I Hate AFN Commercials….

“I left Okinawa in 2007 and the scars of those atrocities still weigh heavily on my mind.”  ~Anonymous quote online about the traumatic effects of extended exposure to AFN


I HATE the Armed Forces Network (AFN).  I have blogged about this before, and it’s one of my most popular blogs in the Far East FlingTeam American Forces Network, F’Yeah.  Notice that I capitalized, italicized, bolded, and underlined that word….  Hate.

And it’s AFN’s fault.

Vaccine for Stupid

It appears, from the actions of our “leadership,” that since we adult servicemembers, dependents, and government contractors can’t be trusted with actual television commercials, and that we as people who are willing to venture into harm’s way can’t safely ride a bike or we wary of snakes, the military has decided for us what we should see and hear while here in Okinawa.  To that end, “they” give you the “Armed Forces Network.”  And escape from AFN’s long reach is impossible:  “they” super-saturate their programmed propaganda across the spectrum of radio and television dials.

Well, maybe not a spectrum; there is only one AM and one FM radio station in English, and AFN cable is like only 8 channels or so.

The good news?  AFN is “commercial-free.”

The bad news?  AFN has replaced slightly entertaining and marginally (if only potentially) informative commercials with extremely annoying disinformation.

A random AFN commercial may be charming or stupidly silly on first exposure, but after hearing/seeing it for the 67th time…this month…they become infuriatingly tedious.  And over time, this tedium builds, in my case, to a level that I can almost characterize as anger.  Ironic when I stop and think about it:  I haven’t heard a commercial about anger management…YET.

To emphasize my point, here are a few radio sets that I’ve heard in the past week while in the car riding to, from and around the bases here.

Set 1:     Identification Theft (it’s on the rise, you know, and you’re NEXT); “Recipes for Disaster” (don’t marinate your meat on the counter, but in the refrigerator and under 40 degrees F; Smoke Alarms (make sure your alarm is up-to-date and batteries are changed)

Set 2:     Military Postal System (sending items in boxes marked toxic, flammable, or radioactive); Smoking Hazards (get this for scare tactics:  erectile dysfunction for men, wrinkles for women – can anyone say, “sexist”?); WIC Overseas (oh, and who can forget, “Don’t Shake a Baby”); Family Readiness & Spouses (coping with deployment and some of the more inane rules of living overseas)

Set 3:     VA Benefits (set to a “best of” collection of sappy made-up songs); Foster Parenting (can you even do that here in Okinawa???); Bullying (it happens all the time, every day, to apparently each of your children); Strokes (the three C’s, which I can’t remember….)

Set 4:     Baby-Sitter Training (they’ll be required to have a personal AED next); Habu Dangers (“very aggressive, extremely dangerous,” and seemingly everywhere waiting for your slightest misstep)

We are all suffering, AFN.

We are all suffering, AFN.

From a quick review of the above NONSENSE, AFN misinformation breaks down into just a few generalized groups:

Supposed Safety:  The simple message underlying all of these “safety” related spots are, frankly, that we are just too stupid to live our lives safely, and that to counteract our impending demise from snakes or dust mites, we must therefore be constantly bombarded of the impending consequences of everything that can remotely be considered a danger.  Terror on public transportation, really?  Maybe if we are on holiday in Gaza….

Public Dis-Service Announcements:  So, the military attempts to make up for, say, the overly-restrictive and insulting liberty policy here  (read my blog about the Epic Leadership Failure), by providing member services, like spousal support.  These are the WORST commercials you can imagine, complete with lame musac-like tunes, and a flat, lifeless announcer that sound so bored that the listener actually would go out of the way to avoid such service.

Self-Serving Advertising:  Yes, the 18th Force Support Squadron is awesome, and we know ALL ABOUT the unit golfing opportunity….  The FM radio station, self-labelled as “JACK FM,” likes to talk about how cool they are by “playing…whatever.”  Yeah, whatever the military censors allow them to play.  C’mon.

Obscure Oddities:  Women and Infant Children (WIC) plays way too many times here.  Besides the audience being quite low for the airtime, it’s downright criminal that so many servicemen and women qualify for such benefits in the first place.  And really, ANF?  How many people are sending packages in the same boxes that they received those explosives in at work?

