G.I. T.V.

Im sitting in a room with a half-dozen soldiers. And were watching animated carrier pigeons on TV.
Ive got this amazing navigation system, one of the birds says to the other. I just cant find Sgt. Kowalski.
No change of address form, hunh? the second pigeon answers. Off-camera, an announcer reminds for G.I.s to notify the post office when they change bases. The soldiers in the room groan. Its shit like this that makes me embarrassed to be in the Army, a sergeant to my left spits, as the television returns to its regular Fox News broadcast.
All of the major networks donate programming to the Defense Department, which re-broadcasts it to military outposts around the globe, commercial-free. But that doesnt mean the shows run uninterrupted. Instead of slickly-produced come-ons for cars or energy drinks or Tom Cruises latest opus, troops are bombarded with amateurish, half-baked ads that sit in the space somewhere between public relations and public nagging. Cross-breed your local Chevy dealerships TV spot with the company newsletter, and you have the commercials of the Armed Forces Network.
Baby safe instruction manuals. Websites that let you apply for jobs at the PX. The Air Forces traveling, Las Vegas-style review. The best softballers in Europe. No item is too picayune or too inconsequential to be hyped on AFN. And at no point do the commercial-makers ever assume that their uniformed audience has any more than a few dozen points of IQ. Diversification is a big word, a talking chicken tells us.
But that doesnt mean that AFN wants their Neanderthals to leave the armed services. Hell, no. Every branch of the military advertises on the network to get troops to re-enlist, to lure them from one service to the other, or to convince their children presumably watching from military-provided houses to sign on up.
Its a tension that Ive heard ever since I got to Baghdad. Officers keep telling me that the counterinsurgency here is a thinking mans war that requires even the most junior personnel to make quick, smart decisions. And, they assure me, that Americas troops are well prepared for that mission. But, minutes later, those same officers will also tell me that were not too smart or that Im not the brightest guy, or that theres a reason most of our soldiers didnt go to college.
So which is it? Has the Pentagon sent a bunch of warrior-geniuses to Iraq — or a pack of grunts, dumb as rocks? Maybe its a self-selecting process, covering defense technology. But most of the troops Ive met over the past four years have been pretty damn bright even the ones (often, especially the ones) that never made it past the 11th grade.
AFN, on the other hand, seems to have come to entirely different conclusion. One with simple words, short sentences, and cartoons. Lots and lots of cartoons. Dont get wrapped up with these high interest credit cards, an announcer says, while the television shows us a crudely-drawn mummy. Quitting cold turkey can be tough, coos another, as an animated man jumps off of a cliff, and splats on the ground. Nicotine replacement products can soften your landing.
Later, an airman shows off the skills he learned in survival school by wearing green camouflage makeup in a snowstorm. A man dressed up like a human heart does jumping jacks and runs up stairs, to prove a point about exercise. And a doe-eyed young soldier in a gym keeps rocking his head back and forth, left-to-right, left-to-right. A buddy asks what hes doing. Training, he replies. For an Army tennis championship, to be held in Germany soon. Im not training to compete. Im training to watch.

  • Brad

    WTF was that, Noah?
    We don’t need the JTF, F22, JTTRS OR FCS, what we DO need is a better A/V club? Yeah, AFN sucks, it sucks the way nothing else sucks in all of the history of the world, even PBS, but its our ‘alternative to silence’ as they say on the ONE US radio station in Okinawa.
    Intelligence isn’t about who can think up the most airy idea and put it into beautiful execution; its about doing it, period. The US military has a hell of a track record on doing it, period, to hell with their Karoake skillz and amateurish commercials. They need bullets not self esteem.

  • Sailer Steve

    Retired from the Navy 20+ years ago. Looks like things haven’t changed as far as AFN goes.
    Steve W.
    OSC USN (Ret)

  • PJ

    “So which is it? Has the Pentagon sent a bunch of warrior-geniuses to Iraq — or a pack of grunts, dumb as rocks?”
    It’s the third category that isn’t mentioned: A group of people who have the lost skill of self depreciation, not needing to constantly brag and boast in order to prove that they’re the best. A group of people who can let their behaviors and actions speak for themselves, while the action individuals stand quietly outside the spotlight.

  • PJ

    er, “actual” not “action” in that last sentence…

  • JSAllison

    Think of AFN as Public Service Announcement Hell. It’s the joining of the Precautionary Principle with lack of budget and folk with little experience as well as leadership that doesn’t see it as a priority. Sometimes it’s amusing, ignorable otherwise.

  • JHiggins

    I like the TV spots on AFN about US history and naming state capitals. I think those should be run in the US civilian market. The other spots they run about credit and what you described should be relegated to the garbage.

  • SOLE-Man

    The absolutely worse part about watching AFN while I was in Qatar last fall was the commercials (if you can call them that) featuring that idiot Air Force 4-star, ‘Doc’ Fogelsong, strutting around in a g-suit and reminding everyone to have a ‘combat wingman’ with them when they went out drinking or whoring or whatever (Fogelsong is the head guy for the USAF in Europe and is, according to everything I’ve heard, a complete and total tool). Since I was working with Army, Navy and Marines in Qatar, I got a constant barrage of “Dude, what the hell’s up with that Air Force general on AFN?”
    If you think being in the Army can be embarassing, try being in the Air Force and explaining that one. . .

