Broadcasting to servicemembers supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom, a group of joint expeditionary tasking, or JET, Airmen assigned to 732nd Expeditionary Support Squadron’s American Forces Network-Iraq may be the last Airmen to execute this mission.
Working in a joint environment with Navy and Army counterparts, these JET Airmen broadcast live on AFN radio, produce a daily newscast and prerecord announcements in small containerized studios in a parking garage under an office building.
The current AFN-I team will be replaced by an all-Army unit soon, bringing an end to Air Force presence at AFN-I.
“We broadcast radio for more than 92 hours a week from here,” said Chief Master Sgt. Kerry Porter, the station manager deployed from Ramstein. “Also, (we broadcast) a 10-minute newscast Monday to Friday, which airs on AFN and the Pentagon Channel.”
But Chief Porter said they not only broadcast radio to Iraq, but to Afghanistan and Kuwait as well.
At one end of the AFN-I work area is a wall of photographs and the transcripts from important briefers and their briefings.
On the other side of the wall is the Combined Press Information Center, or CPIC, which includes a fully functional briefing room with audio and video control room and separate room for interpreters to produce real-time translations.
“Here we support the CPIC with the press conference center for live conferences,” said Chief Porter, a native of England. “Doing this, we support the U.S. State Department.”
AFN-I not only works in studios, the team also travels the country to get its stories.
“It can be challenging getting our people to the locations where you can only travel by convoys or helicopter,” said Tech. Sgt. Marty Rush, a deployed broadcaster from Yokota Air Base, Japan. “The best part is when we go out and find that young Soldier in the dirt and highlight what he is doing for the world to see.
“We have a good mixture of folks here,” said Sergeant Rush, the AFN-I NCO-in-charge of news, who is a native of Eldon, Mo. “I like to see the young folks master new skills and tell the story about what is going on here.”
Keeping AFN-I running not only in the studios but all around Iraq is the responsibility of a small team of visual imagery and intrusion-detection systems technicians.
One maintance team is based out of Camp Slayer, Iraq, and travels around to the 22 repeater sites and more than 50 forward-operating bases and combat-operating bases.
“We ensure that $826,000 worth of broadcast equipment inventory is maintained,” said Tech. Sgt. Garrett Rosier, an Ogden, Utah, native deployed from Mannheim, Germany. “The sand here gets into everything and can stop the equipment from working.”
In the television studio, one can see the commonly seen backdrop of “Freedom Journal Iraq.” The set is decorated with camouflage netting, sand bags and two large televisions with the show’s logo blazing on the flat screens. The set is lit and cameras stand at the ready. This is where the show is recorded five days a week.
“More than 5.9 million viewers see my face daily,” said Senior Airman Tyler Alexander, a broadcaster from Wiesbaden, Germany, and the anchor of “Freedom Journal Iraq.” “I feel like I get to know more about what is going on in Iraq by viewing the news stories sent in from the public affairs units in-country.”
Down the hall, outside one container, a red light goes on above a sign saying, “ON AIR.” Inside, an Airman wearing a headset works radio controls while talking into a microphone.
“I provide entertainment and information,” said Senior Airman Holly Roberts, a broadcaster deployed from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. “I inform servicemembers in Iraq about things from morale, welfare and recreation information to health and safety.”
Airman Roberts, a native of Arlington, Neb., hosts a daily radio show called “Holly’s Hot Afternoons” where she plays music from a song database of more than 44,000 songs.
“The best part about this job is when people who hear me on the radio thank me for playing their favorite music,” she said.