American Forces Network access to be expanded in theater
Story and photos by Sgt. Keith S. VanKlompenberg
139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — United States Forces – Iraq is beginning a new initiative to standardize the American Forces Network's broadcasting capabilities on all enduring bases in theater.
"The bottom line is we have the best armed forces in the world and they deserve the best quality-of-life programs we can provide," said Air Force Lt. Col. David Ellison, the chief of programs for the personnel sector of USF-I. "Our goal is to ensure that, at a minimum, all enduring (bases) have AFN TV drops in all (containerized housing units) so that members have access to AFN programming. It provides a taste of America, a taste of home."
Ellison, a Columbia, S.C., native, said smaller bases that are scheduled to remain in place through the upcoming withdrawal of troops and equipment from Iraq are the focus of the initiative. Locations such as Joint Base Balad and Victory Base Compound are already at or very near the standard, he said.
AFN programming provides constructive recreational and healthy entertainment options to service members and is essential to their morale, said Ellison.
In addition to entertainment, AFN provides valuable education, said Air Force Master Sgt. Jody Hoefs, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the AFN maintenance field office with USF-I.
"If you have AFN where you can relax, you're going to get that good command information," said Hoefs, a Pelican Rapids, Minn., native.
Hoefs said he acts as a subject matter expert for the initiative and provides solutions for units looking to add AFN to their locations.
The initiative requires the mayor's cell of every enduring base in Iraq to provide information detailing where they sit in regard to 100 percent coverage by Feb. 5, said Hoefs.
After USF-I has this information, it will work to bring all locations up to standard by Feb. 19, Ellison said.
"It's not just about enduring bases," said Ellison.
Units on bases scheduled to close during the upcoming withdrawal can still have AFN set up with USF-I's assistance, Ellison said.
Ellison said the technology used to broadcast AFN in Iraq is mostly wireless and inexpensive for units to purchase. If units lack the money in morale, welfare and recreation funds, USF-I will assist in the funding, he said.
Decoders and satellite dishes for public areas such as dining facilities and MWR centers can be obtained at no cost, but installing AFN in CHUs at bases scheduled to close will be at the cost of the units, said Hoefs.
Hoefs said units can contact him with their needs and what they are looking for, and he will work with them to come up with an appropriate plan of action.
Ellison said USF-I wants to help all units but has to take costs into consideration when setting up AFN for locations that will close during the drawdown.
"We all deserve AFN, but we have to be good stewards of taxpayer money," he said.
To inquire AFN installation, units can send their requirements to AFN-iraq-MFO@iraq.centcom.mil.