GRAFENWÖHR, Germany - Apparently, some U.S. soldiers know just what they're fighting for in foreign climes: Their constitutional rights.
"We all read 'em," said Pfc. Paul Rubio, 31, of Bakersfield, Calif., currently stationed at Grafenwöhr Air Force Base. "There are times we just read 'em for the technological parts like the new gadgets that come out. They have good stories sometimes too."
The "'em" in the above quote refers to "certain men's magazines" like Penthouse and Playboy that a new bill from Rep. Paul Broun (R-DeutschlandUberAlles), humorously titled the "Military Honor and Decency Act" (H.R. 5821), would ban from sale at military post exchanges (PXes).
"As a Marine, I am deeply concerned for the welfare of our troops and their mission," Broun said on April 17. "Allowing the sale of pornography on military bases has harmed military men and women by escalating the number of violent sexual crimes; feeding a base addiction; eroding the family as the primary building block of society; and denigrating the moral standing of our troops both here and abroad. Our troops should not see their honor sullied so that the moguls behind magazines like Playboy and Penthouse can profit. The Military Honor and Decency Act will right a bureaucratic - and moral - wrong."
But according to a report in Stars and Stripes (which Alliance Defense Fund Freudian-slipped as "Stars and Strips"), the Department of Defense is collecting comments from military personnel around the world to protest the idea that adults are harmed by viewing the naked ladies within the mags - and while Broun may not have read such material when he was a marine, plenty of others have.
"Playboy is good entertainment while you are on the can. They have jokes and good stories," said Pfc. Greg Smith, 21, of Northboro, Mass., a regular Playboy reader.
"It's not all about the pictures, although 80 percent of it is," added Sgt. Simon Brown, 34, of Daytona Beach, Fla., who also said that men's magazines build morale. According to the S&S story, Brown, who served in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2005, and is about to deploy to Iraq with the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, was one of the first to pick up each new issue of Maxim or FHM when it came out at the local PX.
"It would suck if they ban it," Brown said. "It's bad enough we are down there to begin with. Taking that away would be like a knife in the chest. I'm not saying I'm depending on Maxim to keep me alive over there, but it helps."
While Stars and Stripes noted that Maxim and FHM weren't specifically named in the proposed ban, the law would eliminate sales of all magazines that "regularly feature or give prominence to nudity or sexual or excretory activities," with "nudity" defined as "human genitals, pubic area, anus, anal cleft, or any part of the female breast below a horizontal line across the top of the areola with less than an opaque covering but does not include the exposure of the cleavage of the female breast exhibited by a dress, blouse, bathing suit, or other apparel" - a definition that fits most "lad mags" like Maxim, FHM and even the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
And it's not just in war zones that the mags are popular.
"They're making it a point of undermining soldiers to almost make them feel like we're back in elementary school," Pfc. Nickolas Sears said Friday at Camp Red Cloud, South Korea - the only place in the country where the magazines are sold. "We're all adults here, and if it's something we want to do, we should feel free to choose as we please."
"I believe it's a breach of freedom of speech," said Senior Airman Garrett Deese, 25, of Elk Grove, Calif., who just completed a tour with the 8th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea.
Apparently, Stars and Stripes couldn't find anyone who thought the magazines actually harmed their readers, though Sgt. Pou McCall, 23, of Riverside, Calif., also deployed at Grafenwöhr, noted that, "It doesn't take a magazine for sexual harassment to happen but it increases it," and wondered how her fellow soldiers would feel if they found photos of their sisters in the mags.
Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) public relations manager Judd Anstey said PXes sold $231,000 worth of Penthouse, Playboy and Playgirl magazines in Europe last year, which accounted for just half a percent of all magazines sold through PXes worldwide.
"Sales of these three titles account for 2.7 percent of total European magazine sales ($8.5 million) at AAFES facilities," he said.