GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — R&B singer R Kelly is the top-selling artist among personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan this year, according to the Army and Air Force Exchange Service.

AAFES has sold 5,080 copies of R. Kelly’s “Double Up” CD at its downrange stores so far this year, making it No. 1 on the Deployed Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines’ Top 10. The list includes two more R&B albums, four rap albums and three pop albums.

According to AAFES, troops in Iraq and Afghanistan purchased approximately 1.7 million CDs at 54 post and base exchanges scattered throughout the Middle East last year.

The musical tastes of downrange personnel differ from those of folks back home, according to AAFES. For example, AAFES said, only Mary J. Blige’s “The Breakthrough,” listed on Nielsen Media Research’s 2006 top 10 sellers, made it onto the downrange top 10 last year.

Personnel who have served downrange say music is an important morale booster.

Army Spc. Christine Hickox, 32, of Colorado Springs, Colo., said she took about 15 CDs on a yearlong tour to Iraq.

“I listened to R&B, soul, country and rock in my room. Being able to listen to your music when you are downrange calms your nerves. It relaxes you especially if you come off a mission,” she said.

Army Spc. Teddy Praylow, 27, of Bronx, N.Y., said he took 20 CDs on a recent tour to Iraq and bought another 20 while there. Praylow said he owns one album on this year’s downrange top 10 list — rapper T.I.’s “T.I vs T.I.P.”

AAFES spokesman Lt. Col. David Konop said getting CDs and DVDs into war zones adds to the challenge of supplying troops with “beans and bullets.”

He said AAFES needs a seven-month lead time when purchasing CDs to ship downrange.

“With this in mind … AAFES managers rely more on servicemembers’ requests rather than Billboard’s Top 10,” he said.

“The great thing that sets our military apart from the rest of the world is our diversity. The diversity creates a challenge for our buyers who base their purchases on past sales and try to anticipate the most potentially popular selections and stock those.”

Downrange personnel can download a larger selection of music at AAFES’ Web site, he said.

“It is impossible to get every CD into theater, but servicemembers downrange can get into Napster and the Audio Lunchbox through our Exchange Mall online,” Konop said. “There is not only a savings in doing that, but it is also tax-free.”

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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