Military Exchanges Set to Open to More Than Half a Million New Shoppers

Military exchange gift bag
Master Sgt. (Ret.) Ron Reynolds, a VFW Post 8862 service officer, gives Vietnam veteran widow Carmen Quinn a gift bag courtesy of The Exchange. It included discounts and commissary gift cards during Vietnam War Recognition Day, March 29, 2021 in Vicenza, Italy. (Cristina Piosa/U.S. Army Garrison Italy)

The Defense Department has decided to extend military exchange shopping privileges to nearly 600,000 civilian DoD and Coast Guard employees for at least a year, according to a directive issued by the department April 12.

After the DoD announced Jan. 13 that it had dropped a plan to expand civilians' access to the stores, which offer clothing, electronics, housewares and other goods tax-free and often at discount, the new initiative was announced last week by Virginia Penrod, acting under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

According to the directive, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, the Navy Exchange and Marine Corps Exchange must allow the newly eligible customers access within 30 days.

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According to the memo, first reported by Federal News Network, current appropriated and nonappropriated fund, or NAF, employees who have a valid Common Access Card and are assigned to the U.S. and its territories can shop in stores and online.

They will not be able to purchase alcohol, tobacco or uniform items, according to the memo, and the new policy does not expand commissary privileges to civilian employees.

Access for employees overseas will be determined on whether they have transportation agreements and will be subject to host-nation laws and status of forces agreements, the memo states.

The DoD has 180 days to upgrade its systems to accommodate the new online shoppers while the military exchanges will work with the Defense Manpower Data Center to verify the status of honorably discharged veterans, civilian employees and civilian retirees for online access.

The Coast Guard, which also operations an exchange system, must meet the same requirements, according to the memo.

Family members of civilian employees, civilian retirees and veterans do not have shopping privileges, either in store or online, according to the memo, but those eligible can buy items for their dependents.

The new policy marks the second time in 16 months that the Pentagon has significantly expanded shopping privileges to people affiliated with the DoD and Department of Veterans Affairs: In January 2020, 3.5 million disabled veterans and their designated caregivers were authorized to use military commissaries, exchanges and some Morale Welfare and Recreation, or MWR, activities.

Berry Patrick, an official with the Pentagon's MWR and NAF Policy Office, said last fall that the extension of benefits to civilian employees could increase sales at exchanges by $287 million annually, an amount that could contribute as much as $48 million to the military services' MWR programs.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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