AL ASAD, Iraq -- Marines and Sailors deployed here frequently turn to different things to help them pass the time when they are off duty. Some read books or write letters; others watch movies, play sports or engage in physical training.
One Marine here has also found collecting a peculiar form of currency, only available to deployed servicemembers, to be a fun off-duty activity.
The colorful 'coins' look like play money from a children's board game, but they have real monetary value in addition to their appeal to collectors.
They are called 'pogs' and the Army and Air Force Exchange Service has been using them as a form of currency at exchanges in deployed areas for years.
Lightweight and easily recognizable, the AAFES pogs are coated disks about the size of a half-dollar with powerful U. S. military images and come in 5 cent, 10 cent and 25 cent denominations.
According to the AAFES web site, the military finance office normally provides coins to patrons, however by using the pogs for small change AAFES reduces the shipment of bulky, heavy metal coins to exchange sites, which helps maximize the availability of goods and services for deployed troops.
"The pogs are kind of cool because there are so many different designs and I also thought it would be something fun to do while I am here," said Cpl. Carlos R. Garcia, adjutant clerk, Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 3, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. "The series for this year has more than 36 designs for all three denominations.
"So far I have almost all of them, but there are a few that I still have to collect and put in the special collector's folder I bought at the exchange to display them in," continued the 25-year-old.
Whether kept as souvenirs or in a collection, the pogs can be used like real money and are redeemable at any AAFES store worldwide.
Because the AAFES Pogs are not real currency, they do not violate the law and were developed at the request of the Department of Defense, according to the AAFES website.
Garcia, a native of Alamo, Texas, said in addition to collecting the AAFES pogs, he also has bought some non-circulating Iraqi dinars, some of which have the face of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
"Even though the bills are not really worth anything, you never know if they will become collector's items in the near or far future," said Garcia. "War memorabilia can be worth a lot.
"Some of the things from the era of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan that servicemembers found, like bayonets or flags or money, have become quite valuable to the collectors market," he explained.
Garcia added that for now, he hopes the pogs and the colorful Iraqi bills with Saddam's visage are tokens of his deployment and might make good gifts for family members or his kids in the future.
But with only a few pogs to go before he completes his collection, Garcia said there are a few he just can't seem to find.
"There are a couple that I am trying to get," said Garcia. "Sometimes I trade real U. S. coins or pogs that I already have for ones that I don't, but there are a few that I just can't seem to find. Hopefully I will get them all before I leave Iraq. I have even seen some Marines just throw their pogs away and I wonder if one of them is one that I need to complete my collection."