Here are a few more sets to, taking AFN’s lead, to emphasize and re-emphasize my point:

Set 5:     Terror on Public Transportation (it’s surely going to happen to you if you’re not on-guard); Fire Safety and Being Electrically Responsible (tell the Japanese to wire their homes better); Habu (again); MPS (again); WIC (again); Pay Your Taxes (it’s YOUR responsibility)!!


Set 6:     Asthma (it can kill); Vacuuming the Floor (seriously); Bicycle Helmets (save lives, but somehow we all survived)

Set 7:     WIC (yet again); Touring the island by Air (the one thing on the list that is quasi-interesting and informative); Your ID card (don’t lose it!); Reading & Literacy (uhmm…..); News (AP news, which offers a rather random summary of world news in 40 seconds)….

Why is AFN filling our brains with such nonsense?  ENOUGH ALREADY.

This conga line of bruising sound-bites blankets us here in Okinawa in what ways that can only be making things worse.  Why the leadership can’t see or understand this is one of the basic failures of management overseas.  We are not asking for all the bad news and negativity; hell, AFN doesn’t even have to play commercials in the first place.

Jim Lehrer, in analyzing the effect of the media and its constantly negative reinforcement, coined the phrase “learned helplessness”.  Some people will accept the America Culture of Fear on face-value, at detriment to and in their lives.  At worst, it seems obvious that continual negativity or a negative bias can stimulate depression, even if we all are laughing at the ridiculous paranoia exhibited by AFN.  Like it or not, the service members here are hearing these messages…everyday, over and over.  And if some chose to really concentrate on all the bad communications, they may find themselves worked-up emotionally, resulting in even more unwise decision-making, much like an adolescent does when resenting the overbearing “advice” of their parents.

fear itself & spiders

In general terms, negative media messages outweigh good news at times by as much as 17:1.  The propaganda distributed by AFN is really no different.  Studies have shown that we care and focus relentlessly more about the threat of bad things than we do about the prospect of good things. Our negative brain tripwires are far more sensitive than our positive triggers; the more remote the chances and the more horrific the consequences, the better.  We tend to get more fearful than happy.  And each time we experience fear we our stress hormones get turned on, in a vicious cycle feeding on itself.  AFN simply cannot be good for any of us.

Is there any way to avoid AFN’s monopolistic reach into our psyches?  Yes, but it requires buying Asian satellite TV and playing your iPod through your car radio (I do both).  AFN should realize that they could, instead, focus on the glass being half-full – or at least say the dangerous thunderstorm is filling our collective cup.

What can you do?  Encourage AFN to deliverer a more balanced and multi-dimensional point of view.  It is, quite probable, a losing battle.  Until our leadership wakes up and pays more attention to the critically small details of life overseas, nothing will really change.  AFN is a mega, government-corporation with entrenched GS civilians and military officers who believe in their own silly rhetoric.  The situation is probably even beyond reach of the III MEF Marine Corps General-island; that shouldn’t serve as a pass to you, General Wissler….

Tell me what you think about AFN.  It appears we are not alone:  ANF “haters” appear to have their own FB page:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/I-Hate-AFN-Commercials/211760985324


BTW, the base exchanges here all sell hordes of smokes, booze, and smokeless tobacco….

Death by Public Service Announcement: Commercials on AFN


“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

“To him who is in fear everything rustles.” ~ Sophocles

“We fear things in proportion to our ignorance of them.” ~ Christian Nestell Bovee


Okay, I’ve decided to finally try to capture the true nature and extent of the Commercially Induced Culture of Fear that the military has created and under which it seems to thrive overseas when they hold the monopoly on most, if not all things media.

I’m talking about the commercials on Armed Forces Network (AFN).  Well, actually they should be more appropriately called Public Service Announcements.

But then again, they are none of those things.

They are crafted not for the public, but for what I can only assume is us, the people our leadership considers wholly mindless, relatively incapable, and quite immature military servicemembers and dependents on the island.  Sorry contractors – you fall somewhere in that mix as well, although you are generally compensated much more appropriately to endure this pain and suffering..

