BAGHDAD — With a final song at midnight Friday, the American military will shut AFN-Iraq, the radio station that has broadcast to soldiers nationwide since 2003, marking 100 days until the US withdrawal is complete.
Some 5,000 CDs have already been packed away, the newsroom is crammed with trunks, and posters that lined the foam-covered walls of the studio in Baghdad's heavily-fortified Green Zone have been pulled down in readiness for the closure.
AFN-Iraq was launched in March 2003, when a US-led coalition invaded the country to oust dictator Saddam Hussein. Its first song was "Freedom," by Paul McCartney.
At midnight, though, it will handover broadcast duties to AFN-Europe, based in Germany.
"They're going to get good radio, but it's not going to be us, and we're right here in the country with them," said Sergeant Jay Townsend, one of AFN-Iraq's DJs. "We get mortars, and we get rockets, and we go out on missions and patrols as well, so at least we have something in common."
"It's definitely sad, but it's also exciting because it's time: the American people and the American troops have come here and sacrificed so much. We wondered when this day would come up and now it's close, so we couldn't be more excited."
The shutting of the radio station, part of the Armed Forces Network that also includes television stations aired on US army bases around the world, comes with 100 days to go before a year-end pullout deadline.
At present, more than 40,000 American soldiers remain stationed in Iraq, but they must all leave by December 31 under a 2008 security pact between Baghdad and Washington.
A contingent may stay past year-end if the two countries agree to a much-discussed military training mission, but no such deal has yet been reached.
Over the past eight-plus years, AFN-Iraq, which can be heard in most major cities in Iraq and neighbouring Kuwait, has aimed to boost soldier morale through the immediate aftermath of the invasion, the sectarian war that followed and the more recent drop in levels of violence.
Staff say the radio tries to be "a morale force multiplier."
Between playing music and airing programmes like any other radio station, AFN-Iraq also aired regular "Iraqi essentials": bite-sized lessons in basic Arabic broadcast several times throughout the day to help American soldiers interact with their domestic counterparts.
"It's important to entertain and boost the morale, but we exist to inform, to educate and help, ensure that all of our troops have the context to know what it is we're working so hard for," said Sergeant First Class Don Dees, who heads AFN broadcasts in Iraq.
For its last day of broadcasts, AFN-Iraq DJs lined up a series of interviews, ranging from Lieutenant General Frank Helmick, the deputy commander of US troops in Iraq, to Shawn Marion, a starting forward for the 2011 National Basketball Association Dallas Mavericks.
Also among the interviews was one with Adrian Cronauer, an AFN radio broadcaster who was famously the inspiration for the 1987 Hollywood film, "Good Morning, Vietnam."
DJs have also asked listeners to vote via e-mail and Facebook to choose the last song that will be broadcast before the station hands over to AFN-Europe, offering choices ranging from Green Day's "When September Ends" to Saving Abel's "Miss America."
"It's kind of bittersweet for me... I don't want it to end," said Staff Sergeant Brad Ruffin, a 42-year-old from Dallas, Texas. "We may never know what kind of impact we have, but hopefully we have had a positive impact."
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »