Pentagon Channel Celebrates Second Anniversary
By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 12, 2006 Since the Pentagon Channel was launched two years ago, its staff has worked diligently to provide informative programming to American troops at home and abroad.
"We've come a long way in the past two years. Our growth has just been phenomenal," Gene Brink, director of the channel's news and programming, said. "We started with a group of 23 people, made up of government, contractor and military personnel. Today we have 61 people working here."
The Pentagon Channel is a Defense Department cable television station that broadcasts military news and information 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is available to about 1.3 million servicemembers on more than 314 military installations in the U.S., and to troops and their families serving in 177 countries around the world via American Forces Radio and Television Service.
The channel offers a variety of programs, from live military news updates to human-interest features.
Before the Pentagon Channel came into existence on May 14, 2004, there were no live radio or television outlets to communicate with troops here at home. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made it known that he wanted a means to properly communicate with these troops, who are spread out throughout the United States.
"Secretary Rumsfeld had asked, 'How do I better communicate with the troops?' The Pentagon Channel is part of that effort," Mel Russell, AFRTS director of broadcasting, said. "Our job is to get information out to our people."
Russell said the idea for the Pentagon Channel had been around for years but was spearheaded into reality by Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for internal communications. "Allison was the first person to actually go after the funding and the resources to make it happen," he said.
Russell said the goal was to make the Pentagon Channel into a hybrid of CNN and C-SPAN. "In the C-SPAN role it is a conduit for those live events that are not covered by the normal media, such as Secretary of Defense town hall meetings, testimony on Capitol Hill, and press conferences in the Pentagon by the senior leadership," Russell said.
He explained that congressional testimony of senior noncommissioned officers is a prime example of an event the Pentagon Channel would cover that other media would not.
"What senior noncommissioned officers say is really important to the soldier, sailor, airman and Marine. They talk about housing, education and medical issues. Commercial media is not interested in covering that," Russell said. "We cover that. We provide the lowest-ranking soldier somewhere in Germany the ability to see what these senior enlisted members have to say about quality-of-life issues. I think that's very important."
The Pentagon Channel plays out its CNN-like role for the Defense Department by providing military-related news, he said. "In that role it's important to be able to provide the most current information that a military member needs for their career and life," he said.
The channel is always looking for new ways to expand its operations to reach more servicemembers. "We are continually reaching out in every facet of technology that we can utilize to put out news and information to military members to keep them informed," Brink said. "We are always looking toward the future."
For example, the channel's programming is available online through streaming video at www.pentagonchannel.mil, and via audio and video podcasting. "We have a lot of downloadable items," Brink said. "It's starting to become very popular."
The Pentagon Channel also recently launched "Pentagon Channel In Flight," a military news and information service that will be aired on military charter flights worldwide.
Russell said distribution is the biggest challenge to the channel's continued growth. "We have to continue to grow our distribution, especially for the guard and reserve members because they don't reside on military bases," he said. "So getting the channel on cable systems and direct to home by satellite is a way that we can reach them."
The channel is currently available to more than 12 million U.S. households through commercial distribution on satellite and cable systems, such as Time Warner, Comcast and Dish Network. The Pentagon Channel is looking to add video-on-demand through commercial cable systems, and plans are in the works to stand up a few international bureaus later this year, Russell said.
The successful growth of the Pentagon Channel has only been possible because of its hard-working employees, who take great pride in what they do, Brink said. He then made the point that no one at the channel intends to rest on his or her laurels.
"All of us here are never satisfied with where we're at. We always want to be able to do more, we always want to be able to provide more, we want to make sure that military members out there are getting every bit of information and news that we can possibly provide. That's what we're all about," Brink said.