TV In a War Zone

While TV networks around the world focus on covering what’s happening in Iraq for their respective audiences back home, uniformed reporters and producers of Armed Forces Network-Iraq (AFN-I) in Baghdad also have a more urgent audience to consider: the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines of the multinational force now serving on the front lines throughout that hostile region.
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BAGHDAD, IRAQ
While TV networks around the world focus on covering what’s happening in Iraq for their respective audiences back home, uniformed reporters and producers of Armed Forces Network-Iraq (AFN-I) in Baghdad also have a more urgent audience to consider: the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines of the multinational force now serving on the front lines throughout that hostile region.


(click thumbnail)At AFN-I’s studios in the International Zone (also known as the Green Zone), a handful of public affairs specialists and TV/radio producers from the U.S. Air Force and Navy tackle an ambitious daily assignment sheet of news and entertainment programming for the troops—producing everything from personal interest features to war zone B-roll for news-hungry networks in North America, Europe, and elsewhere. (AFN-I also produces its own FM radio shows up to 14 hours a day.)

“Our mission here in Iraq is to provide useful information and timely news to the troops, along with entertainment similar to what they have back home,” said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Leniel Garner, AFN-I’s station manager. The St. Louis native said the broader mission of providing resource support for the commercial networks makes sense, “especially since sometimes our guys are better equipped to get footage and audio from [the field] than a network reporter might be.”

OUTSIDE THE ZONE

Despite the deployment of lighter, smaller and more versatile electronic equipment than was the case for previous wars, Master Sgt. Joy Josephson said travel outside the protected zone for stories typically is a major challenge. Originally from Gerry, N.Y., Josephson has been with AFN in the Air Force for 15 years and took over as its Baghdad operations manager last summer. “The missions in Iraq are the most important we have now, being able to tell the stories of the multinational force here and in Kuwait. I see some great journalism coming out of here.” (Kuwait serves as a holding area for fresh alliance troops shipping in and out of Iraq.)

The AFN-I staff’s ENG projects in Baghdad range from providing input for a daily 11-minute newscast that airs on the Pentagon Channel (available in an estimated 34-million cable and DBS U.S. homes and at www.pentagonchannel.mil), to live coverage of military press briefings, to daily podcasts on iTunes. Other routine responsibilities involve producing featurettes of everyday life in Iraq (dubbed “Iraqi Freedom Minutes”), and personal accounts of American troops throughout the Iraqi-Kuwaiti theater, called “Why I Serve.”


(click thumbnail)U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Chuck Green maintains the satellite system at AFN-Iraq in Baghdad’s International ZoneIn the field outside the Green Zone, Garner said AFN-I’s three or four reporters (depend on the regular rotation of personnel) are usually tasked with both TV and radio duties. Their primary field “weapons” include a Sony DSR P170 camcorder, or one of two recently procured JVC camcorders, and a Shure SM87A wireless hand-held mic—where size and weight are not merely a matter of convenience, but in certain circumstances, a necessity that could spell the difference between life, death or serious injury.

For press briefings and stand-ups inside the protected Green Zone, AFN-I staff use tripod-mounted Sony BVP E-30 and JVC GY-HD110 cameras and, usually, Sennheiser ew500 G2 wireless lapel mics. Lowel’s Studio 450 series is used to light the set or podium. For TV production and post, AFN-I employs Avid editing systems as well as the Sony Vegas editing software and Sony M2000 series VTR. For coverage in the press briefing room, AFN-I staffers use an EchoLab video switcher and Onyx 24-4 (24-channel, 4-bus) analog audio mixer console from Mackie.

The TV-radio production studio uses Adobe Creative Suite 3 (primarily for Adobe After Effects and Illustrator), and PhotoShop CS2 to create and edit PSAs and other short-form content. The studio also is equipped with JBL Marquis Series speakers and Sennheiser HD 280 Pro headphones.

GETTING THE SIGNAL OUT

AFN, which was created in Europe during World War II and serves wherever significant numbers of U.S. military are located, maintains major satellite feed-and-distribution centers in Vicenza, Italy, and Mannheim, Germany, according to Air Force Staff Sgt. Chuck Green, AFN-I’s non-commissioned officer in charge of broadcast maintenance. The Cleveland native said AFN’s Baghdad operation uses decoders from Scientific-Atlanta to retrieve Pentagon Channel feeds coming from the United States, as well as commercial news and entertainment programming. Norsat International of British Columbia is AFN-I’s key satellite contractor.


(click thumbnail)U.S. Air Force Mass Communications Specialist Chad Bricks uses an Avid Xpress Pro editing system to produce TV content for local newscast “Freedom Journal Iraq.”Besides access to their own regional news outlet (AFN News Channel), troops in Iraq and Kuwait can view content ranging from Fox News, CNN and MSNBC to the primetime schedules of the big four broadcast networks—all of which provide content free-of-charge. But given Iraq’s location (seven hours ahead of Eastern Time), don’t look for the “Today” show in the morning. Instead, “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams,” recorded the night before, runs at 7:30 a.m.

Navy Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Andy Carlson, an AFN-I producer/editor from Sioux Falls, S.D., said the Pentagon Channel focuses on the hard war news of the day with uniformed reporters covering various incidents, military briefings, and other activities of coalition forces.

“There’s a lot more going on in Iraq—other than bombs and kidnappings—that a lot of people [in the U.S.] are not hearing about. It’s not so much that the truth is being obscured, but it’s just that not all of the story’s getting out there,” Carlson said.

Ops manager Josephson adds that “what we’re doing is telling true stories of service members here that you can’t see on CNN or CBS… and that’s something we’d like to do more of in this adventure.”