The only “service” from these PSA’s is in a nostalgic, prison-influenced characterization of “time-served” once removed from Okinawa and it’s falsely created, media-limited bubble.  Any prudent, normalized American would and could only assume such attempts at brain-washing and behavioral control would be attempted on, say, designated political deviants in a gulag of the ex-USSR…or within Camp X-Ray of GTMO in 2003.


And finally, announcement is defined by Google as “a public and typically formal statement about a fact, occurrence, or intention.”  Okay, we’ve already talked about intentions (see brain-washing and behavioral control above, if you need reminded, which the military would assume given that you are mindless and incapable on your own), and while the barebones facts of the content making up this propaganda in many cases are sound, they are projected or extrapolated into occurrences which, in one way or another, will kill you….

So, I’ve taken notes on the commercials I heard yesterday.  Now, remember, this is for one day and one day only.  It does encompass scanning back and forth between the one AM and one FM station available here.  But it’s even better than that:  it’s for only that time in one day when I was in my car.  Which is, basically, a trip or two to a store and/or the commissary, a trip to the gym, perhaps a dive shop or two, and finally a relatively long detour to a different exit from the base due to an accident and massive traffic backup….  But still probably no more than 90 minutes.  Check this out and tell me I’m not over-reacting:

  • Vaccines.  Get your dang adult vaccines or HPV, Tetanus, Shingles and Whopping Cough will kill you, your family, and your friends.  Okay, I’ll give the military this:  Tetanus is a killer, and HPV can cause cancer…which is a killer.  BUT, being in or associated with the military here on Okinawa, we all are screen for and required to get vaccines (see Always Listen to your Momma)!  So what’s the point??
The Vaccine that we all really need....

The Vaccine that we all really need….

  • FDIC.  Yes, without the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, your money isn’t safe, and ultimately you will die.  Except this time poor and destitute.
IOUs are about as good as Cash

IOUs are about as good as Cash

  • Water Safety.  Swimming and/or water sports can result in drowning…which will kill you.  If you gave in to the warnings, you wouldn’t even look at the water with any sense of longing or excitement.


  • Finances.  If you don’t plan well, you run out of time to build a retirement and then you die.  Poor once again.  Imagine if you ignored financial planning AND blew off the FDIC.  Surely a sign of the End of Days.
A Typical Approach to Retirement Planning

A Typical Approach to Retirement Planning

  • Emergency Room.  The order cases are taken are based on triage (who doesn’t know this??), so don’t forget that unless you are dying, you’ll have to wait….
Don't use the ER as your Family Practice Clinic.  Or dentist....

Don’t use the ER as your Family Practice Clinic. Or dentist….

  • Tours.  Okay, there was something helpful about upcoming tours offered by the Air Force and Marine Corps.  But seriously, a 30 minute radio show?  The radio personalities on AFN barely know how to operate the former, and lack the latter.


  • Integrity.  Dirt-bag airmen will in some bizarre linkage of unintended consequences, you guessed it, kill you.  Something about “resilient airmen,” whatever that means, although it suspiciously seems connected with all the highly flexing yoga I see the Air Force doing at the base gym.
Real Integrity.  And Guts.

Real Integrity. And Guts.

  • Heroes.  An interesting snippet on General Marshall, of “Marshall Plan” fame.  I’ve tried, but I don’t see much chance of dying from this one.  Although the piece does tie him to setting the state for the European Union, which may in the coming hears lead to the deaths of a number of national economies.


  • Terror.  Yes, terrorists will kill you.  Even though Okinawa is, factually, the safest place I’ve live and will ever live, we are led to believe that just about everyone and everything should be considered suspicious.  No doubt we should be hugging our pillows tight and sleeping with one eye open.


  • DUI.  Drinking and driving will kill you, your friends, and someone else’s family.  True enough.  This is an issue here on Okinawa, but not because of the Japanese; the vast majority of tickets, arrests, and related issues are initiated by Americans on and to Americans.
Drunk Uncle to the Easter Bunny

Drunk Uncle to the Easter Bunny

  • Sports Pads.  Without them, you’ll die….  Don’t forget that mouth-guard!  Even knocked-out teeth can die.
Not to mention bike helmets....

