Tag Archives: emergency communications

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.

Ham Radio – Alive & Well In America’s Heartland

For me the past few days have been busy with amateur radio activity of one kind or another. I spent some time last weekend fine tuning my horizontal loop antenna; spreading it out the loop a bit and raising it higher. I am still impressed by the antenna’s performance and look forward to using it for the remaining year I am here in Kansas.

I delivered my presentation on the history of Army hams operating abroad (WWII to OIF) and my own experiences operating amateur radio and MARS while recently serving over in Iraq to three different Kansas City area clubs this week (Tuesday, Thursday, Friday). In April, I gave the presentation to three other clubs – two in Missouri and one in Kansas. Overall, what impressed me the most concerning the club meetings I visited was the diversity and vibrancy of amateur radio in the Kansas City area. It is not just a bunch of OMs or converted CBers or EMCOMM devotees.

Last night I attended a meeting at the Johnson County Amateur Radio Club in Overland Park, KS. Not only was the meeting well attended (and we are talking about a Friday night before a major holiday weekend) but their were not only a number of YLs but also four teen-aged hams… one of which was Duncan MacLachlan, KU0DM, who is the ARRL’s Youth Editor and was featured prominently at last weeks Hamvention in Dayton on the ARRL weblog. Duncan had just concluded a years service to the club as its vice-president. This club also meets twice a month and has a 10M weekly net in addition to its 2M net.

On Tuesday I attended the meeting of the Heart of America Radio Club. The club conducts its operations out of the Red Cross headquarters in Kansas City. They had not only a wonderful club station on the top floor of the building with a impressive antenna farm on the roof but also operated 1 of the 12 Red Cross national communications support vehicles. The vehicle is a modified Ford Excursion with so many antennas on it I couldn’t count. It provides one stop shopping for any communication requirement from providing internet, VOIP phone, long-haul HF comms, phone patching, video, and an on-board cross-band repeater, as well as a generator that can power a medium-sized command post.

Thursday night I was out at the Jayhawk Amateur Radio Society meeting. Another vibrant club with a large turnout… in part due to the coffee and delicious cake offered up during the meeting’s intermission but also the true shared interest in amateur radio. The Jayhawkers gave me a super cool coffee mug with their logo on it at the conclusion of the meeting which will now become the official mug of my ham shack.

Bottom line (… and quickly becoming an often heard refrain), ham radio is alive and 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.

Era Of The Communicator

I enjoyed AB9RF and KE9Vs recent postings concerning the ending of the “era of the communicator” – I am a big fan of both blogs. Kelly (AB9RF) argues that to continue to attract new hams, we need to focus the image of ham radio not as a means to talk to far away place (as this can be accomplished with any cell phone) but as a means to explore the latest computer technology. I understand her point but disagree with her premise. The best refute is Dave Bushong’s blog 99 hobbies (although not updated recently). As the title of his blog indicates, ham radio is a multifaceted hobby… DX QSOs is just one element. Kelly further argues that the ham community is in danger of loosing some of its spectrum privileges if the community is mired in the past by an aging population of hams who have failed to contribute any innovation to the radio art in recent memory. D*Star, Echolink, WinLink2000, APRS, PSK31, and Olivia immediately come to mind. Look at usage of 2M repeaters in your area – chances are if you wanted to set a repeater up yourself, you couldn’t because all the bandwidth is already filled. As hams, we are communicators, we are innovators and ham radio is what we make of it. Unfortunately, I’d say the key argument to maintaining our amateur spectrum is not in innovation but in disaster and emergency communications support. Now I am not an orange-vest wearing, special badge and whoopy-lights on the top of my truck guy… but from my perspective, emcomm has earned us respect from the general public in the past (… just look at Katrina). I for one am glad there is a devoted following of hams who support emcomm, although I do not fall in that category. I do believe that all hams must maintain a basic capability to use their equipment to provide support in an emergency…. nothing fancy, just the basic ability to pass traffic or relay a message. But I truly believe that the hobby will continue to survive due to the vast variety that is available to we hams, the practitioners of the radio arts. The ionosphere’s the limit… oh, no wait – now you can reach out to the Sun as well.

A few updates from the shack….

Scouts: received my Radio Merit Badge pamphlet in the mail today. Between the pamphlet and web resources, I want to put together a course package for the merit badge. One of the gentlemen I work with has a son who is interested in pursuing the Radio Merit Badge… so I need to get crackin’.

Army MARS: put in an application for Army MARS. The VA state rep told me it will be a couple weeks before I get my MARS callsign and initial training information.

US Army Amateur Radio Society: picked up a few more members. need to make contact with the Iraqi folks to check on the status of the pending YI9 applications.

