FORWARD OPERATING BASE SABIT QADAM, Afghanistan --
For most Marines and sailors, a trip to the post exchange for a snack and drink may consist of a short walk or drive, but for the Marines and sailors aboard forward operating bases across Regional Command (Southwest), the PX must come to them.
A small group of Marines known as a Warfighter Express Services team travels throughout the RC(SW) battle space and sets up shop inside an empty shipping container to provide postal, disbursing and Marine Corps Exchange services for Marines and sailors on different FOBs.
“It's basically just bringing a piece of home to the FOBs,” said Sgt. Robert Stone, Morale Welfare and Recreational specialist, WES team, Combat Logistics Battalion 7, and an Atlanta native. “Bringing Monsters and soap – they love soap and Monsters – the littlest things that may seem small to us mean a great deal to them.”
The team visits for only a couple of days, but they get as much done as possible to make sure the Marines and sailors are taken care of.
“A day or two prior, we will usually get a list from each FOB saying what they want,” said Stone. “Then we'll go get those actual items, along with our regular inventory of grocery items, energy drinks, protein, and then we'll pack and bring it with us. First we set up, which usually takes about 45 minutes depending on how big the inventory is. Once I'm set up, I open immediately, so I'm open anywhere from eight to 13 hours depending on the rush I get from each FOB.”
The mobile exchange accepts payments by cash or an electronic card known as the Eagle Cash Card. In order to get money and Eagle Cash Cards to the Marines and sailors aboard FOBs, a WES team disbursing agent helps service members withdraw money from their bank accounts, issues and loads money onto their Eagle Cash Cards.
“My schedule is pretty much 24-hour,” said Cpl. Sean Gaffney, disbursing agent, WES team, CLB-7, and a Monroe, N.Y. native. “I carry everything with me that I would need to help them out. As long as they can find me, I can help them out.”
Though the team feels like they’re just doing their job, the Marines and sailors they service usually show a lot of gratitude, said Stone.
“It's very important they come out here, especially with the stuff they bring,” said Lance Cpl. Tre Coffey, a mortarman with Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, and a Parshall, N.D. native. “They bring items for everybody; it's pretty well-rounded. I'm glad they come out here.”
“I can't count how many times I've had first sergeants, lieutenant colonels and majors tell me 'Thank you, I'm glad you guys came because these guys here, they really, really do need this,’” explained Stone.
A postal clerk goes out on WES missions to ensure all Marines and sailors at the FOBs have the opportunity to send letters and packages home to loved ones.
“Usually shipping things home is a sense of relief for them,” said Cpl. Enrique Gonzalez, postal clerk, WES team, CLB-7, and Santa Barbara, Calif. native. “Every time I package their boxes they'll say, 'Thanks man, now I don't have to bring this with me on the plane.’”
As the WES team brings small comforts to the Marines and sailors further away from Camp Leatherneck, they say the pleasure is all theirs.
“That instant gratification and seeing how it makes their day is probably the best part of this job,” said Stone. “I know we don't carry every single thing, but if I can narrow it down, if I can get a majority of their general needs, then I'm happy because I know I made their day.”
“Coming out here, is awesome,” said Gaffney. “I mean, we come out here for just a couple days, but it's still pretty cool. They definitely show they're appreciative. ”
“I love my job,” said Gonzalez. “I get to help out the Marines, and their faces are a little bit happier.”