Tag Archives: sams

4th of July

I have been here in Korea for just over two weeks and am settling in at Camp Red Cloud, located north of Seoul. I think I’ve done a poor job in the blog of laying out the last month and half in which there has obviously been some significant changes in what I am doing.

On May 20th, I graduated from the School of Advanced Military Studies, culminating my two years at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, knee deep in graduate-level text books and Army field manuals. One of the requirements for graduation was to write a monograph on a military subject. I choose to write on the early history of MARS prior to World War II, when it was known as the Army Amateur Radio System (AARS). During this years Hamvention at Dayton, I had the opportunity to present the paper and I am pretty happy on how it all came together. No significant research had ever been done on early MARS history so I spent the majority of my research combing through primary sources and even conducting a few interviews with the few remaining former members of the AARS. If you have an interest in MARS, the history of radio in the Army, or the origins and organization of radio emergency communications, the paper is available here at no cost. One facet to the history of the AARS that I found intriguing was the relationship that grew between the AARS and the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. The ARRL recently posted a short article I wrote on the subject and you can see it here if you are interested.

My assignment following school was to Korea with the 2nd Infantry Division. To actually get there, I elected to take a less typical means of transportation for part of the journey. I decided to take Amtrak from Kansas City to Seattle, where I would board a government contract flight to Seoul. I had ridden trains quite a bit in Europe, but never had taken a train for more than a short distance in the United States. I had also recently read Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service, A Year Spent Riding Across America by James McCommons. If you are interested in passenger rail travel, enjoy a good road trip, or would like to know why train travel fell victim to the car culture, you will enjoy this book. The author, James McCommons, travels all the primary Amtrak routes (with mixed experiences) and talks with US rail movers and shakers around the country. Overall, he said Amtrak was good and getting better. I decided to see for myself.

One of the countries more historic and picturesque routes is that travelled by the California Zephyr. Originating in Chicago, the train traces its way west, climbing through the Rockies west of Denver and on to the Sierra Nevada’s an into California, terminating near San Francisco. My folks still live where I grew up near San Jose, so California was great for a stop over. I could then take Amtrak’s Coast Starlight from San Jose through Northern California, central Oregon through Eugene and Portland, then on to Seattle.

The train ride west was wonderful and I did write a post about it. The stop over in California was a lot of fun. Arriving during the early evening of Thursday, June 10th, I was able to get some sleep and meet my dad for some QRP portable field operations. We headed up to the Santa Cruz Mountains, above Saratoga, strung up a 40m dipole and had fun playing with my FT-817 and KX1. Although we didn’t achieve any great DX contacts, it was a great time. Saturday morning we headed over to a local monthly hamfest known as the Electronics Flea Market @ De Anza College. De Anza College is a little known junior college which has overseen the growth of Silicon Valley. Although I did not find anything I couldn’t live without, I enjoyed roaming around and seeing what the vendors had.

Before lunch, we headed over to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. Founded in 1999, the museum opened long after I had left the Bay Area. Very cool museum!

Then it was back to the train station in San Jose and I hopped on the Coast Starlight and headed north. The train ride was relaxing with some amazing scenery.

I spent Sunday night in Seattle and caught a shuttle bus on Monday to SEATAC. Flying with AMC can be an experience and differs from a commercial flight. The AMC counter was located at the far end of the international terminal and I joined a long line of guys with short haircuts and heavy, canvas green bags. Although I had to check in at 7:00pm, the flight wasn’t scheduled to board until 1am. They didn’t pack the flight, so there was a little elbow room. Instead of flying directly to Korea, our route would take us to Anchorage, followed by Yakota (near Tokyo) and then Osan Airbase in Korea. We got to Anchorage, deplaned for fueling, reboarded and then sat for three hours. Apparently the weather was bad over Japan, so we were held over for about 24 hours in Anchorage. I had been stationed in Alaska during 1993-1994 and it was nice to see that midnight sun again (sunset at 11:30pm with sunrise at 4:30am).

From Anchorage to Japan with a short layover and then on to Korea. The rest of the story is here.

And on the amateur radio side of things… My equipment is here. I shipped over my Icom IC-7000 for HF and a Kenwood TM-D710A to use with my EchoIRLP node. Also on the way is a Davis Vantage Vue weather station that I hope to get on line and on APRS. I need to get my Korean license and have all the necessary paperwork. Just need to get it turned in now. There is a monthly hamfest in Seoul next Sunday that I am going to try an attend – that should be an experience and I will have to bring my camera.

Have you been enjoying Jeff’s new podcast at KE9V.net? Cornbread Road is a Jeff at his best, weaving a tale of mystery and amateur radio in the heartland.

I will endeavor to keep my blog up to date with posts about my experiences here in Korea.

Army Amateur Radio System

I am closing in on the end of my research concerning the history of MARS, focusing on the early years when the organization was known as the Army Amateur Radio System (AARS). I choose this as a research topic because no one has ever written a thorough history of MARS.

