KADENA AIR BASE – Military members have gotten used to curbside pickup from the Army & Air Force Exchange Service during the COVID-19 pandemic. And on May 22, ship-side service became possible too.
It was all hands on deck as the Kadena Air Base Exchange, Okinawa Distribution Center and food court teams worked together to fill, transport and deliver nearly 600 personal orders and hundreds of pizzas to support the crew of USS Blue Ridge through the Exchange’s buy online, pick up in store service.
The Exchange leadership adjusted and tailored the service to help more than 525 dedicated Sailors who set a milestone by surpassing the ship’s 48-year record of continuous patrol to 70 days.
USS Blue Ridge’s mission of fostering relationships across the Indo-Pacific takes them to port calls almost every week, and even a traditional U.S. Navy ship pulls into port in weeks or even a month so sailors can shop and stock for supplies. Being out at sea for 70 days is highly irregular, said MC1 Christopher Krucke, USS Blue Ridge’s public affairs officer.
Weeks before docking at the White Beach pier in Okinawa, the ship’s leadership reached out to the Kadena Exchange team for much-needed assistance. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and strict quarantine regulations to keep the USS Blue Ridge crew safe, Sailors were not permitted to leave the White Beach area to shop for provisions necessary for the next phase of their mission.
“The majority of the orders were for health and beauty products such as body wash, shampoo, deodorant and lots of laundry detergents but some sailors ordered snacks and electronics too,” said Flordeliza B. Payton, Kadena Exchange main store manager.
Through teamwork, brainstorming and using their past experiences, the Exchange management team quickly implemented a personal shopper program to assist Sailors who ordered supplies via ShopMyExchange.com. The Exchange team also reached out to the Okinawa Distribution Center for logistical expertise and the delivery of supplies to White Beach.
“Our direct support to the Sailors on the USS Blue Ridge positively impacts their ability to sustain military operations on the front lines and clearly demonstrates the Exchange’s motto of ‘we go where you go,’” said Col. Scott P. Maskery, the Exchange’s Pacific Region commander.
“We were just so glad that we were able to help them out, especially after hearing one Sailor’s wife say that many of them had run out of everyday necessities for the past two weeks,” Payton said. “It was a whole team effort as we worked six straight days to process, pull and pack all their individual orders as well as the bulk orders that the ship needed.”
After arriving May 24 at White Beach pier and waiting the 72-hour mandated quarantine for the supplies, the crew got a taste of home as they had 350 Pizza Hut pizzas delivered to them while they eagerly waited to pick up their orders that were organized and distributed by their fellow Sailors. Smiles and excitement could be seen as soon as they looked into their bags and saw their much need supplies.
“I have size 14 shoes and needed new insoles which they had in stock, so I was very happy to get that specific item from the Exchange,” Krucke said. “I guess you can say it literally put a spring in my step.”
The team earned praise for its hard work.
“I just wanted to personally say thank you to you and your entire team for the great services provided for our visit here in Okinawa,” said Command Master Chief Adrian “Skooby” Watkins, USS Blue Ridge’s senior enlisted leader. “You have had a fantastic impact on the morale and overall mind-set of the crew. You are the real MVP! Thank you so much.”
The current pandemic has drastically altered the daily activities for most of the Service members and their families stationed in the Pacific Region from work to school and even the way they shop for household goods.
“I am extremely proud of our Kadena team as they are using innovative ways to meet customer requests and unit requirements in a COVID-19 persistent environment,” Maskery said. “We will continue to demonstrate how the Exchange is a vital mission partner to military commands that directly contributes to the readiness and resiliency of military communities.”
While the crew of USS Blue Ridge is back at sea with fresh supplies, Team Kadena successfully delivered another “personal shopper” delivery to the crew of USS New Orleans on May 29, with 114 orders and 210 pizzas.