By Pfc. Samantha Schutz, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
March 21, 2008 - Because soldiers with the 4th Infantry Division and Multinational Division Baghdad can no longer tune in to their favorite radio stations while they're deployed to Iraq, two enterprising disc jockeys decided to bring the show to them. Zack Owen and Jim Cody are the hosts of a popular morning show on "Waco 100," a country music station near Fort Hood in central Texas, and their program was broadcast live from the media operations center here March 10 through today.
"The Morning Show with Zack and Jim" has been the top-rated music-based morning show in the area, including Fort Hood, for 15 years, so the duo had plenty of listener support behind them as they prepared to "deploy."
With the amount of calls and e-mails coming in from fans in Texas and – thanks to the Internet – throughout the world, they said, it's difficult to determine who was more excited about the show: the hosts or the faithful listeners.
Because neither Owen nor Cody had ever served in the military, the duo said, they wished there was something they could do to show their support and patriotism. They knew bringing their show overseas would represent a chance for them to serve their country.
"We've talked for years about wanting to come over here," Cody said. "We knew by virtue of our job, broadcasting, we could come over and be a venue for soldiers to get in a little piece of home. We said on the air a few times that if anyone knew how to get the ball rolling, we'd appreciate their help."
Toward the end of November, the DJs were attending a fundraiser in central Texas and were introduced to Delena Kanouse, the chief of community relations for 3rd Corps, the headquarters unit in charge at Fort Hood. It was she who initiated the "deployment" process.
"We've been taken excellent care of. The Army really bent over backwards to get us here," Cody said.
Just like a military unit, Owen and Cody had three months to prepare for their trip. Kanouse helped them complete the required paperwork and set them up to "deploy" with soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team.
"We wanted to get the whole feel of the thing," Owen said, "so we went through the whole (soldier readiness program) process and everything."
The pair gladly donned the Army combat uniform, received the standard pre-deployment shots and boarded a military flight alongside the 1st BCT soldiers, Owen said. Most members of the media who visit deployed troops wear civilian attire and fly on a commercial jet.
As they boarded the flight, which departed from Robert Gray Army Airfield at Fort Hood, the DJs received handshakes, hugs and enthusiastic thank-yous from supportive Ironhorse families. Owen said they were treated as part of the 4th Infantry Division family.
The 18-hour flight finally brought the pair to Kuwait, where Army Maj. David Olson, 1st BCT public affairs officer, kept them under his wing. Owen said Olson helped prepare them for the excitement of their tour.
"(Olson) said there wasn't much going on (in Kuwait), but to two guys who have never done this before, it seemed a little scary to have guys with guns all around you on the bus you're riding," he joked.
"Honestly, I have full faith and confidence in the ability of these military men and women to keep me safe from harm," Cody added, in all seriousness.
During their stay, the two had the opportunity to visit downtown Baghdad and tour the Multinational Division Baghdad area of operations with a bird's-eye view from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.
"I expected to see more of the bombed-out rubble, but you can really see the progress of the past five years. A lot has been rebuilt," Cody said. "People are out shopping, kids are playing. It seems like business as usual out in the streets."
Although both hosts agreed their sightseeing trip was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, they remained wholly focused on completing their primary mission: telling the soldiers' stories.
The duo interviewed nearly 200 servicemembers within Multinational Division Baghdad during their tour, Owen said. Each soldier had a story to tell, and they were able to send their love back to central Texas.
Army Brig. Gen. Mike Milano, deputy commanding general in charge of support for the 4th Infantry Division, Multinational Division Baghdad, was happy to welcome the DJs into the division's home away from home.
"I think there are lots of ways people can demonstrate their commitment to supporting what our soldiers are doing," Milano said, "but there is no more sincere way anyone else can do it than what these two gentlemen are doing."
Milano was not the only member of the 4th Infantry Division command team to take to the airwaves. Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Gioia, the senior enlisted leader for the 4th Infantry Division and Multinational Division Baghdad, stopped by and shared a few stories, a few laughs and his take on the Zack and Jim Show broadcasting live from Iraq.
"They are communicating for us the hardships our soldiers face daily – and what better way to do that than to come see for themselves?" Gioia said. "You can tell they truly care for, and support, our soldiers, and what more can you truly ask for? I truly appreciate the smiles they have brought to the faces of our soldiers and their families."
Owen said the live show from Iraq is very different from the show they put on back in Waco. Here, they focus less on entertainment and more on getting to know individual troops.
With many soldiers returning to the war zone on multiple deployments, Owen and Cody said, they wanted to give a few of them a chance to connect with their families over the airwaves and have a few laughs in the process.
"We're just trying to bring a bit of home to the guys," Cody said. "We try to make it lighthearted."
Ivy soldiers flooded the media operations center for a chance to go on the air with the Texas duo, each eager to send a shout-out to their loved ones.
"It's very peaceful to be able to get away from work for a while and reach out to my family back home. This definitely boosts my morale," said Army Sgt. Gregg Kunkle, a native of Harleysville, Pa., who serves as a team leader with the 4th Infantry Division's Company D, Special Troops Battalion.
Army Lt. Col. David Yebra, a Tucson, Ariz., native, said his wife and son in Harker Heights, Texas, e-mailed Owen and Cody to thank them for their support. His wife mentioned how she'd love to hear her husband's voice on the radio, so the hosts had him tracked down while he was working in the division's headquarters.
Yebra is the division's deputy fire support coordination officer. "These guys had a lot of fun with it," he said. It's great that the support from the central Texas community reaches all the way out here to Iraq. That's the one thing that has never changed (since my first deployment): the incredible amount of support from the community."
(Army Pfc. Samantha Schutz serves in the Multinational Division Baghdad Public Affairs Office.)