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MARS Volunteers Reach Out to Amateur Community to Test Interoperability


The Army and Air Force branches of the Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS) merged their long-distance radio networks in late October for a 48-hour Department of Defense-sponsored contingency communications exercise. The MARS volunteers provided communication support in the wake of a simulated disruption to the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure. In addition to passing message traffic for the Defense Department (DoD), the scenario for the October 27-28 exercise also required MARS stations to interface with the Department of Homeland Security Shared Resources — or SHARES — HF network. The plan also called for MARS members —  using their Amateur Radio call signs and operating on amateur frequencies — to establish two-way communication with Amateur Radio emergency Service (ARES) leadership or members in as many US counties as possible.

“During the exercise, MARS Headquarters tasked MARS members to reach out to ARES and Amateur Radio operators in as many counties across the US as possible, using amateur HF as well as VHF and UHF frequencies,” explained Army MARS Program Manager, Paul English, WD8DBY. According to English, preliminary results showed that MARS-to-Amateur Radio contacts were made with approximately one-half of the more than 3000 US counties. Direct radio contacts with Amateur Radio operators or contacts made via an Amateur Radio net during the 48-hour exercise were counted as county contacts, he said.

Planning for this particular portion of the MARS exercise began in late September between English and ARRL Emergency Preparedness Manager Mike Corey, KI1U. English said the Defense Department and MARS intend to continue developing this relationship with the Amateur Radio community for future MARS exercises.

“This communications exercise [was] sponsored by the DoD to provide MARS operators the opportunity to develop and train interoperability procedures with their state/local ARES Emergency Coordinators and their Amateur Radio colleagues,” English explained.

Army MARS Chief Stephen Klinefelter said Army and Air Force MARS are “looking for efficiencies” in how the two MARS organizations conduct their national nets, and that the October exercise offered “a perfect venue to test out this new relationship.” Air Force MARS Chief Dave Stapchuk called the joint exercise “the first step toward demonstrating that we can be truly interoperable in support of our mission and the DoD.”



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