When deployed troops buy whatever they need, if they pay in cash, they won’t be given pennies, nickels, dimes, or quarters as change. Instead, they’ll be given cardboard coins (colloquially called “pogs,” like the 90s toys). And, now, coin collectors are going crazy for them.
Depending on where in Iraq or Afghanistan troops are stationed, they may have easy access to an AAFES (Army Air Force Exchange Service) store. Bigger airfields have larger stores that sell all an airman could want — meanwhile, outlying FOBs are just happy that their AAFES truck didn’t blow up this month.
Giving cardboard in return for cash isn’t some complex scheme to screw troops out of their 85 cents. Logistically speaking, transporting a bunch of quarters to and from a deployed area is, to put it bluntly, a heavy waste of time. While a pocket full of quarters may not seem like much, having to stock every single cash register would be a headache. So AAFES, the only commercial service available to troops, decided in November 2001 to forgo actual coins in favor of cardboard credit.
The AAFES coins aren’t legal tender. They are, essentially, gift certificates valid only at AAFES establishments. If troops can manage to hold on to their cardboard coin collection throughout a deployment, they can exchange the coins for actual money at any non-deployed AAFES customer service desk. Occasionally, AAFES runs promotions that gave double-value to troops returning their pogs — but troops who decline to cash in might be getting the best value in the end.
The weirdest thing about the AAFES pogs is the collectors’ community that has grown from it. Coin collectors everywhere have been going crazy for our AAFES pogs. On eBay, you can typically find a set of mint-condition paper coins going for ridiculous prices. Of course, like every collector’s item, complete sets and the older coins go for much more.