Tag Archives: cgsc

History of Army MARS – can you help?

Since July I have been attending the School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) here at Ft. Leavenworth, KS. SAMS is a 10 month course that “educates the future leaders of our Armed Forces, our Allies, and the Interagency at the graduate level to be agile and adaptive leaders who think critically at the strategic and operational levels to solve complex ambiguous problems”. The majority of our classes are focused on the study and application of the elements of national power, international relations, and operational design. The end result is a planner who spends a year on a division or corps staff helping to draft campaign plans for operations. One of the requirements for graduation is to write a monograph (like a master’s thesis) on a topic relevant to the military. I chose as a topic to write about the history of the Army’s Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS).

I’ve enjoyed researching the subject. Army MARS was officially constituted back in 1925 as the Army Amateur Radio System (AARS). I go a bit further back into history and trace the introduction of radio into Army use and then what circumstances brought about the requirements for the Army to want to organize something like the AARS.

Once organized, the AARS had a difficult start and then went through a fairly significant reorganization in 1929. There were a few reasons the Army wanted to establish the AARS. One was to extend the Army’s existing War Department Radio Net beyond the radio stations on Army installations to achieve a greater reach to all corners of the country. Knowing the limitations of wire (telephone and telegraph) communications during significant weather and natural disasters, the addition of AARS stations to the War Department Radio Net would help the local and Federal government better coordinate and respond to emergencies. The other major reason for the founding of AARS was to provide a pool of civilians trained in Army protocol for radio operations in case of a major conflict. The Army had learned from WWI that there was little time available to amass and train a significant force. Radio operators required specific skills which needed longer training. If a trained pool of operators was already in existence, it would make it that much easier to mobilize in case of general war.

AARS did serve as a benefit in providing communications during natural disasters. However, after the Pearl Harbor attack and the country began to mobilize, AARS literally evaporated. It was not used as a pool to draw from to bolster the Army’s Signal Corps. The organization basically ceased to exist until it was reconstituted as MARS some time after the conclusion of WWII. That is one area where I have been unable to find any definitive information as to why the Army chose not to draw from the AARS pool when they started full mobilization for WWII. And why was AARS abandoned and then another domestic organization (WERS – War Emergency Radio Service) stood up in its place? If you can help show me where I can find these answers, I’d greatly appreciate it.

ARRL and the amateur community had its own agenda in supporting AARS. Both before and after WWI, the amateurs (represented by ARRL) and the US government clashed over who should have privileges in the RF spectrum. The Navy was adamant about preventing the amateurs from retaining any RF privileges that might interfere with naval radio traffic. When the ARRL got the opportunity to affiliate with the US Army through AARS, they hoped it was an opportunity to help cement their hold over the amateur RF allocations by virtue of the proven service amateurs were providing the country.

It is an interesting topic and I am enjoying digging through old copies of QST as well a Army journals.

I’ve started writing and have my first 10 pages complete. I’ll post it here soon for comment.

If you have any specific knowledge of either AARS or MARS operation between 1925 and 1963, please let me know (scott dot hedberg at sign gmail dot com). I would enjoy getting some real history straight from a primary source.

Wheat State Wireless Association

In meeting my requirement to speak to a community group, school, or other organized gathering of citizens – I debuted my presentation tonight to the Wheat State Wireless Association’s April club meeting – located in Paola, KS.
The club had about a dozen members in attendance – seems like a very nice club, a good number hams who were very friendly and welcoming.
Overall, I think the presentation went well. I think I am going to add a slide that shows the specific equipment that I used while in Iraq and maybe another slide showing the WinLink path between Germany, my station in Iraq, and the one in Qatar. I think maybe a handout as well that includes some of the QST articles that talk about amateur operations in Iraq. The presentation time ran about 30 minutes or so. It seemed like the audience was interested and there were a handful of questions afterwards. One young woman approached me afterwards and told me about how her grandfather was a member of Navy MARS during the Vietnam War and operated phone patches. She said she had never really understood what that was about and that my presentation made her realize the great value her grandfather provided the military personnel and their loved ones. She also said she remembered going into his radio room that had racks of old tube radios and the distinct smell that used to produce when they were in operation.
I have my notes mostly finished and will add a link to my presentation slides here soon.

This Weekend…

Joseph Sheehan Bicycle Road Race: Today I helped support a 52.9 mile bicycle race between Leavenworth and Atchison, KS. The weather was miserable. A cold morning to begin with. Then rain… and sleet. Even snow. I was positioned at a intersection that crossed the highway which served as about the 10 mile mark and then 40 mile mark on the route back. 52 cyclist made it to the 10 mile point and not more than 20 went on to finish the race. I couldn’t believe that many of the guys hung with it. Those were some dedicated folks.
There were four of us supporting the race, positioned at key spots along the route (inside our nice, warm vehicles). I was able to have several “lessons learned” for this event. I had a distinct lack of planning and preparation.
(1) I didn’t fully check my rig prior to the event. I was at the event site trying to do a radio check with net control with no results.
(2) When it is time to troubleshoot, you have to use logic. When time is short (because of lack of preparation) and problems come up, you have to keep your head. Troubleshooting a radio system is pretty basic. Start from one end and work to the other. Finding that the antenna feedline isn’t properly connected to the rig should be an easy fix.
(3) Having an HT as backup is good. Knowing how to change the settings on it is critical. One of those Nifty manuals or smart cards does the trick.

That being said, thanks to the quick thinking of the net control I was able to initially talk to him on my HT using a repeater that didn’t require a tone (I’d forgotten how to change the tone setting on my Kenwood TH-D7A). I eventually figured out how to set the tone and was on the repeater with the other folks. Then with a bit more thought and troubleshooting, I discovered my feedline connection to the rig had come loose and with that fixed I was back in business. Part of the problem is that I have a relatively new rig in the truck, the Kenwood TM-D710A. It is a very complicated rig and I have only scratched the surface on how to operate it. I was able to interface it with the Garmin Nuvi 350 thanks to a cable from Argent Data Systems. The cable allows the D710A to pass APRS data to the Nuvi and the Nuvi plots the data as waypoints. It works pretty well.

Big week ahead. I mentioned before that I have some specific graduation requirements for the course I am in at Fort Leavenworth. This week I should be able to complete another of the requirements: speak to a community group, school, or other organized gathering of citizens. I have put together a presentation concerning my operations of both amateur radio and MARS station while in Iraq and will be giving the presentation to one of the local amateur radio clubs. The presentation, in addition to my operations, covers the history of the US Army and amateur radio while deployed overseas. It has been fascinating researching the operations of previous Army hams from WWII (Germany and Japan), Korea, Vietnam,

Spec/5 Dennis Vernacchia operating MARS Radio Station AB8AY, out of relocated radio station in quonset hut, puts radio-telephone calls through to the states for the troops stationed at LZ Betty and to co-ordinate Operation Vietnam Merry Christmas
Spec/5 Dennis Vernacchia operating MARS Radio Station AB8AY, out of relocated radio station in quonset hut, puts radio-telephone calls through to the states for the troops stationed at LZ Betty and to co-ordinate "Operation Vietnam Merry Christmas"
Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Iraq. I also cover the history of amateur radio in Iraq from the early days in the 1920s through the Saddam period and then today. Once I get my slides spiffied up a bit more and add some notes, I will post a link here so those who are interested can take a look. My final requirement is: write professionally by submitting a letter to the editor, Op-Ed piece, or article for publication. My intent is to turn the presentation into an article and then send it to ARRL’s QST. Most of the article is done – I hope to get it completed this week as well.

