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AAFES cardboard coins not winning many fans

Army and Air Force Exchange Service is using paper coins instead of the real thing at stores in remote locations because shipping real coins would take up take up too much weight.

JASON CHUDY / S&S

By CHARLIE COON AND JASON CHUDY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 4, 2003

Some troops in Iraq don’t like the cardboard coins they’re receiving as change, some do, others are indifferent. None have a choice in the matter.

“There’s not another option,” said Jeanne McDonald of Army and Air Force Exchange Service-Europe. “Coins are too bulky. It’s difficult enough for us to get merchandise down there. This is a solution to a problem.

“Once there is a financial structure in place and we are able to obtain coins, we will discontinue the use of these gift certificates as change.”

The 5-, 10- and 25-cent coins are essentially AAFES gift certificates and redeemable only at AAFES stores and vendors.

AAFES began issuing the cardboard coins in November 2001 at exchange stores in Afghanistan and elsewhere during Operation Enduring Freedom. Thirty-eight stores have been opened in support of OEF and Operation Iraqi Freedom, McDonald said, including 11 in Iraq.

The red, white and blue, coated-cardboard coins have gotten mixed reviews from troops in Baghdad, who would otherwise have their purchases rounded up to the nearest dollar and not receive any change at all.

“Some take them and throw them away,” said Master Sgt. James Byrnes of the 30th Medical Brigade. “It’d be nice to have change instead of them.”

“I understand it costs a lot to move the weight and how much of a hassle it is for coins,” said Spc. Nicholas Smith of the 152nd Battalion, Indiana National Guard, who helps guard the AAFES exchange personnel when they travel.

“It’s better than nothing. It helps keep prices down instead of having them round off prices.”

McDonald said the U.S. military will not ship metal coins to AAFES in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“They need flights to carry things more important to the mission,” McDonald said. “Also, there’s no financial structure in Afghanistan or Iraq. We can’t go to a bank and replenish our supply.”

The cardboard coins were designed for use at remote and contingency operations, McDonald said. She said the cardboard coins can be redeemed for cash in even dollar amounts at exchanges in the OEF/OIF theater.

A new series of AAFES coins was put into circulation in June. The 36 new designs depict military equipment and operations such as fighter and transport planes and artillery and missile launches.

The coins are also being used at mobile AAFES operations in remote sites, McDonald said.

McDonald said employees at the exchange at Rhein Main Air Base, Germany, were told to expect and accept the AAFES coins when troops were coming through on their rest-and-recuperation flights from Iraq.

“All AAFES-Europe facilities are supposed to accept them,” McDonald said.

Several Department of Defense personnel have written to Stars and Stripes and said they felt their money was being held hostage by AAFES.

“What gives them the right to force us to come back to them to redeem these coins?” wrote James R. Moore III, a paramedic with Kellogg Brown & Root at Camp Udairi, Kuwait.

In Baghdad, many troops said they’re simply getting used to the cardboard coins.

Spc. Joseph Royce of the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, said the AAFES coins come in handy to buy a Coke.

“They’re lightweight — if you get a handful you don’t have to worry about your pants falling down,” Royce said. “I’ve got a handful of them back at base. [When I receive them, I] usually leave it for someone who needs some change.

“Most of the time it’s about 15 or 20 cents. I don’t worry about it.”

Cpl. Timothy Gaston of the 123rd Main Support Battalion, 1st Armored Division, said the coins are easy to keep track of.

“I’ve probably got about $5 worth of 25-cent coins,” Gaston said. “I put them in a little cup. When I’m in Germany or the States I’d rather have coins, but on deployment they’re good to have.”