Dr. Paul A. Scipione, AA2AV, wrote MARS: Calling Back To ‘The World’ From Vietnam (The History of Military Affiliate Radio Systems Operations During the Vietnam War) which was published back in 1994. This hard to find book was truly a labor of love for Dr. Scipione, who had served as a soldier and MARS operator during the Vietnam War. He conducted countless interviews with soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and civilians who were involved in MARS during the length of the US involvement in Vietnam. He also conducted some initial research concerning the early days of MARS, prior to WWII. The majority of his research concerning MARS early history was done at Fort Monmouth, NJ, the location of the US Army’s Signal Corps School from pre-World War I to post-World War II. His primary source was QST which reflects a very ARRL flavored version of the AARS history. Army MARS currently uses an abbreviated version of Scipione’s history on their website:

In November, 1925, the Army Amateur Radio System (AARS) was initiated by a few dedicated pioneers in the United States Army Signal Corps led by Capt. Thomas C. Rives. His original intention was to enlist the talents of volunteer Amateur Radio operators as a source to train Soldiers in the then new technology of radio as well as pursuing radio research and development to improve radio equipment within the Army. His efforts were very successful.

This organization continued until the United States entry into World War II, at which time radio Amateurs were denied the use of the air. Therefore, the activities of AARS, as it was known, were suspended until 1946 when, once again, AARS was allowed to go back on the air. During the years 1925 through 1942, the AARS functioned more or less as an extra curricular activity of the U. S. Army Signal Corps, its scope being necessarily limited by the meager budget of the pre-World War II depression years. The best available figures indicate that as of the 7th of December, 1941, there were approximately 60,000 FCC licensed Amateurs within the United States and its possessions. Some 5600 of those Amateurs were members of the AARS. About 20% of the pre-World War II AARS members eventually entered the service of their country either in the Army or in a civilian capacity. The U. S. Army recognized the great importance of reactivating the AARS to train vitally needed communications personnel at a relatively inexpensive direct cost to the U.S. government. Therefore, in 1946, the AARS was reactivated and functioned as such until the creation of the Military Amateur Radio System in 1948, later renamed the Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS) with Army MARS and the newly formed Air Force MARS reflecting the creation of the Air Force as a separate service. In early 1963, the Navy-Marine Corps MARS was established.

From my research: AARS was officially constituted in November 1925, although the seeds for the organization had been planted a few years earlier. Both the ARRL and the Signal Corps had different motives for the founding of AARS. The ARRL was looking to affiliate with a government organization in order to ensure the radio amateurs continued to have the freedom to use the airwaves. Coming out of WWI, the ARRL was blindsided by the US Navy when it initially made a grab at permanently taking control of the radio spectrum. The ARRL proved to be an effective lobby and successfully persuaded Congress to maintain the status quo of the Radio Act of 1912, which gave the radio amateur his on-air privileges. The next fight was against commercial interests as broadcast radio skyrocketed in popularity. The ARRL knew that by affiliating with the Army, they could clearly justify the radio amateur’s continued access to the ham bands.

In the early 1920s, the Signal Corps was attempting to stand up a near-global radio system which came to be known as the War Department Radio Net. The hub of the net was based out of the Washington D.C. area and the other major nodes were located in each one of the nine corps areas.

This net grew to include Alaska, Hawaii, the Panama Canal Zone, and the Philippine Islands. The Army lacked a large number of radio operators and soon faced budgetary and personnel cuts in the mid-1920s. Additionally, the Army was also looking at long term requirements. They realized the time required to draft and train the amount of radio operators that would be required for a major mobilization would be prohibitive. The Army viewed an affiliation with the ARRL and the American radio amateur as a possible solution to their short and long term manning issues.

While CPT Rives was stationed at Fort Monmouth during this period and a very active radio amateur, he was not the driving force behind the creation of AARS. The Army never saw the radio amateur as an asset to be used in helping with training at the Signal School. The Signal School was very progressive in its implementation of radio innovations and heavily leveraged the faculty at nearby MIT for technical assistance in addition to the school’s military staff.

Between 1925 and 1941, AARS was successful in training many amateur radio operators in Signal Corps procedure. Participation in AARS nets trained the radio amateurs in use of Army ciphers, how to pass message traffic, and net procedure. AARS members often provided aid during natural disasters, providing a link between local, state, and the national government. During the 1930s, AARS frequently teamed with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps to provide a radio link. The MARSGrams that became very familiar to soldiers during Vietnam can be traced back to the support provided members of the CCC sending messages back home. During the summer of 1941 as the US Army began its expansion for the coming war, AARS members operated directly from Army camps in order to pass messages from the soldiers back to their families.

While the Army had done an excellent job at training the AARS in Army communication procedures, it never was able to formally place the AARS members in any type of reserve status were they could be called up to active duty. No organized system was used to track membership and no plan was made to attempt to draft the AARS members into the Signal Corps. The AARS membership figure of 5600 is not accurate. Active membership during 1941 was at ~1200 with about 2000 inactive members.