DX: made contact with one of the newest DXCC entity… Montenegro! The YU6AO Montenegro DXpedition team now has a Web page at http://www.yu6ao.info/ and a log search at http://www.yu6ao.info/log.html … I’m in the log!

eBay: purchased an ASTATIC D-104 microphone. Should be a fun project adapting it for use with my IC-706MKIIG.

Local ham swap: made a deal to purchase a SB-220 Heathkit HF Linear Amplifier! This should give me a little more motivation to improve my antenna situation. Also need to acquire an antenna tuner.

Lighthouse QSL cards: finished my QSL cards for the Bodie Island Lighthouse (USA-062) and the Currituck Beach Lighthouse (USA-212) activations. Some of the Currituck Beach contacts are getting a North Carolina lighthouse key chain/compass/thermometer. Tried to get those to fellow ARLHS members.

W4M Special Event Station QSL cards/certificates: everyone who had sent me a SASE has been sent a QSL card (and certificate if they provided a large envelope).

SkyWarn Net: checked into the Chesapeake Amateur Radio Service (CARS) SkyWarn Net. They had made recent improvements to their repeater and have greatly expanded the coverage.

VA Digital Emergency Network

This site is dedicated to the people providing emergency and backup communications in VA using Amateur Radio Digital modes. This is done by amateur radio operators on their own time and at their own expense as a public service to their communities and the state. VDEN supports both ARES and RACES operations. The primary 1200 baud frequencies are 145.73 and 446.075 with the UHF used as a backbone and forwarding frequency whenever possible. 441.050 (9600bps) is used for high speed connections from the greater Fredericksburg area, to the VA EOC and on down to the greater Tidewater area. Any frequency may be used for local operations but a link to 145.73, 441.050 or 446.075 is a must for relaying messages to the VA EOC. Keyboarding should NEVER be used during an activation or drill on 145.73! The ability of keyboarding to literally bring a network to a halt is as well known as is the infamous “dead carrier” that pops up during drills and activations. We also have Pactor operations as needed. When the network is not operating under a activation or drill, it functions as a normal statewide network. The term “network” is used to describe the emergency communications package that VDEN brings to Virginia. If you want to join the private, no spam, VDEN list server for system updates and information, please send me an message with your name and callsign. I also operate APRS using UI-View and AF MARS Digital stations to provide additional ECOM (emergency communications) support as needed. The VDEN mindset is that you can never have too many assets in times of ECOM needs!

On the same wavelength

December 04,2005
BY JANNETTE PIPPIN View stories by reporter
DAILY NEWS STAFF

NEWPORT – When the National Weather Service opened its office in Newport 12 years ago, head meteorologist Tom Kriehn was quick to get to know the area’s amateur radio operators.

Kriehn knew they would be a valuable asset in providing severe weather information from the field.

“They have a long history around the country of working with the National Weather Service,” he said.

Not all storm spotters are hams but the combination of a spotter trained in communications is an ideal situation for forecasters, who count on real-time reports to help warn the public of severe weather such as tropical storms and tornadoes.

“The best spotters you can get are those who are also communicators; people in the field who can communicate back to us in a hurry,” Kriehn said.

That makes the ham radio community a big part of the Skywarn program, a network of people that report severe weather to local NWS offices.

To show its appreciation to the amateur radio operators in its 15-county operation area, the National Weather Service office in Newport participated in the SKYWARN Recognition Day held Saturday around the country.

It was an informal opportunity for the radio operators to gather and for the meteorologists to say thanks.

“No matter how good the technology is, nothing beats a pair of human eyes to tell you what is going on,” said meteorologist Hal Austin, who is also a ham radio operator.

Austin said spotter reports provide information on everything from hail size and wind damage to flooding and tornados. It corroborates and details what is being seen on weather service radar.

“It helps us confirm what we think is going on and helps us get that information out to the public,” Austin said.

For the ham radio operators, it’s an opportunity to put the skills they know to use to help others.

“It’s an opportunity to be able to help out, to help our neighbors and everyone in the area,” said Eric Christensen of Greenville.

Christensen was presented with a certificate of appreciation for developing a Skywarn Web site for the Newport district. Bill Sanford, the Skywarn emergency coordinator for the Newport district, was recognized for providing the weather service office with technical assistance in updating its ham radio equipment.

Ken Ball of Morehead City accepted a certificate on behalf of the entire Skywarn network for the area.

Ball, who has had his ham radio license for 14 years, said there’s a public service aspect to amateur radio that extends beyond just storm spotting.

