The Exchange Employee Serves 'Her Soldiers' in Afghanistan
Scott Thompson, Staff Writer - KS
(Courtesy of the Exchange' Ft. Leavenworth PAR Jannie Joyner)
Fort Leavenworth Lamp
The Army & Air Force Exchange Service has a motto: "We go where you go."
For 14 months, Terry Veney took that motto to heart. The store manager for the Fort Leavenworth Post Exchange volunteered to go to Afghanistan where she worked for the Exchange. She went for "her Soldiers" because she said that's where she was needed.
She calls the experience the highlight of her nearly 25-year career.
In Afghanistan, she served as a retail business manager for the eight Exchange stores in the region, and she would travel to each of them to ensure they had the supplies and products that were needed and wanted.
She also helped to support unit-run Exchange imprest fund activities located at remote locations where the Exchange is not allowed to open a PX / BX. She also helped to open a new store in Jalalabad.
Veney left on Dec. 30, 2005, for the CONUS Replacement Center at Fort Benning, Ga., which prepares units, individual replacements and civilians deploying in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. She returned stateside March 2, 2007.
Veney's time in Afghanistan was voluntary. The Exchange contingency operations are staffed and operated by Exchange associates on a volunteer basis.
"I thought if I went to deploy, it would help with the bottom line of the main store to give back to the community," Veney said.
Because she grew up camping, Veney expected to be housed in a tent.
When she got to Bagram, plywood B-huts awaited her instead. The self-proclaimed tomboy had no problem adjusting.
"I thought, 'These are adorable. OK, no problem,'" Veney recalled.
On the ground, Veney was part of a team that traveled by convoy. Her travels took her to bases in Kandahar, Bagram, Jalalabad, Camp Tillman and other forward operating bases.
"You talk about defensive driving - whoa," Veney said. "It's really the way that people talk about it. You can't stop. You've got to keep going."
When air travel was necessary, Veney was a frequent passenger on CH-47 Chinook helicopters. She went on 25 missions with the 10th Mountain Division, based out of Fort Drum, N.Y.
"That was really nice, because you are treated like a movie star," Veney said. "All I was missing was the black sunglasses. Being able to get off a Chinook and see these guys cheering for you, 'The Exchange is on the ground! The Exchange is on the ground!'"
They were bringing the goods, and the Soldiers knew it: first-run movies, razors, socks, T-shirts, shampoo, deodorant, potato chips. They had the things the Soldiers wanted.
Some of the merchandise was given. Some was sold. When care packages arrive at the FOBs, Veney said, they are gone within a couple of hours. Then the Soldiers must wait for up to months at a time for the next shipment of packages to arrive.
Ask Veney what the highlight of her trip was, and she responds without hesitation.
"My real highlight are my Soldiers," Veney said. "I call them 'My Soldiers.' That's number one."
I feel that I made a difference for them,
just being there and
listening to them.
She said she felt like a mother figure to them. She also calls them her "kids" because so many of them were the age of her children. During her free time, she enjoyed sitting down and talking with the Soldiers, hearing their stories about military life and seeing pictures of their children and families.
"I can understand on that level, because I'm a dependent," said Veney, whose husband is retired from the Air Force. "I've seen my husband deployed. They miss their families, their children."
Veney still keeps in touch with many of them and lets them know that if they need anything, she will send it to them.
Her eyes well up when she recalls "her Soldiers."
"I feel that I made a difference for them, just being there and listening to them," Veney said. "I feel that being able to get that merchandise to them that they really need helped."
If the most rewarding part of her journey was the Soldiers, the most emotional part was when one of them became a fallen Soldier.
"People that you know, or you knew - the next day they're not there," she said. "They are relationships that you build so quick and you want to help them out so badly, and then you find out that they got in way of fire."
Veney never had any close calls while traveling in convoys, but was shot at several times while riding in the Chinook.
"I prayed every night before I went out," she said. "I always believe that the Lord will be there and if it's my time it's my time, but I wouldn't want to think about it when I'm in the helicopter."
She didn't tell her parents about her harrowing experiences until after her second R&R.
"And then (my mom) got a little worried," Veney said.
Being away from her family was difficult, but Veney applauds her husband for being supportive and taking care of the couple's two school-aged children.
Luckily, she was allowed to return for 10-day R&R periods every three months. Veney took that opportunity three times during her 14-month stay.
"It was really hard to leave after the 10th day," Veney said.
She returned home with more than 4,000 pictures from Afghanistan.
Veney took the photo highlights of her trip and produced a DVD, complete with music, that she plans to put on display at the PX to share the story.
She also catalogued her daily stories in a journal that she hopes to manifest into a book. Veney, whose hobbies include creative writing, said the stories that comprise the book would range from good and interesting to sad and unbelievable.
Veney said she would go back if asked, but before she considers that option, she wants to spend time with her family.
These stories represent a sampling of the more than 4,500 deployees and their experiences downrange. If you are a deployee and would like to add your deployment history, please contact us.