End of an Era: Base Stores in Afghanistan to Stop Accepting 'Pogs'

AAFES pogs
The few Army and Air Force Exchange Service stores that are still open on bases in Afghanistan are encouraging people to turn in or use their paper coins, or pogs, as the U.S. continues its pullout from the country. The phaseout of pogs, which AAFES began issuing at exchange stores in Afghanistan in November 2001, began in May 2021. (Carrie Bernard/U.S. Air Force)

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The paper coins, or pogs, that troops have used at stores and collected as souvenirs on overseas bases for the last 20 years are being phased out as the U.S. military leaves Afghanistan.

Some stores have already stopped using pogs, which were given as change instead of nickels, dimes and quarters since 2001 at Army and Air Force Exchange Service stores.

Signs at the seven AAFES stores that are still open on bases in Afghanistan encouraged people to turn in or use their pogs before they are no longer accepted, spokesman Chris Ward said.

"As closure of operations in Afghanistan continues, Exchange facilities in the country are transitioning to a cashless system," Ward said.

The exact day when pogs will no longer be used anywhere in the country was unknown, he said.

The B&S Central Store at the coalition base at Kabul airport has already stopped accepting the paper coins, a sign at the shop's entrance said last week.

Many shelves were bare inside the store, which once sold items like energy drinks, protein powder and action figures. The few items available were discounted by 75% or more.

B&S stopped accepting pogs when it could no longer exchange them for dollars through AAFES and the U.S. finance office, Michiel Kampers, head of retail support for the Netherlands-based chain, said by email.

The airport store, which was the last B&S shop in Afghanistan, was set to close Thursday, he said.

Pogs started being phased out early this month as the U.S. military's finance office began its Afghanistan drawdown, Ward said.

The finance office at Resolute Support Headquarters was no longer accepting pogs, Maj. Nicholas J. Long, commander of the 93rd Financial Management Support Unit, said in an email Monday.

The end of the pog in Afghanistan comes as U.S. and coalition troops continue to withdraw after nearly 20 years of war.

President Joe Biden said last month the U.S. military would be out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11.

The drawdown from Afghanistan is "between 13-20%" completed, Central Command said Tuesday in a statement.

Troops and contractors still in Afghanistan have been discussing what to do with their paper coins, they said.

Pogs can continue to be used at locations outside of Afghanistan, but "I think the majority are just calling it a loss and throwing them out," said one soldier, who asked to remain anonymous because she was not authorized to speak to the press.

AAFES began issuing the cardboard coins at exchange stores in Afghanistan in November 2001, saying at the time that pogs are lighter than metal coins and cheaper to ship overseas.

At first, pogs were intended to be temporary and simply carried information saying how much they were worth. But they evolved over the years to feature photos of troops or aircraft, pictures of NASCAR drivers and comic book characters.

Collectors now buy and sell pogs. This week, a set of 13 pogs from 2005 was offered on eBay for $450, and a single 5-cent pog from 2003 with the image of a dolphin was going for $13.

The paper coins were "one of those unique little details from deployment," said Kristen Rouse, a logistics officer who served in Afghanistan in 2006, 2010 and 2012.

During her first tour, Rouse collected a pile of pogs with a face value of around $20. She got most of them as change from the Green Beans coffee shop at Bagram Airfield.

One of the pogs is now part of her collection of challenge coins -- metal tokens of appreciation from military leaders for a job well done, she said.

Pogs were "a weird staple of deployed life" that left a lasting impression on former public affairs soldier Francis Horton, who deployed to Afghanistan in 2004.

But with the paper coins being phased out in Afghanistan, "you find yourself a little astonished when one of the last things connecting you to that era is gone," he said.

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