Maj. Gen. Kathryn Frost

Maj. Gen. Kathryn Frost (Ivana Avramovic / S&S)

EAGLE BASE, Bosnia and Herzegovina — Even though U.S. troops are drawing down in the Balkans, the AAFES operations remain strong.

Instead of downsizing as soldiers leave Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service has “right-sized,” meaning resources are shifting from bases that are closing to bases that remain open.

That was the message from AAFES’ commander during a 10-day visit through Europe.

Maj. Gen. Kathryn Frost, the Army’s highest-ranking female officer, spent the early part of this week visiting exchange stores in the Balkans, her first such visit since 1998.

Frost, who claims she has the world’s best job since it includes shopping for a living and traveling to different countries, said there have been great changes in the Balkans in the last five years. The Eagle Base post exchange is more than twice the size with improved arrangement, and more franchises and concessionaire stands are available.

Perhaps the biggest move, Frost said, is AAFES’ staffing its stores with mostly local nationals, who handle everything from running the stores and doing the accounting to operating the food franchises. The shift has allowed the American AAFES managers to move to other outlying locations or return to the United States, Frost said.

Another switch that has paid dividends is AAFES use of bar-code cash registers in the Balkans.

By tracking those bar codes, AAFES can tell what the best-selling items are in deployed theaters, said Karen Stack, AAFES senior vice president. She said that information is used to keep the hottest-selling items on the shelves and to know what deployed servicemembers need so they can be stocked at similar exchanges elsewhere — like those that are being set up in Iraq.

Perhaps the biggest changes for soldiers, however, are the recently opened fast-foot restuarants. Among them are Taco Bell and Cinnabon shops in Kosovo, following last year’s openings of the same eateries in Bosnia.

“The improvements are amazing,” Frost said, “and what our local associates have learned is amazing.”

AAFES changes tied to stability in Bosnia

EAGLE BASE, Bosnia and Herzegovina — AAFES representatives arrived in Iraq on April 7 to perform a site survey.

The Army and Air Force Exchange Service officials took along backpacks and footlockers filled with some of the servicemembers’ most popular items: Gatorade, soft drinks, snack foods, tobacco, baby wipes, underwear and T-shirts.

Just two days later, AAFES was running a full-scale operation, and has since established six other exchanges. In most cases, it took two to three days to get the stores up and running in “a very rustic environment,” selling merchandise off pallets or off the ground, said Maj. Gen. Kathryn Frost, AAFES commander. The first exchange in a building opened last week.

“As the situation allows, we’ll be adding more things throughout the country,” Frost said.

The development of AAFES operations depends on the stability in the country, she added.

With the approval of the U.S. military’s Central Command, which provides support and security in establishing facilities and convoy routes, AAFES can move in. Once the military go-ahead comes, AAFES can move in to support troops in more locations.

“We have merchandise prepositioned in Kuwait so the minute we’re told that we can go forward, we can start moving the merchandise forward to open up,” Frost said.

“It might not be a pretty store, it might not even look like a store at all, but it is bringing a little bit of home to our soldiers in Iraq.”

— Ivana Avramovic

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