How Do U.S. Soldiers in Iraq Call Home?

by Bruce Stewart

A couple of weeks ago I pointed to and agreed with a post by Tom Evslin about the absurdly high rates AT&T was reportedly charging U.S. soldiers in Iraq to call home to the states. Both Tom's and my post got a lot of attention and comments, and Tom is staying on the case and has posted an interesting update with detailed information provided by someone who sounds like they know the deal. After detailing the various calling options available for the more tech-savvy, a current soldier in Iraq comments:

So why does anyone use AT&T? Good question. My only guess is simply that people do it because the phone cards are sent by family and friends, or the soldier doesn't know about the other, much, much cheaper options available to them.


It's nice to hear that our military personnel do have other, cheaper options, like using VoIP, but I'm no less unhappy with AT&T's role here. For a lot more details on what options they currently have, and to follow the comments and continuing reporting that Tom is doing, check out his most recent post about the issue.

20 Comments

Brian McConnell
2006-03-23 18:43:13
I thought I would comment on the brouhaha about AT&T ripping our troops off in Iraq, by charging the extortionary rate of 21 cents per minute for payphone calls. I think some perspective is in order here.


At face value 21 cents per minute sounds like a lot for a long distance call, and if you were calling from Teeterboro to Pasadena, it would be 2 to 5 times what you should be paying, but Iraq isn't Teeterboro. If you were making the same call on a domestic US cellular phone on a prepaid calling plan, you would be paying 10 to 20 cents per minute, probably more. If you were making the call on an Iraqi GSM phone, you would certainly be paying more than 20 cents per minute for the call.


If you want to blame a villain here, blame the Pentagon for not acknowledging that free phone calls home are basically a right that every soldier should expect. Why didn't they just buy a bunch of leased lines wholesale and allow soldiers to call home for free? They could have, but they didn't, just as they shortchanged everything else.


AT&T is just a contractor, the Pentagon is writing the checks. Sure AT&T isn't cheap, but they never have been. Everybody knows that, and in 2003, 20 odd cents to call from the Middle East to the US was actually a pretty darn good deal. I doubt they factored Skype into their pricing when they signed the deal several years ago. I am sure that they factored in the extra cost and risk of doing business in Iraq, otherwise they would have walked away from the deal.


My two cents...

Bruce Stewart
2006-03-24 08:52:33
Good points Brian. I think my and others dismay at the over .20/minute many soldiers are having to pay to call home is mainly driven by our knowledge of how cheap voice minutes have become in general in the VoIP era, and it seems almost criminal that these young kids who are out there risking their lives for our country and getting paid very little are having to pay what seems like quite a lot just to call home. (And I won't get into my feelings here about whether it's for a good reason or not, the reality is we've sent them out there and we should support them in every way we can). But I agree with you that my disgust should more rightly be directed at the Pentagon for not setting up free calls home for all military personnel, which does seem like something that should be a basic right that every soldier could expect in this day and age.


And just curious, where the heck is Teeterboro? ;)

Becky
2006-08-06 18:51:00
My husband is in Iraq and in three months we have spent more than $300 on phone card time. If her were allowed to use his MCI card we would have saved more than half of that. To get internet to his room my husband would have to pay over $100 a month and even then internet is a hit and miss sort of thing. As for Skype and any of the other options...at least on his base, which is big, he doesn't have easy access if any access to them. Oh, the military is nice and allows him to use a "moral phone" for fifteen whole minutes every week. Very generous of them.
Janet O'Brien
2006-08-29 13:19:57
I am suffering the same situation I purchased 1000 units for $80 and my husband had 300 units when he called from Iraq, they do not have the access to DSN phonelines. Also, there are computers but no voip phones available to his or my knowledge. What other options can I visit to purchase time for him?
Gigi
2006-08-29 19:56:14
Janet,
Hmmmmmm try international callback , IRAQ cellphone or satellite phone.


