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Army and Air Force Exchange Services Fort Lee Exchange general manager, Audrey Alston assists Staff Sgt. David Timmerman II, 217th Military Police Detachment, and his wife Victoria with the selection of a digital camera at the Fort Lee Exchange Feb. 15. Alston has been serving AAFES and their customers for more than 30 years. (Photo by Kimberly K. Fritz)

FORT LEE, Va. (Feb. 23, 2012)--Great customer service is the No. 1 priority of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, said the Fort Lee Exchange's new general manager Audrey C. Alston.

Since she's been with AAFES for more than 30 years, she's worked in almost all the positions available at the exchange. She started out as a customer service associate at McConnell Air Force Base when her then-husband was stationed in Wichita, Kansas. Alston worked her way through the upward mobility program and was promoted into management, earning her education while working for the organization. She has deployed to Qatar as a general manager for the As Sayliyah, Al Udied and Al Dhafra Exchanges as part of the "we go where you go" commitment servicing military members anywhere in the world.

This AAFES veteran has a vision and a plan to make the Fort Lee Exchange the first choice for retail shopping among its customers.

"Our focus needs to be on making our customers first," she said.

Alston has met with Garrison Commander Col. Rodney D. Edge and said both agree putting the Fort Lee community members first is a goal they share.

To make this happen, Alston said she's going to put her focus on training AAFES employees.

"We have a lot of training methods, and I am looking at improving our training program through formal and informal classes, on-the-job training and utilizing an AAFES learning facilitator stationed at Joint Base Langley-Eustis more," she said. "Or maybe we will be getting one of our own."

In addition to meetings with the garrison commander, Alston has met with the installation's commanding general, Maj. Gen. James L. Hodge, and his wife Michelle. The meetings have reaffirmed that everyone's commitment is to the troops and their Families, Alston said.

"We are all in agreement that customers should come first," she said. "Without our customers, we can't survive. We are going to focus also on our goal of developing lifelong connections with our customers. We've got to show that we are here for them."

Alston said AAFES has many programs to support shoppers, like the You Made the Grade program where students with a valid military identification card are given rewards for their overall B average or better report cards. Also, each time they make the grade, they can register for a drawing for one of three savings bonds to put toward their college education.

Alston is preparing for a store reset that will make the layout of the Fort Lee Exchange more like other exchanges. The customer service counter has been moved to the front-left of the store making it easier for patrons with returns, special orders or other services. Alston has done a review of the current stock and displays and is prepping for changes to the amount of baby furniture and paraphernalia offered in the store. She's also changing displays in the electronics and making room for additional stocks of the popular items that sell out quickly. She also is working to increase the inventory and size of the Troop Store on the Ordnance Campus, which is restocked every night after advanced individual training students purchase Snack Alley and other sundry items.

Alston said that if shoppers aren't finding what they want in the Exchange brick and mortar store to check where more than 18 million items are available for purchase.

Additional changes coming to the Fort Lee Exchange include new uniforms for associates. A blue embroidered shirt will soon replace the red vests currently worn.

Alston has also teamed with other organizations to help make improvements to identify ways the exchange can help the community. She hopes to announce soon what conveniences these partnerships will offer.

Alston said she is proud of the Fort Lee AAFES associates, many of whom have won awards for their performance, including recent recognition for employees at the Manchu Wok and Anthony's Pizza.