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Catherine Sleep | 7 September 2005

I read a somewhat depressing press release from AAFES yesterday. The Army and Air Force Exchange Service, to use its full title, seems to be the US equivalent of the NAAFI in the UK. That is to say, it exists to provide Soldiers and Airmen with the service and merchandise they need to make their lives more comfortable, in both peacetime and wartime.

Dispensing tea, cakes and a cheery word since the 1800s, sadly even this venerable institution has not remained immune to the many issues facing today’s retailers. Shoplifting has become a widespread problem and it appears service personnel are no less prone than civilians. Shoplifting in military exchanges costs service members millions of dollars annually. In fact, AAFES detained 9,076 shoplifters in 2004 alone.

This rather shatters an illusion, as in my naïve little way I still think of ‘our boys’ (and girls of course – my sister-in-law is a major in the Territorial Army, as it happens) as being upstanding and of the firmest moral fibre, and I was happy to extend this trust to foreign services too.

Anyway, AEFES yesterday issued a release essentially warning light-fingered service personnel who pilfer goods from their shops that they have invested heavily in ‘Loss Prevention Associates’ to deal with the perpetrators. They are less likely than ever to get away with it.

As the release emphasises, one shoplifting incident can bring a whole military career down – it’s just not worth it. That’s the key message of the release. It’s a reasonable approach, but instead of striking fear into the hearts of would-be shoplifters, I’d rather the emphasis lay on reminding them that theft is quite simply wrong. Ultimately we want people to behave right because it’s, well, right, not because they are afraid of the consequences if they don’t.

Idealist, moi?



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