Gigi

Jenx Commo Guru
2006-12-22 10:29:37
Yes, there are options for soldiers to call home other than AT&T however it depends on where the soldier is in Iraq. Some bases or FOBs do not even have AT&T and from my personal expierence AT&T's quality of service is the worst you could imagine. I have been in the army a long time and AT&T goes where we go and rape us. I am in Baghdad and I use SKYPE or Yahoo with voice. Soldiers who are based out of Europe get two free 15 minute phone calls per week back to family in Europe. This is great for those of us with Family in Europe. To beat AT&T at their game smart soldiers call to a military operator in the states who connects us to AT&T thus getting the stateside rate.
For security reasons some units do not allow the use of cell or satellite phones.
My recommendation for soldiers is to use messengers with voice, or use DSN lines which can be dialed from any tactical phone network.
Jenx the Commo Guru
2006-12-22 10:32:17
Yes, there are options for soldiers to call home other than AT&T however it depends on where the soldier is in Iraq. Some bases or FOBs do not even have AT&T and from my personal expierence AT&T's quality of service is the worst you could imagine. I have been in the army a long time and AT&T goes where we go and rape us. I am in Baghdad and I use SKYPE or Yahoo with voice. Soldiers who are based out of Europe get two free 15 minute phone calls per week back to family in Europe. This is great for those of us with Family in Europe. To beat AT&T at their game smart soldiers call to a military operator in the states who connects us to AT&T thus getting the stateside rate.
For security reasons some units do not allow the use of cell or satellite phones.
My recommendation for soldiers is to use messengers with voice, or use DSN lines which can be dialed from any tactical phone network.
Soldier in Iraq
2007-01-20 05:52:54
I am currently in Iraq, and just to let every one know Soldiers really have 4 options to call home. 1) AT&T call center(cost way to much and has terrible service) 2)Buy an Iraqi cell phone (again cost alot and terrible service) 3) DSN line (every FOB has one and Soldier are authorized to use it, 2 times a week 15 min per call)4) Some FOBs have what is called a Freedom Center. At the Freedom Center Soldiers can call for free, limited to 15 min unless there is no wait, then they can talk as long as they want.


On DSN lines, if the Soldier will be making a call that would be considered local for the base he is calling to he doesn't need a phone card, if its long distance then he does. The Freedom Center he can make calls direct with out a phone card. These are the only ways a Soldier can make calls home. And if he uses the AT&T phone center then he has to use an AT&T phone card, AT&T will not except any other card.