Not to mention bike helmets….

  • Seatbelts.  Adult seatbelts will kill your kids.  Oh, so will airbags…when using adult seatbelts.  The piece doesn’t say anything about bouncing around the back of a station wagon like we all did growing up.
But what about our pets??

But what about our pets??

  • Etiquette.  You would not believe how often I hear this particular commercial:  “The Senior Member Enters a Car Last so that they may Exit the Car First.”  Really?  And who the heck requires this timely piece of military etiquette?  I can only imagine that an overly irate senior-ranking member of the AFN establishment might be so frustrated over the insult of leaving the car second (or god forbid, last) that they would resort to murder.
The Etiquette surrounding an office love-affair with a Jeanie is a bit more involved.

The Etiquette surrounding an office love-affair with a Jeanie is a bit more involved.

  • Spice & Salvia.  Taking drugs will kill you.  Oh, so will supplements.
Probably not the Spice in question.

Probably not the Spice in question.

  • Typhoons.  Even in Tropical Typhoon Condition of Readiness 4 – the lowest, base level of concern during the entire season, a typhoon can kill you within 72 hours.
Typhoons are deadly...to Asian umbrellas!

Typhoons are deadly…to Asian umbrellas!

  • CAC Cards.  If you lose your ID card, a terrorist will get it and ultimately kill you.  See “Terror” above.
Some IDs ARE a license to kill.

Some IDs ARE a license to kill.

  • VA.  A playful take of VA benefits and services using a “greatest hits” approach.  But not playful enough to be entertaining the 2nd through 23rd times heard.
This Culture of Fear is not helping those with PTSD

This Culture of Fear is not helping PTSD

And finally, I saved my favorite for last.  Against all this other fearful chatter, there is the most odd and misplaced radio ditty concerning breast-feeding called “Every Ounce Counts;” you can listen to song Healthy Baby Healthy Mama here.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m a full-time supporter of breastfeeding, and understand pretty well all the benefits to baby and Mom that come from this wholly natural and nature’s intended way of feeding babies.  But seriously, is this radio spot really necessary?  I cringe every time I hear this song and can’t help but think about the continual castration of the warrior class of the military long past….

Oops.  This pint-sized glass if for another type of drink....

Oops. This pint-sized glass if for another type of drink….

But, more critically, I would love to see a serious medical research study done on the effects and efficacy of such attempts at mind and behavioral control.  Two things strike me – a non-medically trained observer, but one with quite a bit of graduate education.

First, creating a culture of fear and imposing this culture on people 24/7 is counter-productive.  You can only cry “Wolf!” or that the “Sky is falling!” so many times before someone simply stops listening, and more dangerously, they stop caring.  The military reaches this point after a week on-island.  A persuasive and over-stated culture of fear benefits no one.

Radio does have its place.

Radio does have its place.

Second, there could be consequences, potentially serious, for subjecting the force to this type of indoctrination.  If you tell a young, moldable minded individual that everyone and everything, everywhere and anywhere, is dangerous, what results?  There is where a formalized study would not only be interesting but is one I believe long overdue and ultimately necessary.


I’ve written about the failures of military leadership in this blog before (see Epic Fail), and about AFN too (see Team America).  The commercials or PSAs or whatever you want to call them are the source of a lot of consternation online, the source of a whole slew of jokes on-island, and worst, is responsible for creating an overall lack of respect for the governmental-military-industrial complex…which includes leadership, large and small.  The fact that the collective “we” of the military community on Okinawa are continually subjected to be treated like children who don’t know any better so that we must be constantly reminded about the dangers around every corner and in every person, action, place or thing actually results in a backlash against the establishment.  And why leadership can’t see this, why they are not more aware of just how bad AFN is in this regard and how badly it is perceived, to me means they aren’t listening.

To AFN.  Or to those they wish to lead.  Now that’s something that truly should be feared.

Fear is a prison for your mind

Team American Forces Network, F’Yeah!

Team American Anime, courtesy of the Japanese

Team American Anime, courtesy of the Japanese. Is this how they really see us??

