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ARLINGTON, Va. — What can you send a special buddy deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom? Cookies crumble in shipping. Chocolate melts in the desert heat. Sensitive electronics might break in transit. How do you give a servicemember exactly what he needs and wants — when he needs and wants it?

Army and Air Force Exchange Service has a solution: a gift certificate that troops can redeem at any BX/PX store around the world, including the 34 AAFES stores the organization has set up throughout the Southwest Asian theater.

A joint project between AAFES and CertifiChecks, a U.S.-based gift certificate resource center, the new “Gifts from the Homefront” certificates were created specifically to prevent “care packages” from clogging the military logistics flow into the Persian Gulf, AAFES officials said in a news release announcing the program.

The CertifiChecks come in two denominations: $10 or $20. Servicemembers can redeem the certificates at any of AAFES’s nearly 280 commissaries worldwide, including the new exchanges that have been set up for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The “downrange” AAFES exchanges carry extra socks, soap, razors, soft drinks, candy, mini-flashlights, batteries, snacks, CDs, DVD players and other merchandise much coveted by servicemembers who are far from normal stores.

Anyone can buy the certificates using U.S. credit cards or checks, but only authorized exchange customers can use them.

In addition to the face value of the certificates, AAFES is charging an extra $4.95 shipping and handling fee for each order, which includes up to 20 certificates going to the same address. Shipping and handling is slightly higher for bulk orders for more than $300 worth of cards.

For now, the CertifiChecks can only be sent to a specific servicemember at his or her APO or U.S. mailing address. But AAFES officials said they working on a way for people to send “any servicemember” CertifiChecks to random units or deployed troops.

Mail delivery of the certificates takes four to 10 days, but could be longer for vouchers that are going to deployed servicemembers, AAFES officials said.

To purchase certificates using a credit card over a secure Internet site, go to the AAFES Web site, www.aafes.com. In the United States, you can also phone (877) 770-4438.

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