The U.S. military's most popular radio host in Iraq downs her last swig of coffee at 9:53 a.m., slings a pistol over her shoulder and steps into the makeshift studio with five minutes to spare.
She slips on a headset and grabs a puffy microphone from a desk drawer, standing before a bank of three flat-screen monitors and a large sound control board. This is 107.7 on the FM dial, known to U.S. soldiers as Freedom Radio, and it's time for country music.
"We're gonna get it started with LeAnn Rimes and some Kenny Chesney, who you all know I love," says Spec. Kristen King, 21, her sugary twang a product of her Shreveport, La., upbringing. "And don't forget the phone calls, y'all. They're the greatest."
A reservist halfway through a journalism degree at Louisiana State University, King is energetic and apple-cheeked, with a tireless smile. She wears desert camouflage fatigues, and her straight brown hair is pulled tightly behind her head.
Her program, "Country Convoy," is four hours of down-home Americana beamed throughout Iraq from a fiberglass trailer tucked amid a warren of identical units in the fortified Green Zone. On the wall behind her is an Iraqi flag embossed with the logo of her distributor, the Armed Forces Network.
"Kristen King drives the cowboys crazy six days a week," says a baritone voice over the speakers, as the host fiddles with the volume levels and taps her toes. A strobe light alerts her to the first in a steady stream of requests, some of them a bit puzzling.
"Hello, Freedom Radio," she answers, cheerfully.
"This is Specialist Moore," the caller says. "I wanna hear 'Achy Breaky.' "
" 'Achy Breaky'?" says King, making sure she heard him correctly over the faint phone line.
"Yes, ma'am. And when you do that, can you ask them guys down in Outlaw, 'What you know 'bout killin'?' "
"Ask them what they know about killing?" she says, rolling her eyes and biting down on her index finger to stifle a laugh. "Okay, then. You got it."
"I try to get the songs on quick for these guys, because you never know if they're about to go out on a mission," she says. "The most requested ones are drinking songs. 'It's Five O'Clock Somewhere,' by Alan Jackson. 'Alcohol,' by Brad Paisley. You know -- things they can't get here."
Also popular, she says, are songs that remind service members of home, like "The Things I Miss the Most," by Van Zant, which she plays just before noon.
An' that tractor in the field.
An' them kids up on the front porch,
Screamin': 'Mamma, Daddy's home!'
When I'm out here, I'm just thinkin',
About the things I miss the most.
Since taking over as host in early May, King has developed a large and loyal following. Once, at a gym on base, someone heard her talking and immediately recognized her voice from the radio. Callers often beg her to post her picture on the station's Web site. Polls conducted by AFN showed her program has the largest audience of any of the network's shows in Iraq.
"I've got this one guy down at the motor pool who calls five times a day," she says, more amused than irritated. "He dedicated a song to me and said, 'Now you tell all those guys out there you got a man.' "
The hourly weather report, King tells listeners just after noon, is "the most depressing part of the day."
"Baghdad, you're gonna see a high of 116 and a low of 84. Basra, you're the hot spot as usual, at 119 and 88 at night. That's better than yesterday, though. Tall Afar, you're the coolest at 111 and 76," she says, shaking her head. "It's gonna be sunny all day, y'all, so drink some water and try to find yourselves some shade."
A half-hour later, a generator goes bust -- the quintessential Iraqi frustration leaving the studio dark. The station shifts to a satellite feed from Germany. King is off the air.
"This is the third day in a row this has happened," she says, her good cheer undimmed even as the trailer starts to warm, the air conditioner silenced. "I think the power people must not like country."
When the lights flicker back to life after 20 minutes, the show resumes with one of several public service announcements.
"Hi, service members, I'm your favorite fruit, Billy Banana," a cartoonish voice intones at 1:10 p.m. "You know whenever you eat those chocolates and carbohydrates before you go to sleep? Well, that stuff turns to fat. And it will make you a nasty fatbody."
Minutes later, Billy is back, with a reminder that "even if you're not thirsty, you still need to drink six to eight glasses of water per day to keep your pee clear."
"People call up and request songs with a Billy Banana voice all the time," King says. Soon, someone does.
Signing off at 1:55, King calls the show a success, with a good variety of requests. But she is quick to add that she is still holding out hope for a call from an Iraqi listening in from beyond the bases, in what the military calls "the Red Zone."
"I'm waiting for my first Iraqi country music fan," she says, exiting the studio. "I'll be a happy woman when that comes."