“It’s the ability to choose that makes us human….” ~Old Proverb

“The only limits are, as always, those of vision.” ~James Broughton

“Laws control the lesser man….  Right conduct controls the greater one.” ~Mark Twain

So we’re in the Temporary Lodge Facility (TLF), limited to one of ten rooms available base-wide that are “pet-friendly,” and I am looking through the facilities guide.  You know, as all good tenants do (wink).  And I come upon the on-base cable and radio-station guide:

Choice, Limits & Control of the Media

Choice, Limits & Control of the Media

Wow.  Three words come to mind.  I mean they come to mind after I immediately think how cheap the US Military is when it comes to their most precious resource – its people.  Those three words?

Choice.  Limits.  Control.

AFN is Good for Some Things, but these Icons Permanently Clutter the Screen!

AFN is Good for Some Things, but these Icons Permanently Clutter the Screen!

I’m going to pen op-eds on and off about this peculiar institution and troublesome characteristic of the modern military for the duration here on Okinawa.  I have always been very disturbed by the way senior government officials and most levels of military leadership treat the core peoples of the military, and more so, in their responses to issues central to and most effecting the same.  It is quite a dichotomy that exists in every corner of our all-volunteer force; but it is extraordinarily amplified when living overseas.

Team American Alliance

Team American Alliance

Okay, sure, I get it.  We are all ambassadors of the United States, living in a foreign country at the pleasure of foreign peoples.  I understand that actions do speak louder than words, and that bad behaviors and the “ugly American syndrome” can cause local issue and perhaps some measure of international damage when in the extreme.

BUT, I’m sorry Department of Defense, you can’t have it both ways.  On the one hand, DoD is entrusting young men and women to make daily life-and-death decisions about use of deadly force, and then the same officials double-speak and state that the same person imbued with the power and US-backed authority to kill cannot purchase alcohol off-base except in conjunction with the evening meal….  Or, better yet, a Naval Aviator who’s entrusted with a $50M combat aircraft has to interview with the Commander Fleet Activities Okinawa (CFAO) and explain how he’s going to safely operate his motorcycle in order to get a motorcycle endorsement.  True story, and the lead-in to a funny but tangential story….

I’m stationed on Okinawa in 2005 and I finally decide to get my first motorcycle, one of the things I had always wanted in life, but held off and away while married and with kids.  Separated at the time, and on impulse, I buy a brand-new Harley Davidson 883 Sportster, a “small” bike in the states, but quite large – and Mac-Daddy – here in Okinawa.

And this leads to yet another tangent, but funny and quick I promise.  I’m in the Florida Keys at a gas station years ago and overhear a conversation between two bikers on opposite sides of the pump fueling their bikes.  One, a die-hard, rough-and-scruff prototypical biker on an HD Softail, decked out in leather, complete with ape-hanger handlebars, rhinestone-studded seats and worn saddlebags.  He looks over at what I assessed to be a relatively clean-cut yuppie professional, filling up a shiny new 883 Sportster.

“That’s a nice bike you got yourself there,” a deeply-throated rumble of a voice says.

“Why, thanks,” says the yuppie, overcome with a beaming proud grin of being recognized by such a hardcore biker.

“My girl has one just like it….”

Sometimes it's hard to handle The Truth

Sometimes it’s hard to handle The Truth

Silence ensues.

Come to find out that my Sportster’s engine is “too big” for initial riders on Okinawa.  I am limited to 400 cubic centimeters of displacement or less for my first year, AND, I am not allowed to take riders during that neophytic stage.

Team American Forces Network doesn't go quite this far....

Team American Forces Network doesn’t go quite this far….


But the insult is not yet enough.  I am told that in addition to taking the on-base motorcycle safety course (which is the very best thing anyone can do who even contemplates riding a bike) I have to “interview” with a Navy Captain, the dude who’s in administratively in charge of all Navy personnel on-island.  I guess to prove my mettle somehow.  Hopefully by arm-wrestling.

I make my appointment.  At the time I am a Navy Lieutenant Command, a combat veteran of the first Gulf and Balkan Wars, with a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) clearance, qualified as the Air Defense watch officer of a three-ship Amphibious Ready Group with authority for shipboard weapons’ release…get the picture?  I sit down with the Captain, with whom I am already somewhat acquainted.  After some chit-chat, he asks me, “So, Elvis [my callsign], how are you going to stay safe on the motorcycle?”

