AAFES works to meet demands despite shipping delays
Story and photo by Sgt. John Stimac
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — Shipping and receiving goods to the Army and Air Force Exchange Services across Iraq has been increasingly difficult for several months, due to restrictions implemented by a status of forces agreement signed in January 2009, said an AAFES spokesman.
Dean W. Edwards, store manager at the east post exchange at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, said the last few months have been difficult as shipments no longer come directly to JBB, but must now travel by convoy to contingency operating locations throughout the country. This, combined with weather, causes delays, he said.
“We are three weeks behind in merchandise,” said Edwards. “Most of the shipments come from (United Parcel Service) and, unfortunately, it is all the stuff that everybody wants.”
A few months ago, he said, the roughly 10 planes that delivered merchandise to JBB were rerouted to one central location in Baghdad.
“This has been the cause of some of the delays,” said Edwards. “At first it was a week. Now we are waiting several weeks to get shipments in.”
Military and dining facility items have priority over AAFES items, said Edwards.
He said tracking packages used to be easier, but because all of the merchandise goes to Baghdad first, that is where the tracking ends.
“Once it gets to Baghdad, we have no way of knowing where and how long it takes to get here,” said Edwards. “I have sent tons of e-mails to UPS to see where the packages are.”
He said he has gone as long as three weeks without receiving merchandise.
“We keep a lot of back stock, but we are going through that as well,” said Edwards. “We have ample supplies of the health and beauty items. However, the items that people really want, such as the electronic items and tobacco, we have been running out of.”
Edwards said he thinks the problems will continue, because the delivery system will not change under the status of forces agreement.
“Patience is a virtue,” he said. “Please be patient and understanding. We like to help our customers, but it has been tough these past few months.”
Pfc. Nathan W. Bishop, a wheeled vehicle mechanic with the 16th Sustainment Brigade and an Atlanta native, said he noticed the shortages but was not aware of the delivery problems.
“I had an idea it was slowing up but I didn’t know why,” said Bishop. “I can’t complain. Waiting a little longer is better than people have it at other places. I’m glad I’m not a smoker because I noticed there hasn’t been any tobacco here in weeks.”
Edwards said customers have been understanding so far. He said they take names and e-mail addresses, and send a message when the items requested are received.
“We have some excess merchandise being sent to us from other (Contingency Operating Locations) to ease the tension for a while,” said Edwards.
Spc. Donervon Bonhomme, a motor pool clerk with the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) and a St. Martinville, La., native, looks at one of the movies on display at the Army and Air Force Exchange Services east post exchange at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. John Stimac)