Pennies, POGs -- dollars, cents of setting up shop in war zone

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While Army and Air Force Exchange Service officials have responded to the needs of deployed troops in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, there has been some confusion about where the metal currency goes once servicemembers hit the ground.

"In contingency operations, AAFES must rely on military finance for currency used in its store," said Army Lt. Col. Debra Pressley, the service’s corporate communications chief. "The military does not provide coins in the contingency theater (because of) the weight of coins and other mission priorities."

In light of the restrictions placed on metal currency, AAFES uses flat, disc-like gift certificates worth 5, 10 and 25 cents. They are used primarily in contingency locations to save the Department of Defense the extra cost of shipping heavy coins into war zones. Dubbed POGs, the small discs are the only way AAFES can support deployed troops without access to traditional metal currency, officials said.

POGs are accepted at exchanges worldwide. Sporting distinctive military imagery, they have generally been well received and have even become collectors' items, officials said. AAFES periodically introduces a new POG series with new designs that can be spent or collected.

Although POGs are used for 5, 10 and 25-cent denominations, it is not cost effective to produce penny POGs, AAFES officials said. As in Europe and the Pacific, where pennies are not available, the service rounds up or rounds down the cost of any cash purchase to the closest nickel.

The variation of cents on either side makes the rounding policy a virtual wash for the customer and AAFES. And, every penny spent at AAFES is returned to morale, welfare and recreation dividends, capital improvements or new construction.

"AAFES' job in operations Iraqi (Freedom) and Enduring Freedom is the most important endeavor this organization has ever undertaken," Colonel Pressley said. "(Exchange) facilities, call centers and name-brand fast-food restaurants are not set up in dangerous and austere locations to improve someone's bottom line. With or without metal coins, AAFES and its associates continue to go to contingency locations in an effort to transform the war zone into a comfort zone."

The game of POGs originated in the 1920s on the island of Maui in Hawaii. There, dairy workers played the game during breaks using simple milk caps. “POG” is an acronym for a popular Hawaiian drink made from passion fruit, oranges and guava juices. The game is played with POGs that have pictures on their face sides. Mass appeal has followed since reintroduction of the game in the 1990s. (Courtesy of AAFES News Service)