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Spc. Michael McRae, right, and Sgt. Eric Nagy, both of the BŸdingen, Germany-based 1st Squadron, 1st Armored Cavalry Regiment, check out the CD selection at the Hanau Army and Air Force Exchange Service post exchange.
Spc. Michael McRae, right, and Sgt. Eric Nagy, both of the BŸdingen, Germany-based 1st Squadron, 1st Armored Cavalry Regiment, check out the CD selection at the Hanau Army and Air Force Exchange Service post exchange. (Michael Abrams / S&S)
Spc. Michael McRae, right, and Sgt. Eric Nagy, both of the BŸdingen, Germany-based 1st Squadron, 1st Armored Cavalry Regiment, check out the CD selection at the Hanau Army and Air Force Exchange Service post exchange.
Spc. Michael McRae, right, and Sgt. Eric Nagy, both of the BŸdingen, Germany-based 1st Squadron, 1st Armored Cavalry Regiment, check out the CD selection at the Hanau Army and Air Force Exchange Service post exchange. (Michael Abrams / S&S)
Spc. Brooke Dehnert of the 55th Personnel Services Battalion, looks at clothes at the Hanau Army and Air Force Exchange Service post exchange.
Spc. Brooke Dehnert of the 55th Personnel Services Battalion, looks at clothes at the Hanau Army and Air Force Exchange Service post exchange. (Michael Abrams / S&S)
Kathy Pleake and children Laura, 11, and Joshua, 9, look at greeting cards at the Hanau Army and Air Force Exchange Service post exchange.
Kathy Pleake and children Laura, 11, and Joshua, 9, look at greeting cards at the Hanau Army and Air Force Exchange Service post exchange. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

Each month when the Army and Air Force Exchange Service releases new prices for gasoline sold at overseas AAFES stations, a jump in prices is almost certain to generate customer complaints.

A quick look at past letters to the editor of Stars and Stripes, for example, finds some customers confused and angry about AAFES’ gas pricing policy.

But inside several AAFES stores at bases in Europe, customers are, by and large, happy with AAFES products and prices, according to dozens of shoppers in Bamberg, Würzburg and Kaiserslautern, Germany, and Aviano, Italy.

If AAFES has any public relations issues to deal with at its stores, customers say, they are the occasionally brusque or incompetent cashier, long lines at the checkout counter and a relatively narrow range in certain clothing sizes.

“Overall, it’s good,” said Kimberly Locke, a family member from Giebelstadt, Germany, who was shopping at the Würzburg post exchange recently. “Service is hit or miss — either really good or really bad.”

Debbi Rodarte, who was standing in the parking lot outside the Base Exchange and BXtra on Vogelweh in Kaiserslautern, said she usually leaves the store satisfied with her purchases.

“I can pretty much find everything I want, and the prices are good,” Rodarte said. “Of course, now I’m looking for something, and they’ve discontinued the item.”

However, she added, the person behind the counter sometimes needs an attitude adjustment.

“I don’t mind the shopping. It’s the customer service,” she said. “When you’re handing someone money, they could at least acknowledge that you’ve spent money at their store. They could speak to you.”

AAFES-Europe spokeswoman Debbie Byerly said AAFES does its best to offer all the items its 11.5 million eligible customers worldwide require every year.

But sometimes there’s just not enough space to provide everything, every time, everywhere.

“I believe we have a good selection,” Byerly said. “We try to be all things to all people, but we do have limited space.”

And, Byerly said, shoppers should never hesitate to bring their customer-service complaints to the store manager.

“If you get bad customer service, speak to a manager. It may be that the associate needs more training,” Byerly said.

Customers can also fill out a comment card, she said. Each one is read and resolved with the customer, she said.

In addition to stores in 21 countries worldwide, AAFES has 61 stores set up in deployed locations.

In Iraq, where nearly 150,000 U.S. troops rely almost exclusively on AAFES for their sundry items and snacks, the shelves carry what the customers need, according to Sgt. Joshua Staderman, from 82nd Engineer Battalion, who returned from Iraq in April.

“They had a lot of stuff available to us at (Forward Operating Base) Warhorse,” he said. “They did a good job. I bought my computer there.”

Of course, the best stores are at the larger bases; for soldiers deployed to smaller outposts, they go without.

Customers in Europe seemed pleased with the variety of items on the shelves at other AAFES facilities

“The selection of products, I think, is pretty good,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Sal Williams, from Aviano. But sometimes things run out.

“When you see something, you better buy it,” she said.

Still, at least one customer said some things were lacking on AAFES shelves.

“There aren’t any clothes for certain sizes,” said Craig Smith, a civilian employee from Bamberg. “They don’t have anything in big and tall sizes in clothes or shoes. I come in once or twice a week to check, but I can’t ever find my size.”

Byerly said items that may not be on the shelves at the post exchange may be found online at AAFES online site, which often offers a greater variety.

Customer Alice Hussey, a family member from Bamberg, said she’s seen improvement in AAFES since she’s been overseas.

“[AAFES] is doing a much better job,” Hussey said. “I’ve been here about a year-and-a-half, and I’ve seen a definite improvement in the variety of the items they carry. I think anywhere you go your shopping experience really is what you make of it.”

Staff writers Kent Harris, Steve Liewer and Steve Mraz contributed to this article.

AAFES facts

AAFES can be found in 21 countries and there are 61 retail stores open in support of contingency operations, AAFES-Europe spokeswoman Debbie Byerly said.

In Europe and Southwest Asia, the staff of 10,684 is made up of 48 percent local nationals and 52 percent U.S. military family members.

In military communities in Europe, AAFES offers post or base exchanges, Power Zones, Four Seasons or PXtras, optical shops, various fast food restaurants and shopettes among other retail outlets.

In addition, shoppers can pursue the exchange’s online store, the Centric Mall, at www.aafes.com, which has about 50 specialty stores for such things as men’s and women’s clothing and shoes, sporting goods, toys, auto parts and books, Byerly said.

—Rick Emert

Migrated

Stripes in 7



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