Odds & Ends

I am nearing the end of my master’s degree program in international relations. Although the Army’s Command and General Staff College (CGSC) program for us majors is a graduate-level program it does not grant a degree (unlike the Navy, Air Force, and USMC). Apparently this is actually written into the Congressional statue that provides for CGSC – so for whatever the reason, if you want to get a master’s degree while here, you need to do extra work. The program I am in is through Webster University (based out of St. Louis, MO). The military has arrangements with many colleges and universities to run extension programs. Webster’s program here accepts many credits from CGSC. In the end, my requirement has been to take 6 additional classes, two at a time over the course of the last 7 months during the evening. The final requirement is a thesis paper. I am, at long last, done with the six classes and am working on my paper. It has been a tough few last months trying to balance the normal class requirements during the day and meeting the requirements for the classes at night. I will be a happy man when my thesis paper is complete.

As a break from my studies, I went to a National Weather Service (NWS) spotter class sponsored by the Leavenworth County Emergency Services folks. I last attend training back in Virginia. I’d have to say that the people here in Kansas take their weather a bit more serious than the Hampton Roads crowd. The training was conducted at the National Guard Armory in one of the briefing rooms… and the place was packed. It wasn’t just the amateur radio crowd either – there were high school students, CERT members, the elderly Neighborhood Watch types, and the storm chaser fanatics. The class and presentation was excellent, my hat is off to the NWS.

Yesterday we had Gen. Sir Richard Danatt (Chief of the General Staff, the head of the British Army) speak to our CGSC class. It was an excellent talk and he brought up a few key points. As an Army, our focus has been (at least in the last 100 years) on the 3rd phase of operations, the domination phase. The first two phase are deterrent and preparatory and the 4th phase is stability and transition. The domination phase, phase three, can be characterized by major combat operations – and that has always been our focus in training. We close with and destroy the enemy – that is how we have won our wars. Gen. Sir Danatt observed that perhaps the 4th phase is the real decisive operation and I think he makes a good argument for it. I think our Army realizes this is the case, but we don’t have buy in across the board. Gen. Sir Danatt made an observation about the possible French re-entry into NATO. It is a good thing, but he observed that the French Army would be behind the ball when it comes to operating as a team in a NATO operation. They haven’t participated in all the NATO exercises or the associated planning, which will leave them with a steep learning curve to assume a meaningful role in NATO. The last point that Gen. Sir Danatt made that really hit home with me was that if we fail in Afghanistan than it may signal the end of NATO – essentially signifying that NATO is incapable of achieving results. Since the fall of the Soviet empire, the existence and purpose of NATO has always been in question. History tells us that alliances never last forever – it will be interesting to see how long NATO can continue its run.

I am going to see how many little projects I can knock out this weekend – try to take advantage of the good weather…. oh, and also work on my thesis paper.

Strategic Communications

The title of this post is a little misleading. As I mentioned before, I am attending the Army’s Command & General Staff College (CGSC) here at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas (… I bet you thought I was out here in Kansas just for the nice weather). One of the new requirements we have as students at is to egage in “Strategic Communication”. Wikipedia defines strategic communications as: communicating a concept, a process, or data that satisfies a long term strategic goal of an organization by allowing facilitation of advanced planning. Our requirements as students to engage in strategic communication does not exactly line up with that definition, but I think it gives you an idea of where the Army is headed. The bottom line is the Army wants to develop officers who are familiar and comfortable in dealing with the media in order to get the Army’s “message” out. In the past the military has been traditionally media shy (understatement), either making heavy use of the “no comment” or deferring to our public relations officers. No more. The Army recognizes this is the new media age and those that get their story out first, in a clear and understandable fashion are likely to better garner public support… both domestic and international. Okay… so back to school. My requirements, as related to strategic communications, are to: (1) participate in an actual media interview (television, print, or radio), (2) speak to a community group, school, or other organized gathering of citizens, (3) write professionally by submitting a letter to the editor, Op-Ed piece, or article for publication, and (4) participate in a reputable blog about their military service.

#4 is pretty easy. I think I can figure out how to blog.

#3 not too hard. I can either repurpose one of my existing papers and send in to a newspaper or I can try to be original and maybe send something in to ARRL.

#2 is a bit harder. What I have decided to do for that is put together a presentation of amateur radio operations by military members who are deployed… kind of a DXpedition in a Combat Zone. I have a lot of information on amateur radio operations by folks in both Afghanistan and Iraq and I can use my own experience as well. Then I have to find an amateur radio club to give the talk to. Ideally I need to have all of this complete by the end of March.