Ball said radio operators are a major part of emergency response and disaster recovery efforts as well because they are often the only communication available when phones and other conventional communications go down.

It was seen recently during the catastrophic Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and right here at home several years ago when Hurricane Isabel disabled communications in Carteret County’s down east communities.

Ball said ham radio operators provided communication between down east canteens operated by the Salvation Army and response workers in other parts of the county.

Bernard Nobles, section emergency coordinator for ham radio operators in North Carolina, said amateur radio is the back up communication for public service agencies such as emergency management offices in the state, the National Weather Service, and groups like the Salvation Army and Red Cross.

Contact staff writer Jannette Pippin at jpippin@freedomenc.com or by calling (252) 808-2275.

Ideas for a GO kit

As amateurs involved with emergency communications we typically think of a go kit as one containing the essentials we need to set up a mobile field station. In light of the events of the past week I thought I would preach to the choir.

When preparing your communication go kit also prepare a utility kit for yourself and each member of the family. The kit should include everything you would need to leave the area you are in and move to a safe environment.

At a minimum include the following:

- Two LED Flashlights & spare batteries
- Comfortable shoes, hiking boots
- Extra heavy socks and Underwear
- Long pants and a long sleeve shirt
- Spare prescription glasses / contacts
- Sun glasses
- Gloves, windbreaker and rain poncho
- Power bars or similar food stuff for 4 days
- Bottled Water for 4 days (bare minimum 20oz per day)
- Portable AM/FM/TV band Radio & spare batteries
- Family contact & rendezvous plan, prepaid calling card
- Personal Hygiene Items (Purell, etc.)
- Small first aid kit
- Swiss Army Knife
- OTC & prescription meds, copies of prescriptions
- Twenty to thirty dollars in cash and coins
- Three or four tall plastic kitchen bags

Although the list is extensive it is not all encompassing. The object is to have a kit that contains the essentials you need to migrate to a safe location and sustain yourself and family members for a minimum of four days following a disaster.

Everything listed above can fit into a medium size backpack which can be picked up quickly as you leave your house, office or other location when an evacuation is ordered. Use the tall plastic kitchen bags to protect the contents of the backpack from water infiltration. Keep it in the trunk of your car, in your office or some other easily accessible location.

If we learn anything from the events of the past week it should be preparedness is not an option it is a necessity. A natural or man-made disaster can affect anyone, anytime, anywhere. Don’t become a statistic and don’t ever think “it cannot happen here”.

One last item, gasoline will not always be available during an evacuation so plan ahead. Ever since hurricane Agnes in ’72 and Gloria in ’85 I always have at minimum a half a tank of gas in all our vehicles. At 18 mpg including idle time you could travel at least 150 miles and in some cases as much as 180 miles on half a tank of gas.

…preparedness is not an option it is a necessity.

73, Joe
AJ3X

President
Baltimore Amateur Radio Club

Battery died again

I tried running PocketAPRS from the office without any luck. I’m in the middle of a second floor, not close to a window – and my building is surrounded by other brick buildings… so no real good line of sight. But all the fiddling around took its toll on the battery. After work I set the up the antenna, GPS, and radio – and after about five minutes I was out of juice.

RxPlus is now the software of choice for my TenTec RX-320. I’ve used probably a good half dozen different software programs, but RxPlus appears to top them all. It has a built in database function that allows you to pull up shortwave broadcasting schedules. Just one click and your listening to the BBC or Radio Havana. I was then tooling around the 20m SSB amateur radio band and ran across a SATERN net for Hurricane Rita. I could hear the net control very clearly… I wonder if he was in Chicago?

9pm… and time for the Hampton Roads Public Service Net on 146.97 MHz. Bruce, WB7OTQ, was net control and I got one of the two quiz questions correct. I usually cheat and look the answers up on the internet, but these two were tough… so it took some guessing.

SKYWARN

Tonight I attended a class to become a National Weather Service storm spotter under the SKYWARN program.

The training was held at the Newport News Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Joe Safranek, K4JJS, helped coordinate with the NWS to get one of their meteorologist from the Wakefield, VA office to conduct the class. There were a lot of hams there – coming from Williamsburg, Newport News, and Hampton. The training focused on severe weather – lightning, thunderstorms, hail, and tornadoes. I got to learn what conditions lead to forming a thunderstorm and how tornadoes are created. All in all, it was pretty interesting. I know have my Storm Spotter qualification and am suppose to contact the NWS at Wakefield if there is severe weather activity around where I live and work.

The ham radio piece comes in to play in case a big storm comes through and knocks out power and telephone lines. At that point, as weather spotters, we’d pass our reports over a local VHF repeater, which would then go to the NWS.