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Altus Airmen, AAFES partner to enhance local BX

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Breanna Klemm
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs Office

Airmen from across the 97th Air Mobility Wing “rolled up their sleeves and got their hands dirty”, volunteered time and hard work to the update the Base Exchange and Shoppette at Altus Air Force Base, Okla. Airmen from the 97th Civil Engineer Squadron, 97th Force Support Squadron, 97th Contracting Squadron and 97th Security Forces Squadron teamed up with local Army and Air Force Exchange Services (AAFES) management to renovate the Altus BX in order to provide Airmen and their families with enhanced product and service selections chosen in a 2018 survey.

“This project is a much bigger deal than just a BX renovation,” said Col. Robert Pedersen, 97th Mission Support Group commander. “The BX is a statement to taking care of our Airmen and their families. The changes to the BX, at the end of the day, represent the respect that we owe to our Airmen.”

Don Walter Jr., the AAFES general manager for the Altus BX, explained that every decade AAFES keeps its facilities up to date through renovations with the latest technology, products and everyday goods. In 2019, it was time for Altus to begin its renovations. At that time the facility not only showed desperate need of refurbishing to the product selection, but to the facility itself. Although the renovation was scheduled to happen solely through AAFES in 2022, the men and women of the 97th AMW partnered with AAFES to make the renovations happen on a much faster timeline.

Some of the biggest changes made to the building itself included a 44% square footage expansion to the facility, new interior flooring, shelving, decorations and Airmen made wall art.

“I think just the quality of products we’re bringing in is going to be a huge benefit to the Airmen on base,” said Walter. “We have a lot of items in the BX that we haven’t had before, from laptops to a better variety of clothing brands. It has been over a decade since a change, so bringing all this back into a remote facility I think is a huge benefit.” 

Outside the BX itself, a multipurpose room is under construction while the tire shop, dry cleaners and barbershop are all currently undergoing an image refresh. Once complete, new flooring, paint and supplies will be installed throughout the shops by next spring. The soon to be multipurpose room will serve as a convenient space for Airmen and their families to gather for classes or any type of group activity.

“Altus AFB is a remote, isolated location with the smallest town attached to it out of any military base in the Department of Defense,” said Pedersen. “The town of Altus is about 18,500 (people), and the base makes up a significant part of it. Personally, I feel like we owe our Airmen and families more than a normal base would, and this is what we are trying to show through these renovations.”

Along with these changes, 97th MSG Airmen hand-built and manage a coffee shop, the “Wild Brew Yonder” inside of the BX which opened earlier this year. The “Wild Brew Yonder” highlights what work went into the renovations of the BX. MSG Airmen crafted the shelving and other wood fixtures which are displayed and frequently used in the coffee shop. Pedersen explained the process required lots of off-duty work, additional planning and dedication from Airmen across the Mighty 97th.

The renovated BX reopened on Nov. 20, 2019, to showcase all the hard work from the past year to base patrons, and these upgrades are not finished yet. 97th MSG leaders are determined to continue enhancing and improving amenities on base for Airmen to utilize. Pedersen explained, through combined efforts from squadrons around base, the culture and mission of Altus AFB were enhanced through multiple facility upgrades, helping improve quality of life for Airmen and their families.

“We were met with a lot of ‘no’s’ in the beginning of this process,” said Pedersen. “The biggest thing for us was finding a way to get to ‘yes.’ It is a creative process that involves risk taking by leadership, an immense amount of collaboration and teamwork from squadrons around base and a lot of work from our Airmen. I was told it was an impossible fix – but nothing is impossible with passion and time.”

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