I actually laugh in response; I have been labeled as “flippant” in the past by an early Commanding Officer, and my attitude never improved.

Even The Terrorists don't see the Point

Even The Terrorists don’t see the Point

But he’s quite serious.

“Well, Sir, I’m going to apply all those operational risk management techniques and safety tactics and procedures that the Navy taught me in flight school, the same ones the Navy seems to deem okay enough to entrust me with combat aircraft to and fro from das boot….”

Now it’s his turn to chuckle.  “Yes, I suppose that’s true.  I guess this interview is more attuned to the 18 year-old Airman who wants a bike….”  Then why are we even having the discussion?

Because of Choice, Limits, and Control.

The Navy limited my choice of bike size, and limited me to solo riding.  But they couldn’t control my spirit once on my 400cc Honda Steed, which turned out to be one wonderful motorcycle!  And sure, I didn’t take anyone riding…(wink).

Tightening the Grip doesn't Work

Tightening the Grip doesn’t Work

But back to AFN.  What struck me upon seeing the “choice” of programming available on Okinawa immediately led me to think how ridiculously little choice there is in access to stations and hence to media.  And not just cable/TV stations, but radio as well.

You may not think this is a very big deal, but let me assure you, it is.  It would be okay if the limited choice was not controlled by a single entity.  But the AFN franchises are so indeed.  And when lack of choice is compounded by controlling tendencies, limits surely ensure.  Limitations colored by healthy doses of propaganda.  And a majority of programming that most care not to see, hear, or even read….

I'm Convinced that Kim Jong Il is behind the AFN Commercials

I’m Convinced that Kim Jong Il is behind the AFN Commercials

Some of you may still think of these ramblings as an overreaction.  Still, those that have lived in Asian where AFN provides the only reliable English-based source of radio, and, in the older days, the only TV programming available in town through an old-fashioned aerial, know exactly of the truth of what I speak.  Programing on AFN borders on OCD:  safety is overplayed to such a comprehensive degree that most elements of a full, satisfying life are portrayed as dangerous and near life-threatening, albeit without extreme caution and full-time high alert.  Given the 24/7 constant barrage, it’s amazing that any of us made it to adulthood.  So that we could volunteer to serve, be posted overseas, only to realize how dangerous life actually is!

In fact, the strangest thing about AFN programming is that commercial-based commercials are not just NOT required, but they are not even allowed by law; the stations/channels are fully funded through other means quite distinct from advertising.  This means that AFN really doesn’t have to provide those “commercial breaks,” but feels compelled to do just that.  To an excessively annoying degree.

So one has to ask:  why?  “They” want you to believe it’s for your own good, that “they” are just being mindful and helpful.  But certainly there are a whole host of other not-so-hidden agendas.  The constant reminders about “being safe,” while based on good intentions, can’t help but be interrupted as nothing more than a lack of trust.  The limited programming and military-hooah-centric and one-sided news is clearly a way to mold young minds and push pre-conceived notions and conclusions about the business of war and peace, DoD-wide.  And while Fox News at least pretends to be “fair and balanced,” AFN offers no such pretense or disclaimer.

Fairly Unbalanced

Fairly Unbalanced

In AFN’s defense, they have gotten better.  I was actually shocked to see BBC news offered as part of their highly limited spread, which of all things, offers at times quite contrary viewpoints to news and media seen in America.  However, I remain resolute in my analysis – and in my complaints of AFN programming.  After having been on-island for just three days, and having the radio and TV on for an infantile portion of that time, I am resolved that any car we purchase have MP3/4 capability, and that once off-base, we buy the most diversified satellite cable TV available on the island.

Freedom and the TLF Cable both cost a Buck-o-Five

Freedom and the TLF Cable both should cost a Buck-o-Five

Choice is important in a democracy.

Limitations are most often self- and artificially-imposed, the result of lack of vision.

And this retired military dependent refuses to be controlled.

Elvis and His Honda Steed on Okiwana

Elvis and His Honda Steed on Okiwana

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming….