TV, Internet satellite systems are popular with troops on bases in Iraq
By JULIANA GITTLER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 15, 2004
LOGISTICAL SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Iraq — Across the sea of aluminum conex trailers at bases around Iraq, small orbs of communication are sprouting like foliage.
Units and groups of people are pitching in to buy satellite systems for either television or Internet service, to help bring them a little closer to home.
“It’s working out pretty well,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Dave Smith, a Florida National Guardsman serving with Company H, 171st Aviation Regiment at Anaconda.
He and a few colleagues bought an Internet satellite system from the unit they replaced and plan to sell it to the one that replaces them.
Up to 12 people can use it, although they try to vary usage so everyone isn’t on at once.
“We try to be courteous and not download big files,” Smith said.
Having the system allows them to communicate with family back home at odd hours, without a long walk to a Morale, Welfare and Recreation tent.
“Mostly it’s just the convenience,” Smith said. At the MWR Internet tent “you had to wait in line and you could only use it for 15 minutes.” He now chats with home via instant messenger a few times a day.
It also allowed him to keep a close watch on local concerns at home.
“Some people are from Florida, so we’re always watching the hurricane track,” he said.
The service is great but it isn’t cheap. The group pitched in a few hundred dollars apiece to buy the system and pay about $70 more for the monthly subscription.
“It’s well worth it to stay in touch with family,” said Sgt. Cleveland Joyner, also with the 171st and a member of the Kentucky National Guard.
The officers have one and enlisted soldiers have another. Both groups were lucky to have the perfect person to help them with installation and maintenance.
Sgt. Gene Bergfield, also with the Florida National Guard, is an engineer for Lockheed and a self-proclaimed computer geek.
“It’s kind of a little hobby of mine,” he said. “I knew this was out there but I never thought about it till I got one.”
With the Internet access, he can chat with his wife. She knows when he’s going to be online.
“It’s made a big difference,” he said. “It’s saved me a lot of money in phone bills.”
More common than Internet is satellite TV, found in nearly every living area in the country.
Servicemembers can buy antennae and dishes for the American Forces Network or several other types of TV lineups.
At Anaconda, members of the 28th Public Affairs Detachment each pitched in about $25 for an Orbit satellite system and one year of television service.
“You pay that for one month of cable in the States,” said Staff Sgt. David Gillespie, noncommissioned officer in charge.
The group now watches ESPN, a variety of cable networks, the Disney Channel and about 100 more, although only a handful of them are in English.
They learned of the system from another unit and had an Iraqi contractor working with them to supply and install it.
“I was really hesitant [at first] because I didn’t know what we would be getting into,” Gillespie said. “We wondered if we would actually get any channels.”
In the 276th Engineer Battalion living area at Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul, clusters of satellite dishes line the horizon above the trailers.
Master Sgt. Robert Scholtz, communications section chief, said there really aren’t many rules governing satellites. For security reasons, troops are not allowed to use wireless technology anywhere in the theater.
At some bases, groups with Internet satellites have been told not to use Web cams in their trailers.
In either case, Scholtz said, he always reminds soldiers about operational security.
“OPSEC is always a big thing. We always tell them, ‘Whatever you put out there, they’re listening.’ ”