AYACUCHO, Peru --
Its saying goes, "We Go Where You Go," and for New Horizons -Peru 2008, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service has lived up to its motto, providing the exchange benefit to troops a hemisphere away.
Just as AAFES has brought the exchange benefit to troops fighting the Global War on Terror with 85 store facilities scattered across the Middle East, they are here to support a rotating task force of close to 950 troops in South America, in the remote Ayacucho region of Peru. A mobile field exchange (MFE) has been in place since May 19, ensuring troops get a "taste of home" while performing a humanitarian mission for the Peruvian people over the course of three months.
"It was imperative from the start of this mission that we had to have some sort of exchange here," said Maj. Matt Joganich, Task Force New Horizons commander. "The MFE has done an outstanding job of supporting my troops. While we take care of the Peruvian people, AAFES is taking care of us."
Manning the MFE are Honduras Exchange associates Roberto Zapata, supervisor, and Marlly Maldonado, sales associate, veterans of New Horizons and MFEs. Mr. Zapata, a 20-year AAFES associate, is on his 13th New Horizons mission having supported troops in Honduras in 1989, 1993, 1998 and 2006; Belize in 1997; El Salvador in 2000, 2001 and 2002; Nicaragua in 2001; Panama in 2003 and 2005; and Guatemala in 2004. Ms. Maldonado, a 5-year Associate, has supported troops in the Dominican Republic in 2006 and Nicaragua in 2007.
"I like to volunteer to support the troops and see new countries," said Ms. Maldonado. "For Roberto and I, we've seen many of same faces and friends from past New Horizons here in Peru."
For New Horizons Peru, AAFES' newly designed MFE has been in place to provide troops a new experience in shopping. The MFE has air conditioning, a wider aisle, and greater shelf space for merchandise. The MFE technology also makes life easier for the associates.
"Customers can now pay electronically with a credit card, where in the past, we had to do it manually," said Mr. Zapata. "We also have a computer, a register and a phone to directly call any exchange around the world."
The MFE is fully stocked with items troops need and want. Snacks, such as chips and chocolate candy; drinks like Gatorade, Monster Energy and sodas; and health and beauty care items, such as baby wipes, deodorant and toothpaste, are always in heavy demand. Besides American forces, the Peruvian military shops at the MFE.
"The Peruvians enjoy shopping in the MFE because many of our items are cheaper than what they can find elsewhere," said Ms. Maldonado. "They don't always recognize all of the items we sell so we have to explain what some of them are and what they do."
As much as the associates enjoy supporting troops away from home, being deployed does have its challenges.
"I'm away from my wife and kids, which is always hard," said Mr. Zapata. "Also, the language barrier can be a challenge with more English speaking customers than we're used to at Soto Cano Air Base."
Staffing a MFE gives the associates the opportunity to gain valuable leadership experience by being able to make their own decisions. The Gatorade inventory sold out early, which forced them to decide to either ignore the demand from customers or find a way to purchase the beverage locally.
"We felt it was very important to restock Gatorade for the troops," said Mr. Zapata. "I found some local suppliers and we've made three purchases at $1,000 each just so the troops can continue to have Gatorade."
The associates' hard work and commitment to support the troops has not gone unnoticed by task force members.
"The customers always tell us how grateful that we're here, how we have everything they could want, just as if they were back in the States," said Mr. Zapata. "For Marlly and I, it brings us great satisfaction to see how happy they are when they bring their items to the register."
For Capt. Aurelio Perez, a loyal AAFES customer at the Ft. Buchanan Post Exchange and Muniz Air National Guard Base Exchange in Puerto Rico, having the exchange benefit all the way in Peru was both unexpected and much appreciated.
"Let me tell you, I didn't expect AAFES to be here in Peru to support a small task force for a short period of time," Captain Perez said. "But to have AAFES here, carrying items that I forgot to bring, need more of, or just plain want to have, has made this bare bones camp feel a bit like home."
AAFES is the Department of Defense's oldest and largest running exchange, having celebrated its 113th birthday July 25. The joint military command has the dual mission of providing goods and services to troops and their families at competitively low prices, and generating earnings to support Army Morale, Welfare and Recreation and Air Force Services programs.
New Horizons is a U.S. Southern Command program that provides humanitarian assistance to countries in Latin and Caribbean nations. During New Horizons - Peru 2008, close to 950 active duty, Guard and Reserve Airmen, Sailors, Marines and Soldiers over the course of three months will build three medical clinics, two schoolhouses, a water well, and perform nine medical missions for people in the Ayacucho region.
For more information about New Horizons, visit http://www.12af.acc.af.mil/library/newhorizons.asp
For more information about the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, visit http://www.aafes.com/pa/default.asp