- Gary Dinges American-Statesman Staff
More than 18.5 million veterans nationwide – including an estimated 53,000 in Travis County – will be able for the first time ever to make purchases online from the Army & Air Force Exchange Service this holiday season.
Outposts of the Exchange, which has been around since 1895, have long offered active-duty troops, their families and military retirees with 20 or more years of service access to groceries, clothing, electronics, cosmetics and more. Merchandise is competitively priced and sold tax free.
Headquartered in the Dallas area, the Exchange has more than 2,700 locations in 36 countries. In the U.S., it operates in all 50 states.
In Central Texas, there is a small Exchange facility at Austin’s Camp Mabry. Larger locations can be found at Fort Hood in Killeen and at Fort Sam Houston, Randolph Air Force Base-Joint Base San Antonio and Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
Tom Shull, director and CEO of the Exchange, said he’s been pushing for online shopping for veterans – regardless of how long they served – since shortly after assuming his post in 2012. He got his wish on Veterans Day this year, when the Exchange expanded shopping privileges for the first time in nearly 30 years.
“After four years of coordination with the Departments of Defense, Army and Air Force, as well as several other federal agencies, the Exchange is honored to extend a lifelong online shopping benefit to veterans,” Shull, the first civilian to lead the Exchange, told the American-Statesman. “We are excited to welcome all who raised their right hands and served our nation with honor back home to their military family.”
A Vietnam-era veteran, Shull previously worked for Macy’s, Barneys New York, Hanover Direct and Wise Foods.
Veterans can go to shopmyexchange.com to browse and purchase merchandise.
Austinite Dwayne Perry, who spent four years serving with the Air Force, is among the veterans excited about the opportunity to shop the Exchange online.
“I enjoy the service,” he said. “It was a great benefit while I was in the military, and I’m glad we’re able to use it now as veterans. It provides convenience, competitive pricing, tax-free benefits and free shipping. I get everything very quickly. I ordered a lawnmower and it got here in two days.”
The Exchange says it is the 56th largest retailer in the nation, with revenue of $8.3 billion and earnings of $384 million in 2016.
Exchange earnings pay dividends to branches of the military that are used for “quality of life” programs such as libraries, classes and recreational activities, among other things.
In 2016, the Exchange presented the Army with a $128 million dividend; Air Force, $76 million; Marines, $16 million; and Navy, $5 million. Added together, it gave dividends of $225 million, which the Exchange said works out to an average of $287 per active-duty airman and soldier.