…and #1. That is the hardest, in my opinion. Knowing the challenge of this particular requirement, our instructors are allowing us to get credit if we are able to call and get on a radio talk show. This interpretation makes the requirement a little less severe. Now I have to find a radio talk show to call. There are several here in the Kansas City area that I am scoping out:
KCUR: Up To Date
KMBZ: Shanin & Parks

I also found some great advise on how to be prepared before I call at both NPR and KCUR.

Wish me luck.

A Sunday In November

Temperatures have dropped here in eastern Kansas, off the Missouri and Platte Rivers. Morning temps are getting down to the high teens but we’ve had generally clear skies – so no snow yet.

Been having a problem with my Toyota Tundra. I had the shocks replaced about two months ago, but I am still having a suspension issues. Often when I drive over uneven pavement I hear a type of popping or low banging. I’m dropping the truck off tomorrow morning at a garage in town and I hope they identify and fix the problem.

I popped the first cap on the KC Ale this past Thursday. One word: Tasty! I was so happy with the results that I brought in a 12-pack to distribute to my small group at CGSC. We will see what kind of feed back I get tomorrow. The KC Ale batch has a great cooper color, medium head, slight hoppy aroma. The taste is crisp and smooth, no off-flavors.

The California Common batch went into secondary fermentation last Tuesday (18 NOV). I’ll try to get it bottled up this coming Wednesday (26 NOV). Then it should be ready for a first by 11 DEC… a good day to celebrate my last night class for this term.

While the CGSC program here at Fort Leavenworth is considered a Masters-level program, it does not award a degree at graduation (unlike the Navy’s program in Monterey or the Air Force in Alabama). Therefore, in order to get a masters, I signed up to take two night classes a week and then by graduation I’ll get the degree. It is a bit of pain now, but this is really the only opportunity I am going to get to earn a master’s degree.

Back to beer: I need to get crackin’ and cook up the batch of Raspberry Wheat. If I am able to get it into primary fermentation today, I should be able to hit secondary fermentation by next Sunday (30 NOV) and then bottle by 14 DEC. It should be nice and tasty by New Year’s Eve.

I need to put together a sample pack for my Team Jedi brethren (Team Jedi are the fine folks I spent my last year in Iraq with). So it looks like the pack will consist of ESB, KC Ale, California Common, and the Raspberry Wheat.

I’ve also had a request from the 7-land Inbound QSL Bureau back in Oregon. I received an email from Marc, NC7M, who let me know I had 200+ QSL cards headed my way. I need to also replenish my postal funds for the bureau. And next week – I will answer all the YI9MI QSL card request that I have… which is quite a significant pile.

Megaphone Diplomacy

We get many interesting guest speakers at the Command & General Staff College (CGSC)… and a few that aren’t so interesting. However, today we had the privileged of hearing the Deputy Supreme Allied Command Europe (aka the 2nd in-command at NATO). General Sir John Chalmers McColl is from the British Army and has served in Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. His main point was NATO is not just a military organization, but also (and most importantly) a political organization. Every decision (if made at all) is a compromise. And like all political decisions, the best way to reach a compromise is through face-to-face discussions, rather than through the media. He noted that “Megaphone Diplomacy” was more often than not counterproductive – that it usually ended in the recipient nation’s public opinion turning further against whatever issue was attempting to be pressed.
An example might be how the US has pressed in a public forum that our NATO partners need to send more combat troops to Afghanistan. Attempting to address this issue through the media or other public forums will not, in the end, result in the desired outcome of getting the commitment of more troops. The best way to gain results is to work with each country and take advantage of what resources they’re willing to provide. Overall, public opinion in the other NATO countries is against sending forces to Afghanistan. The US needs to understand this – and also understand it is not something we are going to change.
We’ve had some other great speakers within the last three months: the President of Uganda who gave an excellent talk about how to wage an insurgency, GEN Petraeus, and Dr. P. W. Singer. Dr. Singer is from the Brookings Institute and spoke about the role of the contractor and the military – he was probably the best guest speaker we’ve had. We also had a panel of reporters that included Noah Shachtman from Wired magazine. Noah represented the new media: blogs.

