Armed with only a microphone, a few snippets of news and his imagination, a service member takes to the airwaves to boost morale among fellow troops on deployment in an unfamiliar land.

It's a setup that sounds familiar to most, but if you're not clear on where one first lieutenant-turned-broadcaster turns for inspiration as he cracks the mic in northern Iraq, just listen to his opening line.

"Good morning, Vietnam!" yells Apache Troop's Jared Thomas, barking the name of his program.

And then, just as loud: "Break!"

Thomas stops his presentation frequently to allow for radio traffic critical to his unit's mission. His audience, part of 1st Squadron, 75th Cavalry Regiment, Task Force Strike, guards artillery at Kara Soar Base, which is used by Iraqi forces in their fight against the Islamic State.

They sometimes pull long shifts at their posts, and access to the news of the outside world can be spotty, at best.

That's why Thomas -- with support from his commander, Capt. Bradley Brown -- launched a regular radio show that offers the news of the day along with commentary, impersonations and a bit of music. Acting on the suggestion of a soldier they met just weeks into deployment, the show has been up and running for about three months, starting as a five-minute headline-reading session and morphing into a 20-plus-minute audio smorgasbord.

Here's a taste:


"I try to treat the national news media as a buffet line," Thomas said. "You really try to sample from everywhere."

If Donald Trump makes news, Thomas breaks out a Trump impersonation. If a celebrity spent serious time on "TMZ," chances are Thomas has relayed details of that person's breakup, Facebook rant, arrest or unfortunate photograph to his listeners.

"It gives us a chance to hear from the outside world," Apache Troop's Sgt. Shawn Lowney said of the broadcast. "It lets us know that our command team is looking out for us."

And the soldiers know it's fresh -- Thomas said the shows are not recorded, simply broadcast over the radio network. The clips provided to Army Times, he said, were the first he'd saved.

Staff Sgt. Matthew Duester, left, and Spc. Gordon Parham deployed with Apache Troop, 1st Squadron, 75th Cavalry Regiment, Task Force Strike, pose outside their battle position at Kara Soar Base on Aug. 5. Part of the unit's mission is providing security for coalition forces in northern Iraq; they get some help from "Good Morning Vietnam" when guard duty gets dull.

Photo Credit: Maj. Ireka Sanders/Army

Walking the line

Thomas said he has yet to receive a negative review for his performance. But his success wasn't as simple as pushing the "talk" button and riffing on headlines.

First, there was the small matter of subject knowledge: Thomas, 26, had never seen "Good Morning, Vietnam," the 1987 classic featuring Robin Williams' manic take on real-life Armed Forces Radio DJ Adrian Cronauer, an airman who served in Saigon in the mid-1960s.

"But I'd heard of it," he said. "The YouTube research was obviously paramount."


Second came the program tweaks that resulted in the show's current format. Instead of just a headline or two, Thomas expanded his offerings to segments like "Quotes on Grit," when Brown visits to offer words of wisdom from John Wayne, Theodore Roosevelt or other bastions of ruggedness.

Soldiers love the segment, Thomas and Lowney said. It's possible some of them love it even more when Brown is pulled away on other duties, leaving Thomas alone to provide his commanding officer's voice.

"He's got a thick accent," Thomas said. "He's a Missouri boy, so I try to impersonate that as best as possible."

Brown said he's always trusted Thomas to broadcast Army-appropriate content -- "be professionally ornery," as he put it.

That covers impersonating the boss, which he described as "more endearing than anything."

Sgt. Arturro Hernandez of Apache Troop, 1st Squadron, 75th Cavalry Regiment, Task Force Strike, looks through his binoculars during his guard shift June 18, 2016, at Kara Soar Base, Iraq. Part of Troop A’s mission is protecting the artillery responsible for the fires at the Kara Soar Base. The fires at the Kara Soar Base serve two roles: force protection for Coalition and Iraqi security forces and fire in support of maneuver, enabling ISF to defeat Daesh. (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson/Released)
Sgt. Arturro Hernandez of Apache Troop, 1st Squadron, 75th Cavalry Regiment, Task Force Strike, looks through his binoculars during his guard shift June 18, 2016, at Kara Soar Base, Iraq. Part of Troop A’s mission is protecting the artillery responsible for the fires at the Kara Soar Base. The fires at the Kara Soar Base serve two roles: force protection for Coalition and Iraqi security forces and fire in support of maneuver, enabling ISF to defeat Daesh. (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson/Released)

Sgt. Arturro Hernandez of Apache Troop, 1st Squadron, 75th Cavalry Regiment, Task Force Strike, looks through his binoculars during his guard shift June 18, 2016, at Kara Soar Base, Iraq.

Photo Credit: 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson/US Army

Good ... evening?

The unit's retro approach to entertainment has led to expanded use of the radio for morale purposes, with a careful eye on protocol to keep critical channels clear.

Thomas has shifted his start time to the evening on occasion, spreading the wealth to other shifts. Brown's command has organized radio trivia contests, where soldiers can win prizes based on their knowledge of their military occupational specialty. They've done some required training using a call-in contest format, turning what could be a mind-numbing refresher course into a friendly competition.

But most of the attention remains on "Good Morning, Vietnam," a name Thomas lobbied to retain because it set the tone for the broadcast, Brown said -- and because "Good Morning KSB" wasn't all that catchy.

The base does offer some internet access, but many soldiers still rely on the radio for their news, Brown said.

"It [web access] is available, but is there a line, and do they want to sacrifice sleep to do that?" Brown said.

While increased internet availability has led Thomas to drop his broadcast workload from daily to once every three days. He's got no plans to sign off for good.

"Every time I've missed a day I've been immediately called out by the soldiers," he said. "I honestly think that if we ever discontinued the show we'd have a mutiny on our hands!"