USFK sergeant major addresses AFN issues
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — U.S. Forces Korea’s top enlisted soldier said Wednesday that troops won’t be able to watch football games on the American Forces Network for free in their off-post apartments “in the foreseeable future,” but he doesn’t know why they need an AAFES credit card to get those channels.
“If I can pay someone cold, hard cash, I don’t know why I couldn’t,” Command Sgt. Maj. Barry Wheeler said during “From the Top,” his monthly call-in radio show.
South Korean cable companies were ordered to stop broadcasting the AFN Prime Pacific channel this month, meaning some U.S. personnel who live off base will lose their AFN programming, including key football games as the season draws to a close.
USFK officials asked the Korean Broadcasting Commission to address the issue this summer, because the South Korean cable companies were capturing the signal and selling it along with their other programs.
Most South Korean real estate agents offer U.S. personnel cable or satellite television packages as part of off-base rental agreements.
Wheeler said the signal for the AFN channel was being “stolen.”
“The bottom line is it was threatening everyone’s reception of those copyrighted” programs, Wheeler said. “Rather than see everyone losing it, they took it off the ones off post.”
U.S. personnel can still get AFN Prime Pacific for free if they live in an area in which they could use their own antenna to pick up the signal.
But command officials stress the best way is to use the AFN satellite service, which means buying a satellite dish and renting a decoder box from the Army and Air Force Exchange Service. AAFES rents the decoders only to customers with an AAFES Military Star Card, which had an interest rate of 12.74 percent in October.
Wheeler said that some newer apartments don’t allow the satellites to be installed, and requiring soldiers to make a purchase that requires interest payments is an issue.
“The point is valid, because we’re always counseling our servicemen and women about avoiding excessive credit,” he said.
AAFES sells the satellite dish for $83.95, the decoder box rental fee is $13 a month, and residents can expect to pay a contracted company about $150 to install the dish.
AAFES spokesman Master Sgt. Donovan Potter said earlier this month that by requiring customers to purchase the equipment with the Star Card, only authorized users will be able to receive the service.
Potter also said in an e-mail Wednesday that the Star Card gives AAFES more ability to get payment from a customer who doesn’t return the equipment.
“AAFES cannot charge a personal credit card in this way, thus a STAR card is necessary,” he wrote.
In an e-mail to Stripes sent after the radio show, Wheeler wrote that he had people researching why the Star Card was the only accepted payment for the equipment, and he would take the answers to his boss for action if necessary.
Wheeler represents 8th U.S. Army commander Lt. Gen. David P. Valcourt and USFK commander Gen. B.B. Bell.
Wheeler also responded to a caller’s complaint that South Korean nationals were illegally gambling in the Dragon Hill Lodge’s game room. He said he would ask employees to check identification more frequently.
Roxanne Holland, director of sales and marketing at the Dragon Hill Lodge, said late Wednesday afternoon that game-room staff conduct random identification card checks six times a day.