Photo of USTDC courtesy of Les Duffin

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

MARS and Explorers

A few days ago I posted some comments from Jim Petretta, who operated the Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS) in Taipei. He later mentioned to me that he started an Explorer post in Taipei with an emphasis on ham radio. Today this program for senior scouts is called Venturing, but the basic goal of providing a program of interest to young men in ages 14 through 20 remains.

Here are some of Jim's comments regarding those experiences:

I had some scouting experience of my own as a kid, so Sergeant Major Brickman of HHC asked me to start an Explorer Scout group that his son could join. Our focus was on Ham Radio. We did take a couple of camping trips with other Scouts somewhere, but I can't honestly remember where it was. We spent most of our time playing with radios and learning about different kinds of transmissions, frequencies and antennas.

I designed a cubical-quad antenna and the kids built it. I also designed the tower it went on, but Maj Barnum had the Corps of Engineers actually build that atop the MARS Station on Grass Mountain (after it relocated down slope from Gold Mountain).

The historic part of this was that during the Sino-American Scout Jamboree, our kids received a permit from the government to operate a ham radio from the Jamboree site. It was a first-ever, because of communication restrictions on their own people, and I even remember them posting a ROC military guard by our exhibit. That same cubical quad permitted emergency communication for our evacuation of Embassy personnel and their families out of Vietnam by being able to communicate directly with the embassy and boats in the harbor waiting for helicopter drops of evacuees. The drama of that entire two-day nonstop episode is indelibly printed in my mind. The roller-coaster emotional highs and lows of rescuing some, and losing some, and rescuing more was just mind-boggling. I handled much of the two-day communications and Major Barnum handled the rest. He kept saying, "Focus on the living."

MARS also served once as emergency communication for Vice President Rockefeller when he visited during Chiang Kai-shek's funeral. I did not get to handle that communication. Major Barnum took over my MARS station because of the classified nature of those communications. Remember, I had the only known direct High Frequency Radio Communication with a Ham Station in San Antonio. For me, it was big, even though I got left out, because it was made possible by my work with the Scouts.

By the way, we did not have normal scouting uniforms. The guys wore the greenish khaki scouting pants with bowling-type shirts one of the mothers designed for our Explorer Scouts. Even I had one, but I don't exactly remember what they looked like now. Hoping, some of it will come back with these memory tours.

No comments: