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NEWS | Dec. 15, 2006

Trainees given chance to shop, ship presents

By April Blumer 37th Training Wing Public Affairs

For more than 3,100 basic trainees, Dec. 9 brought an opportunity to get into the holiday spirit, despite a two-hour setback caused by a blackout.

Under the Shop-A-Trainee program, trainees in the first, second and fifth week of training, plus trainees on medical hold, were able to go to the Army and Air Force Exchange Service Main Exchange to purchase holiday gifts.

"It allows our trainees an opportunity to purchase gifts to send home to loved ones with minimal impact on our training," said Jim Steele, chief of the basic military training scheduling office. "And, for most of them, it's probably the first time they've ever had to use their own money to buy gifts for their parents and brothers and sisters."

For 22-year-old LaTonya June, a trainee now in her third week of training with the 323rd Training Squadron, the chance to go to the base exchange was a welcome break from the structured training environment.

"I was excited (about going Christmas shopping). I wanted to send things to my daughter," said the Auburn, Ala., native. "And it felt like we were finally doing something right and that we were being rewarded."

Trainee June said she was able to buy a jewelry box, Air Force clothing, a Christmas CD and stickers for her 5-year-old while at the BX.

"The selection was great. I was able to get shoes for $7 and shirts for $9. Plus the quality is really good," she said.

To add to the holiday buying experience, more than 50 volunteers from various base and community organizations, including the Junior ROTC unit from the John Paul Stevens High School and the ROTC unit from the University of Texas at San Antonio, set up in the base movie theater to offer free gift wrapping.

Using supplies donated from AAFES, the volunteers wrapped more than 6,000 presents in six hours, according to the wrapping party coordinator, Heidi Porter.

Additionally, representatives from UPS and the U.S. Postal Service were available to provide for-fee shipping.

For Trainee June, shopping and freedom from training instructors wasn't the only advantage to the outing. The trip to the BX helped bond the females in her flight.

"All the girls who went had a chance to come together a little more. It helped bring our flight back together," she said.

The Shop-A-Trainee program has been introducing trainees to one of their newly acquired military benefits, the BX, for more than 25 years. The funds generated through AAFES are returned to the military community through morale, welfare and recreation activities.