The day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, AARS evaporated. Members were encouraged to join the Army and promised placement in the Signal Corps. Compliance with this request was not universal. Not immediately seeing a use for AARS in a civil defense roll was shortsighted. The AARS could have served as a basis upon which to build the Wartime Emergency Radio System (WERS). Instead, the organization was scraped and it was hoped that they would seek placement in the Army.

Radio amateurs served in the US military in large numbers, but the vast majority were never prior members of AARS. National Guard units had consistently leveraged the use of radio amateurs who were members of their units to perform radio communication functions. For those radio amateurs drafted into the Army, their placement in a radio position was not assured.

AARS, during its existence, was a truly valuable organization – not an extra-curricular activity for the Signal Corps. Had the Army better managed the program and personnel, they would have derived much more benefit from the organization while on a wartime footing.

In addition to using QST as a source, I also used The Signal Corps Bulletin which was the professional journal of the Signal Corps up until 1940. The Signal Corps Bulletin provided a great deal of insight from the Army perspective concerning AARS, their development, and interaction with the CCC, National Guard, and the rest of the Army.

I continue to write my paper and am hoping to have a solid draft by next Friday. I am going to take the history a bit further – to just after the reconstitution of AARS as MARS in 1949 and then follow MARS up to 1953. If you are trying to find me in the coming days, chances are I’ll be at the Fort Leavenworth library, swimming in my notes as I try to tell the story of MARS in about 50 pages.

Chasing MARS…

I’m continuing my research of piecing together the history of MARS starting back from the early days of the Army Amateur Radio System (AARS). The process of research is as enjoyable as the information I’m digging up.

- Jeff, KE9V, had a post on his blog the other day that featured a humorous cartoon of different styles of keying and he sited it from a 1952 MARS Bulletin. The “MARS Bulletin” reference caught my eye, because I had not yet heard that there was such a bulletin. Additionally, the time frame of the bulletin in 1952 was near the time when MARS had been reincarnated from the ashes of the pre-WWII AARS. Jeff said he had got the picture from Dr. Kristen Haring’s book Ham Radio’s Technical Culture, published back in 2006. I contacted Dr. Haring (she’s a professor at Auburn University) and asked if she could provide me any additional information on the MARS Bulletin. Dr. Haring told me that she had accessed the MARS Bulletin while conducting research at both the Library of Congress and Columbia University’s library. She also recommended a search tool called WorldCat to help locate copies of the MARS Bulletin nearby. WorldCat is a great tool (it would have been helpful to have had this earlier on in my research) and I was able to locate copies of the Bulletin at the Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering and Technology located in nearby Kansas City (with the next closest source at Indiana University which is some distance away). The library here at Fort Leavenworth is top notch – its official title being the Combined Arms Research Library.

But I am sometimes surprised that they lack items like the MARS Bulletin. Tomorrow I will head down to Kansas City and see if the MARS Bulletin can help explain why MARS was resurrected after WWII and what was the military’s intended mission for the organization.

- Following another lead for QST, I found a letter to the editor in the October 1998 issue from a gentleman by the name of Robert Gabardy, K4TJ. In the letter, Mr. Gabardy explained how he was part of a team which formed to bring MARS back to life back in 1949 and explained how they arrived a the new name for the organization. I was able to contact the retired Lieutenant Colonel Robert Gabardy, who served in the US Army for a period of over 23 years and is a veteran of WWII. He was able to give me a bit more background and also agreed to respond to some additional questions that I am developing.

- My last hot lead comes from another QST letter to the editor from the June 1998 issue that had caused LTC Gabardy to write in. This letter was from George Hart, W1NJM, a former staff member of ARRL… but also a former member of the AARS and also an Army veteran of WWII. From what I can tell now, Mr. Hart is in a retirement facility in Connecticut. I am going to try to reach him tomorrow and see if I can conduct a telephone interview with him. He would be an amazing source of information into how AARS functioned. I am particular interested in trying to determine why the US Army failed to directly draw from the pool of trained AARS operators to fill the ranks of the Signal Corps after Pearl Harbor. Equally confusing is why the Army didn’t maintain the organization to continue to fulfill its domestic responsibilities of acting as an auxiliary communications network. Instead AARS disintegrated within hours after Pearl Harbor, but only to be replaced later by the Wartime Emergency Radio Service (WERS).

I am hoping tomorrow will be a productive research day.

We’re Going To Disney World!

It has been a tough few weeks with multiple papers and writing assignments falling within a very small period of time. I kept my nose to the grind stone and with the hep of the XYL running interference to keep me away from distractions (amateur radio being one), I successfully finished all my work!
Yahoo!
Now we’re off to Disney World. The kids and I have never been before, so we are all really looking forward to the trip. We’ll be staying at one of the Disney World resorts and intend to have a complete blast. The XYL and I will have our HTs to stay in contact (I believe there is actually a 2M repeater at Disney) and I may even throw my Elecraft KX1 to see if I can scare up some HF QSOs.

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.