Army MARS Launches Summer School
School won't be out this summer for Army MARS members as they begin the second round of an intensive retraining program -- MARS 101 -- that begins July 5. The 12 week course is designed to align MARS procedures with the newly-revised National Incident Management System (NIMS), as well as the Army's own updated role in civil support. It will be delivered to members via e-mail; Army MARS personnel will also be required to participate in on-the-air discussions with other members in their respective states.
This is the second time the course -- which will run through October -- has been offered to Army MARS members. Some 750 members completed with first round with 96 percent of the participants passing the final exam in June. This second round is for members who were unable to enroll or who did not complete the first round.
Under the new membership requirements approved by Army MARS Chief Stu Carter last February, all members must pass the MARS 101 training cycle, as well as four FEMA courses. Carter further mandated that those members who also hold a Technician class Amateur Radio license must upgrade to General by April 1, 2010.
According to MARS Public Affairs Director Bill Sexton, N1IN/AAR1FP, a "Tiger Team" -- military jargon for a temporary special project group -- spent three months drafting a new long range plan for Army MARS under Carter's direction: "When that was approved, the seven authors -- who are all experienced volunteer members in the MARS field organization -- devised the MARS 101 course to put its provisions into immediate effect system-wide."
The weekly lesson topics range from the beginnings of MARS as a partnership between the Signal Corps and the ARRL back in 1925, to the modern Winlink e-mail-over-HF technology provided by Army MARS for the agencies it supports today. Interoperability with ARES®, RACES and other civil emergency response organizations is a focus throughout the training cycle.
Sexton said that the MARS 101 course represents a shift from traditional training methods to an interactive process. "This new way of training allows members to digest the course material at their own convenience and pace before joining nets where their understanding will be tested by on-air discussion," he said. "The course, with annual recertification, is mandated in the 2009 long range plan, Army MARS: The Road Ahead."
In a bulletin to Army MARS members, Chief Carter said he knows that "summer isn't ideal for a project of this magnitude, but circumstances simply don't permit postponement. Vacations or no vacations, I need the entire force on the same page without further delay. I am asking leaders and trainers to make every possible effort to adjust schedules for minimum impact on the attention you owe your family, your job and your health. If that means qualifying on a unit or two out of sequence, or assigning a mentor to help you catch up after a trip away from home, I want it taken care of. Please believe me: Neither MARS 101 nor any other Road Ahead mandate has the slightest motivation of 'thinning out' the Force -- I want and need all the fully qualified Army MARS members I can get. We need you all."