Meg
2007-02-15 12:09:23
I know that this is an older posting, but I was hoping to get information and this seemed a logical place to post. My concern is a personal one and I mean no offense to anyone who disagrees with any of what I am about to type. I have an young (21yo) employee who is suppose to be working as an assistant manager at our garden center. She was a terrific worker (bright, enthusiastic and very organized) until she met her boyfriend who was already serving the military out of state. They carried on a long distance relationship that seemed harmless. We were all supportive. He was deployed to Iraq last Fall and works in some sort of communication office. I am grateful that he has the opportunity to talk to this employee each day, but she has become useless in her job. She spends up to 3 hours per day, every day, talking on the phone with this guy. He is using government equipment to make these phonecalls and when he rings, she instantly drop everything and ignores responsibility, customers and becomes very clumsy, regularly dropping and breaking things while trying to continue a conversation. We have asked that she clock out, or schedule the phonecalls when she is not working or to simply cut conversations short and you would think that we had asked her to cut off her foot. She is acting very entitled and if I was in her shoes, I really can't say that I wouldn't treasure those conversations either. But, I know that some of my tax dollars are footing the gov't phone bill and I would really like more info about the cost (and risk to his job) that they might be responsible for. I am not trying to get this guy in trouble...but I am having a meeting with the assist. man. and I would like to have my facts in order (I am just having a hard time finding out what they are). There is no reason for this young girl, who up until recently has been a true attribute to the business, should be fired because of her phone abuse. It just seems to be a delicate situation considering that he is overseas, serving "something" (I don't have a clue what he has time left for as I am sure he makes longwinded calls to other friends and family also). This has been going on for 2 1/2 months and I just don't see it ending unless there is good evidence that they could suffer reprocussions. Our busy season starts within the next 2 weeks though, and I have to have someone accountable in that position. Email if you have words of advice...meghan@marshallnurseries.com
MilitarySpouse
2007-03-19 08:16:54
No reason she shouldn't be let go? From what I read you have every right and reason to let her go. She isn't entitled to anything and if she is working she shouldn't be on a personal phone call regardless of where her boyfriend is! These scenarios make me sick because it is people like her that give us actual hard working Military spouses a bad name. We are not owed anything, nor should we have special rules granted to us. In the entire time my husband has been gone-deployments, trainings, TDY's, etc... he has called me a total of 3 times at work. Two of those times were emergencies and the other was to talk to our daughter (I work at her school) who was having a rough time one day. The bottom line is I see this, "well he is Iraq so I get special treatment attitude" all the time, and ironically it is usually a girlfriend or a very new-to the-Military spouse. Those of us that have been around long enough to get crusty know-life goes on while they are deployed. If I were to sit attached to a phone or computer the whole time my husband were gone I'd get nothing done. Give her boundaries and limits, like any employer would do. If she breaches those boundaries and limits it may be time to find another energetic, enthusiastic employee who will be available the entire time they are working!
connie
2007-04-03 09:04:29
come on guys ... at&t could do there part also. look at there profits. we all need to do a little more. these familys are on a limited income. isnt it the least we could do ?
Mary
2007-07-03 17:03:33
Our company is participating in a Community Service Campaign for the troops. Several people have given money to buy phone cards. So should I get the AT&T cards? Is there another I can buy state side that would afford the soldiers more minutes? We are sending the cards in increments of $5.
SGT JASON MORGAN
2007-09-22 12:20:03
WE SHOULD HAVE FREE PHONE CALLS TO CALL HOME IF WE ARE IN IRAQ FIGHTING FOR THIS COUNTRY ITS THE VERY LEAST THIS COUNTRY CAN DO FOR US.
BUT BUSH WOULDN'T DO A THINK UNLESS IT HELPED HIS WALLET OR MADE HIM LOOK LIKE THE GOOD GUY AND EVERYBODY ELSE THE BAD GUY
POOR GUY CAN'T THINK OR SPEAK FOR HIMSELF
LAST TIME I SAW HIM ON TV COULD OF SWORN I SAW SOME STRINGS HANGING FROM HIS BODY LIKE CHENNEY WAS PULLING HIS STRINGS
Sara
2007-11-04 23:07:16
My husband is in Iraq. Our phone calls with AT&T cards are actually costing over $.37 a minute. To get Internet will cost him $100 a month. Of course, there are phone and internet charges on my end, as well. To servicemen and women and their families: what are the cheapest options you've found? I would particularly like to know how well SIP and VOIP worked for you. Thank you so much.
katirna
2007-11-19 16:08:24
Hi,
My fiance is in Iraq and we've been battling with the high cost of phone service. I do have to recommend going to Phoneshark.com. I believe the going rate for Iraq cellular calls is somewhere around 4.1 Cents a minute. You must call from a landline but some cellular phones can also get out. You dial a local number and then a pin and then their number in Iraq. My fiance also has a cellphone in Iraq. So far this is the cheapest way to go, he texts me on my cell and I call him on a landline.
