MARS Teams Remember D-Day With a Present-Day Purpose
For the second year in a row, hams in the Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS) have reached overseas to demonstrate interoperability in cross-border emergencies. The June 6-7 exercise also had a historical aspect — to commemorate the role of HF radio in the D-Day landings of 1944. Joining MARS stations in the US and Europe in the drill were the Canadian Forces Affiliate Radio System (CFARS) and units of the British Defence Ministry’s Combined Cadet Force. Replicating beachhead communications on D-Day, the operation called for using minimal power and simple wire antennas in a friendly competition to make the most contacts. Army MARS Headquarters Operations Officer David McGinnis, K7UXO, who created the drill scenario, dubbed it “Operation QRPX” — the “X” for “exercise.”
The drill reflected earlier barrier-breaking during the Normandy invasion 70 years ago. Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force deployed three “Joint Assault Signal Companies” (JASCOs) that pooled front-line ground, sea, and air communicators to support the three US landings.
“In the spirit of the JASCOs, this is a global, low-power exercise, using field equipment and antennas, open to military stations of each US military department, Allied military stations, and their respective military communications auxiliaries,” said the exercise order issued by Army MARS Headquarters in Arizona.
Army MARS Headquarters invited Allied military stations to join in two categories. One consisted of 20 W operation within North America and Europe; the other of stations running up to 100 W across the Atlantic. Participants were scored according to the number of contacts plus a bonus for making automatic link establishment (ALE) contacts.
A preliminary tabulation of 82 entries gave first place to Army MARS member David Bly, K7DTB, of Sierra Vista, Arizona, with 43.05 points. He was followed by T/Sgt Nathan Belanger of the Air National Guard’s 148th Air Support Operations Squadron, Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, with 35.7 points.
“I train our operations troops on HF comms, so I saw it as a great way to reinforce my knowledge and see what we could accomplish,” Belanger explained. “The exercise also served as great radio operations and communications etiquette training for the airman assisting me. Exercises like this really give practical training and understanding of how far HF can go.”
Although Army MARS Region 2 Director Dick Corp, W2WC, placed third with 33 points, one of his hits was a home run — a contact with military contractor Tim McFadden, KB2RLB/T6TM, in Kabul, Afghanistan. Corp was running 50 W and had used a bow and arrow to launch an inverted V into an 80 foot tree near Albany, New York. McFadden, in turn, bagged the American Embassy in Kuwait and one cadet station in the UK
Dan Wolff, KA7AGN/DL4VCW, operating with 50 W on emergency power near Spangdahlem Air Base in northwest Germany, logged a few contacts with stations operated by high school-aged British cadets, drawn from separate Army, Navy and RAF auxiliaries. “They were enthusiastic, professional, and demonstrated a high degree of radio discipline and skill,” said Wolff, who had briefly coached them on MARS procedures. “We look forward to future opportunities to interoperate with them.”
A year ago in the auxiliary’s first outreach operation, Army MARS provided the HF link between the US Pacific Command in Hawaii and indigenous amateurs in remote Nepal. That exercise, which involved a simulated earthquake disaster requiring relief assistance from American military forces, was conducted by the US-sponsored Multinational Interoperability Communications Program (MCIP). Some two dozen Asia-Pacific military establishments pool resources in the MCIP, sharing a humanitarian mission. A second MCIP drill in the Asia-Pacific region is expected to follow in August. The organization was established after the 2004 tsunami that killed upward of 230,000 people in countries bordering the Indian Ocean. Tangled communications were a problem during relief efforts, and the MCIP has met annually to coordinate frequencies and procedures to address future calamities.
In 2012 the MCIP checked the feasibility for Amateur Radio to interoperate with military circuits. Based on the successful outcome, Army MARS was invited conduct a communications exercise last year with one of the most isolated countries, Nepal, which has a history of disastrous earthquakes. Two amateurs in Kathmandu, Sanjeeb Panday, 9N1SP, and Satish Krishna Kharel, 9N1AA, transmitted simulated distress traffic that was copied by McFadden in Kabul, who relayed it to Wolff in Germany for posting on the Pacific Command’s online network for civil emergency operations.