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War-zone Web: Exchange targets poor service in Afghanistan

Oct. 20, 2008 - 05:30PM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 20, 2008 - 05:30PM  |  

An Army wife at Fort Campbell, Ky., is frustrated with the Internet service for troops in Afghanistan.

"Families cannot afford $100 a month just to TRY and use the sorry Internet connection," the wife, who asked that her name not be used, wrote in an e-mail.

Her husband first signed up for the $35-a-month Internet package offered by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service through contracts with Internet service providers.

But it was slower than the dial-up service they had before, she said, and her husband never could get online or send an e-mail.

They decided to leap over the $70 package to the top-of-the-line $100 package, which supposedly offers faster, better connections.

But even that package "constantly boots us off or freezes up and is not much better than the $35 package," she wrote.

Help is coming, AAFES says.

Exchange service spokesman Judd Anstey said AAFES technician Glenn Davis arrived in Kuwait on Oct. 2 on his way to Afghanistan, on a specific mission to address Internet connection issues there.

Davis will be deployed for a year. During that time, customers can contact him about technical issues on the ground in Afghanistan at davisgle@aafes.com. Customers with billing questions about Internet service in Afghanistan can contact Mike Kaucher at (214) 312-3532 or by e-mail at kaucher@aafes.com. Kaucher is with Resilian Communications, the telecom arm of AAFES.

AAFES also continues to work with providers and is monitoring connection speeds, trying to enhance the service in any way possible, Anstey said.

There have been issues with vandalism and weather, including sandstorms, said Craig Sewell, vice president of Resilian Communications.

Unexpected troop movements also sometimes stretch Internet resources, Sewell said.

Internet providers are learning how to adjust.

"The providers have their challenges, too," Sewell said. "It's up to us to help cut through that so that at the end of the day, the service member is able to access the Internet they've paid for."

Ben Madison, a former Marine now working in Afghanistan, said the AAFES service is the only option available — unless you buy your own dish and service.

The setup costs will run more than $6,000, he said — and that doesn't include service charges.

"Essentially, you're tied to the AAFES vendor if you want any access to the Internet," he said.

The military's network blocks many Web pages and is not truly meant for personal use, he said.

Sewell said vendors have to buy time on satellites, which increases costs.

Madison said he knows prices are steep because the system is based on satellite connections.

"However, the service they say they provide is not what they are providing," he said. "Their service has many issues, and it's not uncommon to have an outage last a day or more."

Read the label: 2x or 3x

Exercise some restraint when using the new concentrated laundry products, and you'll save money.

These products are often labeled "2x" (two times regular strength) and "3x" (three times regular strength). When products are more concentrated, you don't have to use as much.

Sounds simple, but it's pretty hard for me. Every time I measure laundry detergent, I have to force myself to use half a cap instead of a full cap, even when the directions clearly say to do so.

That cap is much larger than the amount recommended. So follow the directions, or you're defeating the purpose — not to mention your wallet. You could end up effectively paying two to three times more for detergent than you should.

Bill Wood, category manager for nonperishable grocery items for the Defense Commissary Agency, suggests using another measuring device instead of the cap to get out of the habit of using a full cap and into the habit of using the correct amount.

Commissaries worldwide stock more than 20 2x concentrated products and six 3x products.

According to the Soap and Detergent Association, the concentrated products are environmentally friendly and user-friendly for several reasons — smaller bottles mean less material to transport to market, store in your cupboard and throw away or recycle after the bottle's last load.

Because the product is concentrated, you can clean the same amount of laundry with a small bottle that you could with the old detergent in a larger container.

———

Questions or comments? E-mail staff writer kjowers@militarytimes.com?subject=Question from ArmyTimes.com reader">Karen Jowers at sgtshopper@militarytimes.com.

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