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MARS Leaders Mull Adopting New Training Approach, Upping Recruitment Game

09/02/2014

A new take on training and a growing role in global disaster relief were primary discussion topics at the Army Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS) leaders’ workshop August 24-26 in Arizona. Behind the official agenda, however, loomed an understated theme: MARS is seeking younger tech-oriented hams — or potential hams — and recently retired members of the military to join its corps of seasoned volunteer communicators. Army MARS Headquarters introduced a new national staff officer from the business world to head up that effort — Kurt Edelman, KF7PDV, of Willcox, Arizona.

“We discussed difficult issues, explored new ideas, and shared our successes and shortcomings,” Army MARS Program Officer Paul English, WD8DBY, said in summarizing the meeting. “At the end of the day we are stronger and more cohesive than ever.”

An official auxiliary within the US Department of Defense, MARS is formed of Amateur Radio operators who volunteer their time and equipment to support emergency communication in the event the Internet and telephone services are disrupted by natural or manmade disaster. The Army, Navy, and Air Force each have branches.

During the August gathering at Army MARS Headquarters station in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, 11 region directors plus national staff officers discussed an innovative instructional methodology, debated eliminating membership qualifications based solely on hours on the air, and pondered marking the auxiliary’s 90th anniversary next year with a vigorous recruiting drive.

It wasn’t all policy and planning, though. Juanita Portz, the senior contract operator, guided attendees through the battery of military-standard transceivers that continuously monitor MARS and regular Army frequencies for contingency traffic. The leaders checked into an Arizona net and got familiar with military radio models that may turn up on MARS nets down the road.

Edelman briefed leaders on an advanced instructional system that MARS now is eyeing as a possible replacement for current training and participation requirements. Known in the active Army as METL (for Mission-based Essential Task Lists), it replaces traditional generalized basic training with instruction in the specific tasks associated with an individual’s duty assignment, and only those. METL could require annual qualification in tasks rather than simply requiring personnel to accumulate a minimum number of hours served. A former vice president in charge of new technology at a Fortune 500 financial firm, Edelman leads a workgroup of region directors and trainers drafting a preliminary METL program, which he expects to deliver as early as 2015.

English addressed the overseas aspect of emergency response; he had deployed to Haiti after its catastrophic earthquake 4 years ago. His audiovisual report on a recent follow-up exercise was presented at the Global Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Conference (GAREC) in Huntsville, Alabama, August 14-15. It analyzed the successful results of Pacific Endeavor-14, a test of MARS stations’ ability to link with local hams during a disaster situation — in this case, a simulated earthquake in Nepal — and relay information back to responding military rescue forces. English described how US and Canadian operators used crowd sourcing to piece together messages garbled by poor propagation. MARS is in the process of adding humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to its mission statement.

Mark Jensen of US Northern Command, appearing by videoconference from his Colorado Headquarters, briefed the leaders on the major annual exercises staged by military units and state and local civil authorities to test joint operations.

Operations Officer David McGinnis, K7UXO, and electronics technician Tim Millea, AJ7UU, demonstrated the PRC-150 “manpack,” a 20 W, 12 pound HF rig. Army MARS Headquarters is acquiring PRC-150s for use by MARS training teams.

Wrapping up the meeting was preliminary discussion on commemorating the 90th anniversary of the Army’s invitation to the ARRL to partner in disaster communication. Although hams had collaborated with the Army and Navy during World War I, the Army-Amateur Radio System, launched in August 1925, was the first permanent amateur-government accord in the US. It became Army MARS after World War II, and independent Air Force and Navy-Marine Corps branches soon followed.

 



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