One of the absolute best perk
s of joining the United States Navy
is the use of this facility
, the Navy Exchange (or NEX
). 110 Navy Exchanges, along with 41 Navy Lodge
s and 185 ship stores are under the authority
of the Navy Exchange Service Command
) located in Virginia Beach, Virginia
, selling goods to sailor
s and their families all over the world.
Back in the 1800s, sailors out to sea could only get inferior supplies bartered from bumboats (small ships filled with merchants and their wares, usually at exorbitant prices. There was also the alternative of a ship-based "canteen", wherein the sailors would spend money (on beer and tobacco, usually) in efforts to improve the quality of the food. In 1909 the Naval Appropriations Act allowed for the first official resale in the form of the Ships Stores and Commissary Stores, which allowed the Navy to sell goods to personnel at stations outside of the United States. A revamped Ships Stores, now the Ships Service Stores, came about in 1945, and establishment of what is now known as NEXCOM soon afterwards.
Basically, nowadays, the NEX is like a large, cleaner version of Wal-Mart. The prices are very low on most of the store's brand products, of which there are over 600, ranging from soda to automotive supplies to garden tools; brand-name products, which it certainly also has, also seem to sell for less than normal -- mostly due to the fact that you don't ever have to pay sales tax. At all. Instead, a small fee is charged to help keep the store in business. They also have lots of sales events -- one of which is to sell items at cost. Craziness.
Most NEXes also offer services like video rental, fast food, barbers, and even gas stations. They usually always have a commissary adjoined (the commissary is for things you need, the exchange is for things you want, generally; think of the commissary like a grocery store). Ships Stores are generally smaller versions of the NEX -- only on board a ship.
Source: This really boffo Navy Exchange Guide I got when I enlisted.