrons be allowed access within 30 days. This access comes two weeks earlier than that deadline.
There are about 575,00 newly eligible DoD civilian customers. There are about 796,000 DoD civilians in the U.S., but about 221,000 of them already have exchange benefits as military retirees or spouses, for example. There are about 7,000 Coast Guard civilians.
The new shopping access doesn’t include the purchase of military uniforms, tobacco products or alcohol.
In order to shop at the exchanges, a customer must show a valid civilian Common Access Card at the cash register or at the door, depending on the store. A civilian employee who hasn’t been issued a CAC can shop at the military resale activity on the installation where they’re employed by showing an official proof of employment document dated within 12 months, and a valid government photo ID. Otherwise, access to the stores is not linked to the employees’ work assignments.
In-person exchange shopping won’t be available to retired DoD or Coast Guard civilians. However, they will get a benefit later this year: online-only exchange shopping will be available by mid-October for all active and retired DOD and Coast Guard civilian employees with a U.S. mailing address, including territories and possessions and APO and FPO addresses.
Family members of civilians won’t be allowed to shop in these on-base discount department stores, or in the online stores, but the authorized shoppers can make purchases for themselves and their dependents.
Exchanges have the capacity and merchandise to handle the expanded shopping base, said AAFES Director and CEO Tom Shull, in an announcement. The new shopping privilege “brings convenience to civilians working on installations. They can stop by the exchange for essentials on breaks or to and from work instead of shopping outside of the gate —and 100 percent of exchange earnings go right back to the military community.”
Every exchange shopper helps improve the military community and the exchange benefit for service members and their families, said Patricia “Patty” Montes Barron, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy, in an announcement. “We welcome our DOD and Coast Guard civilian employees to take advantage of the convenience and familiarity of military exchanges. Shopping at our military exchanges is a quality of life experience that serves the community in ways no other commercial entity does.”
The expansion is expected to help boost the military resale system and MWR programs, which have faced a number of obstacles over recent years. Based on projections of buying patterns, DoD officials estimate exchange sales could increase by about $287 million a year, with a potential increase of $48 million in profits going back to support the services’ MWR programs, according to Berry Patrick, in the DoD Office of Morale, Welfare and Recreation and Nonappropriated Fund Policy, who spoke in October during a virtual conference of the American Logistics Association.
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.