AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq, June 10, 2015 - Toiletries, snacks and electronics might seem like trivial things to get excited about when living in the U.S., but halfway around the world, access to convenience items helps keep troops motivated and spirits high. For deployed service members, access to everyday amenities is scarce, so little things can make a huge difference.
A special group of Marines called the warfighter express, or WES, team helped make that difference when they brought their services here in late May to the soldiers, sailors and Marines deployed with Task Force Al Asad in support of Operation Inherent Resolve's building partner capacity mission. The WES team is composed of Marines from various career fields providing postal, disbursing and exchange services to forward deployed service members in austere, remote locations.
"The main goal of the WES team is to increase morale and bring a little piece of home to those on the front lines and in the fight," said Gunnery Sgt. Carl Wildrom, the Marine Corps community services staff noncommissioned officer in charge with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command. "The teams are really popular because a lot of the time, requested items take long periods of time to arrive in the mail from friends or family back home. We can bring a lot of those same items out in a timely manner for a reasonable price. The money spent ends up supporting a lot of the quality-of-life programs for Marines, so everyone benefits."
WES teams carry items ranging from consumables like energy drinks and beef jerky to entertainment conveniences like external hard drives and headphones. The team sends surveys to units to learn which goods are in demand prior to the team's visit.
WES teams fly out with supplies on a biweekly basis, maintaining a consistent flow of resources to the bases and outposts they service. They bring upward of $40,000 worth of inventory and can sell out of products within a few hours of opening up shop, thanks to the surveys indicating specific products sought by the service members doing the shopping.
"We have a standard request form, which is more or less a spreadsheet listing all of the items that we have available," said Wildrom. "We give that to the main points of contact on the bases that we support. They just select the amount of any given item that they want, and we attempt to bring what is requested, if we have it on hand. If the request is filled out too late, we stick to what we have experienced and bring items that we know sell and are in demand."
The WES team visits feature more than just a miniature, mobile post exchange.
Disbursing Marines are on hand to process casual pay requests, which help service members access cash without needing to use a bank teller or ATM. Marines decide how much cash they'd like to withdraw, and the amount is simply deducted from their next paycheck.
Marine postal clerks offer service members deployed at these remote locations the opportunity to mail parcels to their families and friends back home.
Marines on both ends of these transactions benefit from the WES team visits.
"It's good to get out and interact with the Marines," said 1st Lt. Christopher Zumbar, the air-ground task force comptroller. "Anytime you can come out and touch base with the junior enlisted at the forefront it's a good thing. Especially when everyone else is so far away and service members might get a feeling of isolation. It makes me feel good knowing that these missions help counteract some of those feelings and make people feel as if home really isn't as far away as it may seem."