RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
Base and post exchanges and commissaries have reached institutional status, serving the shopping needs of active-duty personnel and retired servicemembers on military installations for decades.
Another kind of retail facility on Air Force bases, Army posts and other federal installations hasn't been around as long as the BX, PX or commissary, but has proven to be a reliable, convenient one-stop shop for government purchase cardholders buying office and cleaning supplies and other items as well as for military members seeking uniforms and gear for their deployments.
Known as base service centers, or BSCs, they occupy a special niche, providing employment for visually impaired adults and selling a host of products made by people who are legally blind.
Randolph's BSC, which is operated by the San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind, will observe a milestone, the 15th anniversary of the AbilityOne Base Supply Center Program, with a celebration today at 9 a.m. featuring Col. Scott Peel, 902nd Mission Support Group commander, and some of its key customers.
One of its most striking achievements is its recent record getting Randolph's Airmen ready for deployment.
"They do a great job," Jim Grobe, 902nd Logistics Readiness Squadron deputy director, said of the BSC's workforce. "They supply all the uniforms for deploying members, and in the last two years there have been no AEF discrepancies."
BSC manager Al Dixon credits the facility's personnel for its success, whether they're consistently meeting Aerospace Expeditionary Force requirements or providing a high level of customer service. He pointed to John Woolridge and Willie Wilson, the BSC's cashiers, as evidence of the facility's commitment to serving its customers. Both of them are visually impaired, which is consistent with BSC policy.
"The cashier position is set aside for the visually impaired," Mr. Dixon said. "We provide them with all the aids they need to do their job."
He said customers feel comfortable with both cashiers.
"We have a good fit here, personality-wise," Mr. Dixon said. "Our customers look for John or Willie because of the bond they have."
Mr. Woolridge, an employee for three years, said it's natural that he enjoys working with military personnel.
"I'm a veteran, and I want to be supportive in any way I can," he said before adding a dose of practicality. "It also helps me pay my bills."
Mr. Wilson has only been at the Randolph BSC for four months, but he already feels at home.
"I love working here," he said. "I like the people."
The BSC's assistant manager, Rebecca Martinez, said she enjoys assisting military customers and working with members of the visually impaired community while another employee, Sharon Nobles, commends people at the corporate level and store managers for promoting team and family values.
BSCs started filling the void left by the closure of supply stores more than a decade ago. The AbilityOne Program, the largest single provider of jobs for people who are blind or have other severe disabilities in the United States, is a coordinated effort on behalf of the Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled, which oversees the program, National Industries for the Blind and National Industries for the Severely Handicapped-Creating Employment Opportunities for People with Severe Disabilities.
The San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind, one of AbilityOne's 600 nonprofit agencies, operates 13 stores on 11 military installations in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. More than 75 years old, the Lighthouse provides rehabilitation services and employment through its light manufacturing plant, which produces items ranging from writing instruments to chin straps and aerospace insulation blankets, and BSCs. Mr. Dixon said when the government buys Skilcraft products, which are manufactured at the Lighthouse, BSCs can employ more people who are blind or severely disabled.
In addition to the purchases they can make at the Randolph BSC, which is located in Bldg. 90, 675 Fourth St. West, customers can order by phone using the Lighthouse's 1,600-page office products catalog, which features myriad products from furniture to shredders, or online at http://stores.salighthouse.org.
Though in-store traffic is confined to government purchase cardholders, anyone can purchase items online.
Mr. Dixon, who said his attitude "sets the tone for the store," said the store strives for a balance each day.
"We have to be profitable," he said. "For us to stay in business, we have to do things right, but we can still have fun on the job."