CAMP BAHARIA, Iraq -- Maybe it's seeing the well-stocked shelves teeming with tempting stores of junk food. Or perhaps it's the hope of snagging the latest flick on DVD and being the first in the platoon to watch it.
Whatever their reasons, the sight of Staff Sgt. Brian Bonk and his exchange never fails to send the Marines and Sailors of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment into a purchasing frenzy. Even while enjoying a short break from patrolling the perilous streets of Fallujah, troops here often take time out of their hectic days to visit this Painesville, Ohio native's wooden warehouse of consumer wonders.
29-year-old Bonk manages the camp's store, known to Marines here as the Baharia PX (Post Exchange). Stocked with everything from sunglasses to socks, and electronics to energy drinks, Bonk's store serves as a one-stop shop for forward deployed service members' health and comfort needs.
"This exchange serves about 2,000 customers and makes about 20- to $30,000 every week," said Bonk, a former student of landscape architecture and business management at Ohio State University. "When units are changing over with one another, and there are two battalions in the camp at one time, we probably service twice as many customers."
Since mid-March, Bonk has worked alongside two other Marines to man this exchange, as the battalion personnel they support continue conducting counter-insurgency operations in the area. As one outlet store of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, Bonk said his rudimentary PX delivers a small amount of comfort to Marines and Sailors here who would often live off field rations, shelf-stable food and the occasional care package.
"Snacks are one of the best sellers we see here," Bonk continued. "Our number one sellers, though, are electronics. Marines are always looking for external hard drives, digital cameras, and things like that. We do our best to keep the shelves here stocked with items that they want."
Like every military exchange, Bonk's store boasts tax-free prices on all their wares. This PX also offers doorstep delivery service.
Hundreds of infantrymen and supporting personnel live and operate out of bases in and around Northern Fallujah, and accordingly, are often unable to visit the Baharia exchange. For this reason, PX Marines pack up a portion of their inventory and head out once a week as part of a supply and logistics convoy to support the troops in the field. At these makeshift bases, forward deployed personnel may purchase clothing, hygiene gear and enough goodies to see them through another week from the ‘PX on wheels,’ a seven-ton truck packed with goods.
Marines and Sailors in Baharia and in the field may also withdraw cash to make these purchases from a disbursing clerk, another asset of this PX.
"The services the exchange offers are great, especially considering how far away from home we are," stated Staff Sgt. Candelario Martinez, a Marine with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. "I like their selection of junk food and electronics, and I really appreciate the fact that they're here."
Bonk and his Marines put in many hours worth of labor to ensure that Marines like Martinez receive a steady flow of services and goods to help them accomplish their mission of providing security for the area.
"Managing an exchange aboard a FOB (forward operating base) is hard work, but this is exactly what I expected when I came out here," Bonk stated. "I think the role of the PX here is very important, because we work to boost morale, and morale is the number one thing in the field. Marines are always happy when they have some hot chow and some junk food in their bellies."