It's worth a shot if nothing else.
CurrentlyInIraq
2008-01-21 14:17:44
Here where I am we do have commerical internet lines with 4 phones you can call home for free on. Yes there is about a 3 second delay and 4 phones means you have to wait forever for a 15 minute phone call but I can't complain about that. What I can complain about is the fact that the commercial lines are under a new contract. We paid a company a couple hundred thousands of dollars(by we I mean myself and all other taxpayers) to give us this service. Now I appreciate the army and the taxpayers for the free phones calls I really do. What I dont appreciate is the company that is getting paid a couple hundred thousand dollars to do this for 2 years. To get into more detail, 9000 dollars of this was for "Hardware installation" Out of that 9000 dollars I want you to tell me how much we should have paid them. The company sent 1 man to iraq. The company sent 0 satelite dishes, 0 spools of cat 5. Me and 6 other soldiers went to the other side of the base and took down 2 satelite dishes off another building that weren't being used, we brought them back here and put them up, we then ran the coax under ground under the building to meet the wires that had already been ran from the old commercial system. So basically this lazy shit of a contracter that came from this company and got paid god knows how much did nothing. We had to go wake him up numerous times while we were doing this to get specific information about there specifications. To me it is companies like these that are a disgrace. They charged 9000 dollars for installation and sent 1 man and no hardware???? They knew what they were doing. Now AT&T I cannot comment on. They are here but I dont use them. We get free calling cards from the USO which works well with the AT&T phones. AT&T is making money but because of the donations in calling cards it is ussually not the soldiers paying them. You look at the MWR here,(Morale Welfare Recreation). This place is supposed to be all about the soldier. I went in there the other day with the impression the phones were like the ones here in this building. I thought I would press 9 and call the states. Well I was wrong. I was sent to a website where I had to by $30 dollar pin number and then pay $30 a month for 150 minutes and more for more minutes. At the end of the month you lose all your minutes. So all in all I think the biggest problem here is the army is not hiring the correct contracters to get deals.
Stacie
2008-03-10 16:37:53
I am a soldier in Balad,Iraq and my family member lives in Turkey and I have the liberty of using a dsn phone line however unlike most military bases the one in Turkey will not connect you to a number off base which does me no good since my love one does not live on the base. The cost for me to call my love one is costing me over $500 a month. Because if i buy a 550 min phone card from PX i only get 100 min out of it to call Turkey. So yes they need to come up with a better system for people that are over here serving. My opinion when i called the military base in Turkey and asked for them to connect me to a phone number for a morale call there should have been an acception to the rule about off base phone calls. As far as the internet in the rooms that is a ripe off as well. Me and 9 other soldiers chipped in and have spent almost 4000.00 dollars trying to get the internet in our room and we have not got to use it a single day yet. The MWR is wonderful if you have time to sit in line for a couple of hours waithing on a computer and then you only get 30 min. Seeing how we are over here fighting a war I do not see how soldiers can just sit waiting in line for a computer. It is not only soldiers using them it is everyone contractors and anyone here doing any kind of work. We have cable provided for us in our rooms I do not see how come the government has not put in place the same kind of service but with the internet in the rooms even if they have to charge the soldiers a small fee a month it would be better then this.
Amie
2008-07-01 00:49:02
My hubby is serving in Iraq right now. We have AT&T for our cell provider and before he got settled in and changed his sim card to a pre-paid Iraq one, AT&T was charging us $3.99 per minute, and that was with the $5 a month "world traveler package" that discounts calls. I HATE AT&T with a passion. I haven't tried to put his cell on hold yet, but I'm dreading it. Last time we had Sprint and I'm still getting bills from debt collectors from when he cancelled the contract when he deployed, even though we went about it the right way. I think they're all out to get everyone anymore.
VIVIEN
2008-08-01 10:44:35
Hi. I am Vivien from Kenya and from the last 5months i have not communicated to my fiance WILLIAM BROWN he is a seargent in the army and when we last talked he sounded worried please do update me about him because am so worried and scared and i will have to take what has happened. Thanks ion advance and i hope to hear from you soon
Elayne
2008-08-13 12:49:21
It isn't just the phone calls, but the families trying to reach their loved ones as well. I needed my husband's cell phone on while he was in Iraq. AT&T not only did a bait and switch on us, but because of a health crisis we were hit with his las month in Iraq, we were hit with a phone bill over $900.00 AT&T won't even work with us on the bill, let alone admit to any of the lies they told me. How can so-called american comapany treat those who fight to protect their rights in such a metter?