AAFES opens Darwin exchange to serve more Marines Down Under
A new exchange is the latest evidence of a growing Marine Corps presence in Australia’s Northern Territory.
The Army and Air Force Exchange Service opened a two-register, hard-standing outlet at Robertson Barracks this summer to “bring a touch of home to the Marines and others deployed to Darwin,” said Air Force Col. Scott Maskery, AAFES Pacific commander.
The shop replaces a mobile exchange that had served troops out of a 44-foot container at the home of Marine Rotational Force Darwin.
The upgrade is part of a buildup that has seen the number of Marines rotating to Australia each summer rise from a few hundred in 2012 to 1,587 this year, along with an additional eight MV-22 Ospreys and six M777 howitzers.
U.S. and Australian officials concerned about a rapidly growing Chinese presence in the region vowed last month to raise the number of Marines heading Down Under to 2,500 as soon as possible.
AAFES pays close attention to troop levels and adjusts supply-chain management and logistics to support them, Maskery said.
The shelves of the Darwin exchange are stocked with tactical gear, health and beauty products and “almost everything you would find in a normal express store back in mainland Japan,” said Maskery, who visited Darwin last month.
It also sells power converters to help Marines plug U.S. 110-volt electronics into Australian 230-volt wall sockets, he said.
However, Marines dreaming of a cold can of beer won’t find what they’re looking for in the new store, which sells only nonalcoholic beverages such as soda and sports drinks.
First Lt. John Booth, 26, of Owings, Md., a member of the 3rd Marine Logistics Group on rotation to Darwin from Okinawa, said his favorite items at the store are spicy chips such as Doritos.
The exchange is staffed by Marines rather than civilians, takes U.S. dollars instead of local currency and doesn’t cater to Australian troops.
Access to exchanges in Australia was a source of friction during World War II. Thousands of allied troops brawled and Australians attempted to storm an American exchange during riots dubbed the Battle of Brisbane in November 1942.
Australian soldiers at Robertson Barracks have their own store run by the Australian Army and Air Force Canteen Service, or AAFCANS.
Marines are allowed to shop there, but items are sold in Australian dollars and the prices are a little steeper than what they might be used to, Maskery said.
The locals charge close to double the price for items such as tactical notebooks that troops use in the field, he added.
“A can of Coke is about 50 cents at AAFES, but AAFCANS charges about [$1.82],” he said.
Despite the price differences, AAFES isn’t worried about unauthorized shoppers or black marketing.
“Our customers treat the merchandise and products with great respect,” he said.