Support our mission
 
Sgt. William Bernal of the 47th Forward Support Battalion holds up the stack of phone cards he carries with him in case he has the opportunity to call his wife in Germany or family in the United States. Bernal's family sends him either Wal-Mart or Sam's Club phone cards from home and he also purchases cards from the Baghdad International Airport exchange. He gets more talk time per dollar from the AAFES cards.
Sgt. William Bernal of the 47th Forward Support Battalion holds up the stack of phone cards he carries with him in case he has the opportunity to call his wife in Germany or family in the United States. Bernal's family sends him either Wal-Mart or Sam's Club phone cards from home and he also purchases cards from the Baghdad International Airport exchange. He gets more talk time per dollar from the AAFES cards. (Jason Chudy / S&S)
Sgt. William Bernal of the 47th Forward Support Battalion holds up the stack of phone cards he carries with him in case he has the opportunity to call his wife in Germany or family in the United States. Bernal's family sends him either Wal-Mart or Sam's Club phone cards from home and he also purchases cards from the Baghdad International Airport exchange. He gets more talk time per dollar from the AAFES cards.
Sgt. William Bernal of the 47th Forward Support Battalion holds up the stack of phone cards he carries with him in case he has the opportunity to call his wife in Germany or family in the United States. Bernal's family sends him either Wal-Mart or Sam's Club phone cards from home and he also purchases cards from the Baghdad International Airport exchange. He gets more talk time per dollar from the AAFES cards. (Jason Chudy / S&S)
Sgt. Monty Lynch of the 1st Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment, uses a satellite telephone outside the Baghdad International Airport AAFES exchange main entrance. Military members are able to use the phones, which are available from the small tent at left.
Sgt. Monty Lynch of the 1st Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment, uses a satellite telephone outside the Baghdad International Airport AAFES exchange main entrance. Military members are able to use the phones, which are available from the small tent at left. (Jason Chudy / S&S)

Whoever coined the phrase “talk is cheap” never tried calling home from Iraq.

Sgt. William Bernal of the 47th Forward Support Battalion carries around a whole deck of prepaid phone cards to call his wife in Germany or family back in the United States.

“I keep them with me in case I get a chance to use them,” he said.

However, Bernal has learned that the phone cards he buys from the Army and Air Force Exchange Services post exchange at the Baghdad International Airport and the ones his mother sends him from the United States may look the same and carry the same number of units, but they don’t get him the same amount of talk time.

“I got a 500-unit card that’s not AAFES,” he said. “I talk 28 to 29 minutes on that. On AAFES’ 200 unit cards I get 15 minutes [of talk time]. I save money having these compared to Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club cards.”

AAFES wants military members to know what Bernal already has found out — purchasing less expensive phone cards may end up costing more in the long run because of hidden fees and charges.

A sign outside the Baghdad airport’s main exchange compares Wal-Mart and AAFES cards. It says that a 500-minute Wal-Mart card costs military members $1 per minute, but a comparable AAFES 550-unit card costs 90 cents per minute.

Calling collect or using credit cards or credit-type phone cards to make calls is even more expensive, the sign states, with connection fees that can run more than $6.50 and per-minute charges of more than $3.

Many of the servicemembers at the airport use the prepaid cards on handheld satellite telephones just outside the exchange entrance.

AAFES is working with AT&T to open permanent phone centers at bases throughout Iraq. Six satellite phone centers are already operating. The latest, on the airport’s west side, opened Friday with 48 telephones.

Ben Brasch, the AT&T country manager for Iraq, worked with volunteers from the Army Reserve’s 400th Military Police Battalion to get the airport center ready for Friday’s opening.

“For the past six months, we’ve had to get geared up, take two vehicles and drive a half-hour to Camp Victory to make DSN calls home,” said Spc. Paul Kelly of the 400th as he installed a light fixture in the phone center’s ceiling. “This is definitely a needed service.”

Brasch said the satellite phones at the six facilities will eventually be replaced by land-line telephones, cutting the per-minute costs by more than half.

An AAFES press release states that the land-line costs will drop to as low as 35 cents per minute to the United States, but only if callers use the exchange phone cards.

Costs to Europe will be more expensive than those to the States, about 43 cents per minute, because the calls are routed through the States.

Those with competitors’ cards will be able to use them at the centers, but calls will still be more expensive than those using AAFES cards.

Migrated

stars and stripes videos

around the web

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up