When I was about 15 I borrowed an old VHS copy (read: illegally dubbed) of “Spaceballs” from a friend of mine. After the movie I noticed that there was some TV shows recorded. Being a natural born couch potato I let the tape play and watched an episode of ALF and Family Ties. I didn’t think anything of it until a commercial break came on the tape. Instead of obnoxious car salesmen and fast food it was some guy in a sweater extolling the virtues of officers’ clubs. “…Y’know, the Officers’ Club isn’t just a watering hole…” After that was a schlocky PSA of some sort and then the station ID. “…You’re watching American Force Forces Television Europe, (insert the name of some long ago closed Army post here), Germany…”

Now that might not seem like much to you but I sat there wide eyed and amazed. For the first time I became fully aware of what life must be like for your average overseas military service member and accompanying family. I asked my friend about it and he told me about being overseas with his dad in Germany. I really wanted to know about AFN. He told me it was one TV station that carried as much U.S. programming as they possibly could in a day. The TV nerd in me thought it was the coolest thing I ever heard. I was now beginning to become aware of what type of military infrastructure must exist overseas.

Fast forward about eight years. I had graduated high school, spent two years studying broadcast journalism at my local community college and served as a missionary for the Mormon Church (Yes, those guys with white shirts, dark ties and riding bikes everywhere). In May 2001 I enlisted in the Air Force and as it happened my first duty station was Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, AFN country!

As I stepped off the contract bus that brought me from where I landed at Rhein Mein Air Base in Frankfort I could not help but pause and check out what was on TV in the lobby of the Air Force lodging facility that I stayed in for two weeks before I got my on base apartment. Good Morning America… at 2 in the afternoon. Yup, I was definitely not in Cleveland anymore. That night I sat there in the lodging room watching TV. Taking it in. AFN had expanded to five channels over the years (Ooooh! Five channels!). I came to realize two things. The prime time shows were at least six months old and German TV was best avoided after 10 PM.

There was AFN Atlantic, AFN Pacific, AFN Korea (which we didn’t get) AFN Sports, AFN News and AFN Spectrum. AFN Atlantic, Pacific, Korea where the main channels for the geographic regions of the world they served. This was what most of the prime time programming, daytime soaps and broadcast network new was on. AFN News had collocated news shows from all the broadcast and cable networks. Likewise for AFN Sports. AFN Spectrum was like a hybrid of TBS and PBS with more offbeat shows, documentaries and movies.

Like I said before, a lot of shows were six months to a year old by the time they found their way to overseas military audiences. Turns out Hollywood donates these shows to AFN after they’ve made their money on them (God bless capitalism!) As such AFN does not air any advertising, so we got a bunch of old and some cheaply produced PSA spots. (“…Remember we’re guests in our host nation!...Support Air Force Clubs…Are you an E-5 or below? Then you can audition for the Army Chorus!...”)

After three years of killing America’s enemies by making sure Officer’s Performance Reports where only three months late and getting our share of “…Take your next vacation at beautiful Camp Darby, Italy!...” Our time in Germany was over and it was time to rotate back to the states.

In 2006 I deployed to the Middle East to help kill America’s enemies by making ID’s for surly American contractors and telling airmen that there was no reenlistment bonus in their job this year (“Hey, things are tough all over!”) and once again AFN was at my service. How grateful I was to have that little Oasis of home in my humble dorm trailer. I also got to see British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS). It pretty much was the British equivalent to AFN except their on air talent seemed to all be based in the UK. I really liked that they gave shout outs to individual service members (…”Good luck to Corporal Tillery as he leaves to attend advanced artillery training back in the UK! Best wishes from all your mates in the platoon!...”)

As I face the possibility of another deployment I wonder what AFN will be like. Will I get to retrain into military broadcasting someday? Or will it be more “blood, guts and paper cuts” for me?