Officials supplying American Forces Network programs to Iraq say there will be 1,500 satellite television decoders in the country by the end of this month, and they will begin broadcasting television over the air by the end of October.

In recent months, troops in Iraq have complained about a lack of television and radio service. The push for dishes and decoders, however, has since become so big that an exchange warehouse in Europe has run out of the boxes and quadrupled orders for new ones.

On a recent trip to Iraq, the theater engineer for the Air Force Broadcasting Service sold or gave away about 1,100 decoders. The service said that the majority of troops in Iraq now have access to satellite television somewhere on post.

“I’d say right now we have every major command,” engineer Curtis Young said from Ramstein Air Base in Germany. The Air Force broadcasters, headquartered in San Antonio, are responsible for all the service in the Middle East.

“The goal of all the folks, especially the Army side of the house, is to have football available for their troops,” Young said. “We understand what that time of year means.”

Most of the boxes in Iraq will have been provided to commands at no charge, Young said. The rest are paid for by individual commands or troops requesting them. The military is trying to offer satellite television in the common area of every “bed down” camp in Iraq.

The military also plans to take AFN to the airwaves in Baghdad, Tikrit and Mosul, as well as six other smaller areas that Young said he couldn’t discuss.

The broadcast TV service will be one or two channels, with either or both AFN News and AFN Sports, rather than the standard mix of American sports, news and sitcoms troops would see in Europe or the Pacific region.

Though Iraq uses an incompatible television system, the U.S. government doesn’t want to broadcast shows offensive to locals, said Michael Kinchen, director of the Air Force Broadcasting Service in Texas.

One official said early distribution of decoders in Iraq was hampered by terrain, finding where bases were and, for some stateside units, not knowing much about AFN.

“It’s also tough to market how to get AFN, [because] if they don’t have TV, they won’t see a promo spot,” said Cal Miller, operations and plans chief for the broadcast service in Texas.

To receive AFN via satellite in Iraq, viewers must also use a 1.5-meter dish instead of the 80-centimeter dish used in Europe. Some commands initially brought the smaller variety.

Kinchen said his organization also plans to offer cable service to commands that order it.

Radio is already being broadcast in Baghdad, Kirkuk and at Tallil air base. The availability of radio was another early complaint.

In letters to Stripes that ran in July and August, several troops complained of receiving only the BBC.

“Where’s AFN radio in Iraq?” wrote Staff Sgt. Darren Dinger, from Baghdad. “What gives? I’m sure the soldiers would like to hear an American radio program, get our news from America and be able to listen to a variety of music. And we’d definitely like to hear one or two sports programs.”

Another soldier accused the BBC of anti-American coverage.

“I’m tired of this radio station bad-mouthing my country, my commander in chief, and our mission here in Iraq,” wrote Staff Sgt. J. Critasi, also in Baghdad. “I sincerely hope AFN can get a radio station set up soon so we can listen to some unbiased news that isn’t clouded with righteous arrogance.”

As for television, the push to wire Iraq has depleted the supply of decoder boxes at the Army and Air Force Exchange Service warehouse in Europe, though individual stores may still have them. The exchange has ordered more, both from its own stocks in the Pacific as well as from suppliers in the United States.

“We have about 800 due from the Pacific this week,” said Jeanne McDonald, an exchange spokeswoman. An additional 1,500 boxes — about three times the number usually ordered by European exchanges — should arrive from the United States by October.

“This could affect someone new arriving in Germany, as well,” Young said. “That’s how many we’ve sent to the war.”

AFN availability

Most commands in Iraq should already have American Forces Network television satellite service in their common areas. Commands in Central or Southwest Asia that do not have it can request service from the Air Force News Agency at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, at DSN (314) 480-5767 or (314) 480-5493.

Radio is now available at the following frequencies:

• Baghdad — Radio 1 kilowatt on 107.7 FM with music and news.• Kirkuk — Radio 250 watts on 100.1 FM (news/sports/talk) and 107.7 FM (music and news)• Tallil air base — Radio 250 watts at 100.3 FM (news, sports and talk) and 107.7 FM (music and news)

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