  • Noah

    You should hear the folks in this unit groan when Fogelsong comes on the air. “Why won’t he die already,” is the most common refrain.

  • Mary Ann

    But most of the troops Ive met over the past four years have been pretty damn bright even the ones (often, especially the ones) that never made it past the 11th grade.
    most of them joined up after getting a GED so the could pay for college with the GI BILL..sounds pretty smart to me

  • john beard

    Untill the 25th of Aug I was one of those DOD contractors in Balad. I went thru the airport several times in Baghdad though. I did just over a year.
    AFN commericals are lame. Not as lame as when I was in back in the 80’s. My favorite commerical was a overweight G.I. coing thru the serving line and piling his tray high while a sound track of pigs snorting played in the background. It was great.
    Most of the contractors I worked with were not overweight, esp. those guys serving in Force Protection and Fire Fighting. And the G.I.’s I worked with were not stupid either. I worked outside the wire and have nothing but respect for the G.I.s I knew. Any bonus monies they get for reuping, they deserve. More power to them.
    I actually miss Iraq and the crap over there. In this dismal culture of America, where the focus of people seems entirely on possessing as much b/s as possible, I believe the Iraqis have a deeper culture.
    They are more involved with family, land and God than any part of America. I hope the best for Iraq. And any contactor or G.i. who reads this post come home safe.

  • Noumenon

    Hey, good job making a post out of watching TV in the camp. It might seem like not a news-y event but it’s actually a fun little topic I can discuss with my friend over there. It’s an unexplored niche.

  • Atopilot

    It is not just that the commercials were terrible it is that they played the same ones over and over, even in succession. For the life of me I can’t understand why they never thought of “If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well”. I can tell you after being stationed in Germany and deployed to Iraq that we would rather have silence than our intelligence insulted!

  • David

    How about ads like “We are the 999th Logistical Command Agency. Providing for the critical needs of….” Hey I’m impressed. I always figured if I needed to get my batallion of tanks from my house back in the states delivered over here so I could do my part for the war effort, I’d go with the 222nd Agency of Logistic Commands. But from what I’ve just seen the 999th blows them out of the water. But what do I know. I didn’t realize that in Europe I was still subject to the laws of UCMJ until I saw that ad where all those youngsters at the diner were poring through the law books to find an often overlooked legal implication. Good luck on the bar exam guys.

  • Jess

    I saw the same ones while I was in Germany and Uzbekistan. What really pissed me off was Fogleson, the Air Force general, standing in his flight suit telling me to always, “CHECK SIX” WTF man? We aren’t all pilots, let alone fighter pilots. Don’t tell me to check six or whatever lingo you use. The AFN does insult our intel, but I guess what can you expect?

  • Daniel

    A TOTAL TO MY INTELLIGENCE, “SQUEAKERS THE HAMSTER” “iBUSTED COMMERCIALS” COMMERCIALS ON HOW THINGS WORK IN THE ARMY, ARENTS WE ALREADY IN THE ARMY? “NEWS UPDATES”…. I KID YOU NOT ONE DAY A NEWS UPDATE BROKE INTO PROGRAMMING ADN SAID ” DONALD RUMSFELD SIAYS THE WAR IS GOING WELL, THIS HAS BEEN YOUR PENTAGON CHANNEL NEWS UPDATE” WHAT A GREAT NEWS UPDATE.

  • some guy

    I actually prefer the cheaper commander spots over the slicker public service announcements and whatnot. At least guys like “Doc” Fogelsong gave us something to laugh at.
    These days it’s nothing but Squakers the friggin’ Hamster and the 21st Theater Support — sorry, SUSTAINMENT — command. Why we need 20 spots a day on 21st TSC, Defense Logistics Agency, and the rest, I don’t know. Unless they have so much of an inferiority complex from being “support weenies” or “REMFs” that they felt the need to dump a lot of their budget into trying to convince the rest of us to give a damn. That’s the only thing I can think of.

  • Dave

    I have read most of the comments in this section and while I to cannot stand some of the Annoying AFN Infomercials to the point that I change the channel to avoid slitting my Wrists sometimes,
    I understand that they are Understaffed, Under budgeted and Lack any sort of Credibility in the T.V. Biz. We are not on the F’en Moon why cant we have TV from Satellites. Leave it to the Pros Uncle Sam and do what you do best fight the wars that the Politicians make you!!

  • Agustin

    I have been trying to reenlist and i took my physical and past it but they dont want to do prior service with a RE-3. Can anyone know why and is there another way i can get in?

  • Another guy

    I’m late responding, but why do they keep showing the same infomercials year in and year out. I’ve been a contractor overseas for over 5 years, and the same infomercials are playing over and over and over and over. The short answer AFN gives us is because they can’t show commercials because of short funds, blah blah blah. Well, why do you have to fill those blank spots with infomercials? Why not just show the show with maybe one or two spots instead of at each commercial break? I understand this for live programming, but for the taped programming, really? And what’s up with AFN Movie? I don’t remember there being commercial breaks on channels like HBO. And oh, and some of those infomercials….if the movies, musical groups, etc. that you rip off to make puns and practical jokes caught wind of what AFN does without their permission, AFN could find itself paying out a heap more in copyright infringement. Just my 2 cents on the whole mess.