By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 26, 2011 - The soundboard lights went dark for the last time when American Forces Network Radioï¿½Iraq "Freedom Radio" went off the air at midnight Sept. 23, after an eight-year run in Baghdad.
The station's ending closed a chapter in the final 100 days of the U.S. drawdown of Operation New Dawn in Iraq.
Operated by Army Reserve broadcasters, AFN-Iraq hit the airwaves in March 2003, when a U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq to oust dictator Saddam Hussein.
Since that time, the team of Army announcers kept service members entertained and informed with a variety of music, chat and news.
"It's ... a morale boost for the troops," Army Staff Sgt. Brad Ruffin, an AFN-Iraq announcer, said of the broadcasts. "That why we're here. We do it for them."
Army Sgt. Adam Prickel called entertainment an important factor in AFN-Iraq programming, "to get [the troops'] minds off something that might be stressing them out a little too much."
Emails from listeners came in every day to say they enjoyed the music AFN-Iraq played, announcer Army Staff Sgt. Jay Townsend said.
The final broadcast that began at 6 a.m. Sept. 23 was filled with listener requests, entertainment and special interviews.
"We had shout-outs from celebrities, interviews with military leaders and the famed Adrian Cronauer," Sgt. 1st Class Don Dees said during his on-air shift.
Cronauer is the former AFN radio broadcaster who was the inspiration for the 1987 Hollywood film, "Good Morning, Vietnam."
Coming up on midnight for the final time, AFN-Iraq Freedom Radio played its most-requested song: "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue," by Toby Keith, Dees said.
Radio programming now gives way to AFN signals from other locations, he said.
AFN-Iraq, an Army Reserve 206th Broadcast Operation Detachment in Texas, will become AFN-Europe out of Germany, officials said.
"We lived by the motto, 'Always there, on the air,'" Dees said.
The station also plans to keep its Facebook page, which has 5,400 "friends," active. "We have decided to keep this page running indefinitely," according to a post on its wall.
Sean P Eagan
Former Chairman American Cold War Veterans