Serving those who serve

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. James M. Hodgman
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs
"We go where you go," is more than just a slogan, it's something Army and Air Force Exchange Service employees live by every day.

The saying represents the commitment of more than 43,000 AAFES associates who serve America's servicemembers and their families at numerous locations across the globe. More than 4,000 of these selfless patriots have volunteered to support military members at deployed locations.

Right now, AAFES associates are serving the men and women who fight to keep America free in more than 30 different countries on five continents.

Nancy Copada, Offutt's Base Exchange store manager, has been part of the AAFES team for more than two decades and has served at bases from California to Southwest Asia.

In 2005, she volunteered to deploy to Camp Echo, a forward operating base in Iraq. She said she volunteered for the 7-month tour because she wanted to serve America's servicemembers.

Serving alongside the military is very rewarding, Mrs. Copada said. "When you go to Iraq or places like it, it's really different and we're appreciated for our efforts."

While assigned to Camp Echo, Mrs. Copada worked as the manager of the base's exchange. She was responsible for more than 20 American and local national associates. She worked 14-hour days, six days a week and slept in a small room with a bed and a wall locker for company.

Serving America's war fighters was so important to Mrs. Copada; she ensured Camp Echo's exchange was open to support special missions.

"Because I ran the exchange, if there was a special mission and (servicemembers) needed energy drinks or other items to go on their mission with, we would open for them," she said.

Mrs. Copada said her team did this about 20 times, usually well after closing.

"We didn't even think about it," she said. "We knew that was our job, it was natural to just go back and open."

While deployed to Iraq, Mrs. Copada also experienced what it's like for a base to be attacked.

"Before I left we got shelled (with mortars) a couple times," she said. "All of the bases over there were getting mortared or bombed at some point."

Mrs. Copada recalled traveling from Camp Echo to Tallil Air Base where she flew to Camp Liberty to attend a staff meeting. After about five hours of traveling, she found herself on an aircraft that was taking enemy fire.

As she remembers this dangerous moment in her life, she smiles and simply says, "That was interesting."

For Willie Taylor, the food court manager here, being a part of the AAFES team and serving the military has been a great experience.

It's been a job that's been very rewarding, Mr. Taylor said.

"I like to serve people and I also like working with the military," he said.

For the past 24 years Mr. Taylor has brought his love to serve others to several locations across the globe.

In 1997, Mr. Taylor volunteered to spend six months in Bosnia working as a food manager where he served at three different camps.

"We worked about 13 hours a day," Mr. Taylor recalled. "I had to work with local nationals and ensure they were trained and scheduled for shifts."

"I also had to learn to communicate with those who didn't speak English," he said. "Since I didn't have much time with them I tried to learn some of their language."

After Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast, Mr. Taylor answered the call to serve members of the Reserve and National Guard who were deployed to the region assisting with relief efforts.

"I went down to New Orleans for about two months," Mr. Taylor said. "We set up five temporary exchanges around (the city) and I managed all of them."

Mr. Taylor said working with the military has been a joy and he'll always have a special place in his heart for servicemembers.

Mrs. Copada has enjoyed working with the military so much, she wants to deploy again.
"Serving at Camp Echo was one of the best experiences of my life," she said. "I enjoyed every moment."

"I'm looking forward to deploying again in the near future," she added.

For more information about AAFES, click here.