The Columbus Day Surprise


My Dell Mini arrived! I’m using it for this entry. I like it so far, but there are draw backs. The keyboard is tiny. Performance is a bit slugish, but it plays video without issue. I’ve been able to configure it to access my network drives, that went fairly well (… once I remembered the Linux commands).

It is small! And light weight. So far the battery is doing well. The screen is sharp and the speakers are pretty loud when you crank them up. There’s an SD card reader on the side. I also opted for the webcam, which seems to work nicely.

Now I need to stop procrastinating and write my history paper that’s due tomorrow. :-)

Fabulous Friday

We had an offsite for class this morning at the Santa Fe Station in downtown Leavenworth, KS. Great breakfast and great discussion.

I’ve got the wort in the bucket, should be done with primary fermentation in a day or two. This was the first time I had a hydrometer and I need to figure out how to use it. I’ve got to get a good bottle count. I have about a dozen with the rubber seal and stopper. I think I may need to get new rubber seals.

I have to decide if I want to do a secondary fermentation with the carboy.

I turned on the HF rig briefly and heard stateside stations talking with a station on Guantanamo. Then I heard a familiar voice, K4STW, Stew in Virginia Beach. Stew probably doesn’t remember me, but we chatted now and again on the 2M repeaters in Hampton Roads. It was great to hear his voice.

I got Ubuntu working with my Linksys print server. This will make my life much easier.

Looks like we’ll have good weather this weekend.

Back in the saddle

I -finally- got my HF rig working here at the Kansas QTH.

Since arriving here back in July, I’ve been super busy. School (the Army’s Command & General Staff College (CGSC)) kicked in at the beginning of August. The last formal schooling I had was eight years ago – so I was a bit rusty at getting into the swing of things (i.e. reading, reading… and more reading). I’m also taking a complementarity master’s degree program in International Relations through Webster University (two nights a week). The good news is I was able to talk the XYL into taking the master’s courses with me. The bad news is that sometimes the master’s stuff chews up more time than my school work for CGSC.

CGSC can be intense. September was packed with wall-to-wall learning, usually from 0830 to at least 1530. The schedule is starting to lighten up a bit.

Today I was able catch my breath a bit… out of class at 1130. The sun was shining, a beautiful day. I had some antenna maintenance to do. A little bit of time on the roof and the majority of my HF problems were fixed. I’m now up on HF, except for 80M. I think a little work on my counterpoise will fix that.

Back in the basement (aka The Scud Bunker) I hooked up my Icom IC-7000 to the new and improved HF antenna – bingo… all the problems I was experiencing in the past were gone. A QSO with KC2PBX, Pierre on Long Island, NY on 20M and then TI8II from Costa Rica on 17M, later with Ray, W1RAA from Tampa, FL. It felt good having some HF QSOs. I did a little more work with my station setup; hooking up the RIGtalk and RIGblaster Plug&Play. There’s more work to do and I should have time later in the week.

Other news:
- I’m switching from Windows to Ubuntu Linux. I WILL NOT UPGRADE FROM XP TO VISTA. Vista is a tool of the devil and I will have no part of it. My Toshiba laptop has been dual boot between XP and Ubuntu for a while, but had rarely been using the Ubuntu. I ordered a Dell Mini 9 (very tiny netbook) to help with school (writing papers in the library rather than goofing off in the Scud Bunker). The Dell Mini is coming with Ubuntu pre-loaded. Sweet. The next step will be setting up one of my towers as an Ubuntu server. Goodbye Microsoft.
- I’ve gone Kindle. Both the XYL and myself have the Amazon Kindle. I like it a lot better than my Sony eBook. Getting the Washington Post first thing every morning is great. The battery life is a little to be desired. The best part is that I can read KE9V’s blog right on my Kindle.

Ok – back to the books. I will get better at making frequent updates here.