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For the second time in two months, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service has dropped its long-distance telephone rates for U.S. troops in Iraq.

The new rate schedule is a sweet but brief holiday gift from the folks at AAFES and AT&T. Satellite phone and calling center rates will revert to their pre-holiday prices on Jan. 5.

The cost of calling home from Iraq is “a hot [issue] on the table” for many of the troops, said Jeanne McDonald, an AAFES spokeswoman.

McDonald said the new rates, already in effect, apply only to calls made using the 550-unit prepaid card, which costs $35. As recently as a month ago, that same card cost $39.

“As the infrastructure [in Iraq] gets better,” she said, “the rates get better as well.”

In conjunction with AT&T, McDonald said AAFES wanted to give customers a holiday bonus by further cutting prices, dropping the per-minute fees assessed against the prepaid cards.

Troops calling family and friends from a designated phone center in Iraq will pay 25 cents a minute during the holidays instead of 32 cents.

Likewise, the per-minute fee for satellite calls has changed, dropping from 76 to 63 cents.

“Calls to home during this time of the year are critical to the morale of America’s servicemembers,” Mike Westphal, a senior vice president in Dallas, was quoted as saying in an AAFES news release.

“By offering a lower price, AAFES and AT&T hope that servicemembers will find it much easier and more convenient to contact all of their friends and family this holiday season.”

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