I visited another culture yesterday, Fort Stewart. Since I did not grow up around the military that is how I felt when I entered the base. It wasn’t that the language or people were different, but how to navigate the different rules and culture came crashing together for me while shopping in the Exchange.
I met the Family Readiness Group leader at the Exchange. The first sign that I was out of my element happened pretty quickly. I was sitting outside the Exchange in what I thought was the front entrance. A few minutes later my contact walked up and said, “I thought I should check over here. I was waiting on the other side, the front of the building.” Oops.
This was my first visit to an Exchange on a military base. It was like a mini mall. My shopping companion knew exactly where to go once we were inside. We passed kiosk shops with framed sports photos, ladies wigs and other items. We arrived at our destination, a store filled with uniforms and supplies for soldiers.
Before my trip to Fort Stewart scores of friends and people I have never met sent me checks to go toward supplies for the soldiers of the 3-69 AR. Many of the soldiers are in remote areas without access to the internet or a PX. Getting needed supplies is difficult, so are showers. We were told before they left that our soldiers will need us to send items like soap, deodorant, etc. more than snacks and goodies. When I heard there were some soldiers who needed socks and underwear, etc. I put the word out and people responded. To date I have received $1,310 for this project.
Once inside the Exchange I handed over the cash, holding some back to go toward shipping. Since I do not have a military ID all the goods needed to be purchased by my contact. We decided shopping at the Exchange was better than ordering online with free shipping. The prices are so much better on base we could send more to the soldiers this way. We are buying for two platoons, about thirty men.
We started in the underwear and sock section. Standing in front of a wall of socks we began to read labels. We settled on one style labeled “Military Fatigue Fighter” and features “Graduated Compression” and is made with “Wick Dry & Scentry Technologies.” While neither of us really knew what “Scentry Technologies” actually means after reading the description of the sock we decided on this style. We opted for a mix of large and extra-large socks. It was on to t-shirts and underwear.
Standing in front of the t-shirts we had fewer decisions to make. There was only one choice in the type of shirt to make, cotton or polyester. Then it was a decision about the size mix. After getting enough for two per men, it was on to the underwear.
The standard issue briefs were only $2.05 a piece. While most of the guys we knew prefer boxer briefs we opted to go with the standard issue because the boxer briefs were over four times the price.
By this time our two shopping carts were pretty full. My shopping partner was keeping a running total on her smart phone.
We turned to the cold weather gear. Because the soldiers are in an area that is very cold now we opted for the “ThermaForm Neck Gator.” The label touts, ” A unique construction of layered fibers that create a body-conforming climate capsule to keep your neck and face warm and protected from winter weather,” Plus it had moisture control. I am learning that wicking and moisture control are important features for soldiers.
After a quick check of our running total we had enough money to buy something in the three dollar range. We opted for foot powder and were on our way to check out.
I made a slight detour to look at the Teddy Bears dressed in uniform. Our 14-year-old daughter came to mind. She misses her oldest brother and would love one of these bears. I settled on one with its cover pulled down to cover its eyes, the same way our soldier wore his cover at The Citadel, plus it had a distinctive nose like our guy.
On to the register. The ladies were very nice. One rang us up while the other bagged the items. To our surprise we came in at $995, not the $1,100 we thought we had. It was on to the PX to buy breakfast bars and oatmeal. The MRE’s provided the needed calories, but we thought the soldiers would appreciate something that doesn’t come from a standard issue box.
The PX was a big grocery store with great prices. We made quick work of the breakfast aisle loading up our large cart with boxes of nutritious bars and oatmeal. A little girl about 4 years old just stared at our cart as we walked down the aisle.
The check out line was like any other store. The lady working check out reminded me I was not at home in an off base grocery store. As she was ringing us up she asked if we needed custom forms for the USPS. We didn’t tell her why we were buying such a huge amount of bars and oatmeal, she just knew. It turns put she receive the stop mail notice for her son and had a stack of forms in her car. She gave the young guy bagging our groceries her car keys to retrieve the forms she no longer needed. One Army mom helping another.
With my little Toyota Corolla now filled up with items to ship to Afghanistan, we drove to the battalion headquarters office to see the Family Readiness Group Support office. I wanted to stop in to say hello and to express my condolences to the rear detachment staff after the death of Sgt. Wittman of the 3-69 just a week before.
After a quick visit and a few photos, I was on my way off base. I took a little time before I pulled out to reflect on the day. I only spent a few hours on base, but I had learned so much. I had to let it sink in a bit.
As I approached the Main Gate, I saw the “Warriors Walk” a tribute to Fort Stewart soldiers who lost their life in during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. I had to pull over to pay my respects. I’ll write about that experience in my next entry.