ETH058 – Military Auxiliary Radio Service(MARS)


Hello everybody and welcome back to the Everything Ham Radio Podcast! In this episode we are going to talk about Military Auxiliary Radio System(MARS), we talk about some upcoming events/contests and hamfests over the next two weeks and wrap it up with some news from around the hobby!

Tech Corner – Military Auxiliary Radio System(MARS)

What Is the Military Auxiliary Radio System(MARS)?

MARS is an US Department of Defense sponsored program established as a separately managed and operated program by the United States Army, and the United States Air Force. Up until September 30, 2015, there was also a MARS program in the Navy and Marines but those programs were terminated.

The program is a civilian auxiliary consisting primarily of licensed amateur radio operators who are interested in assisting the military with communications on a local, national, and international basis as an adjunct to normal communications. The MARS programs also include active duty, reserve, and National Guard units; Navy, Marine Corps, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ships, and Coast Guard cutters and shore stations.

MARS has a long history of providing worldwide auxiliary emergency communications during times of need. The combined two-service MARS programs (Army, and Air Force), volunteer force of over 3,000 dedicated and skilled amateur radio operators provide the backbone of the MARS program. The main benefit of MARS membership is enjoying the amateur radio hobby through an ever-expanding horizon of MARS service to the nation. MARS members work by the slogan “Proudly serving those who serve”.


The organization that led to the Military Auxiliary Radio System was called the Auxiliary Amateur Radio System (AARS). AARS was created in November 1925 by a few dedicated pioneers in the United States Army Signal Corps led by Captain Thomas C. Rives. His original intent was to enlist the talents of volunteer amateur radio operators who could train soldiers in the then-new technology of radio, as well as pursuing radio research and development to improve radio equipment within the Army. This support would be particularly useful during the mobilization of forces by providing a pool of trained radio operators. Their efforts were successful, and the present-day MARS program is the direct descendant of the work of those early pioneers.

Between 1925 and 1941, the AARS continued to operate and functioned more or less as an extracurricular activity for members of the Army Signal Corps, with its scope limited by budget cuts during the Great Depression. The AARS organization continued to operate until the United States entry into World War II on 7 December 1941, at which time radio amateurs were denied the use of the airwaves, and the amateur service and the Army Amateur Radio System were deactivated. Following WWII, the US Army recognized the importance of reactivating the AARS to train vitally needed communications personnel at a relatively low direct cost to the government, and in 1946 the AARS was reactivated.

The AARS functioned as such until the creation of the Military Affiliate Radio System in November 1948 with the establishment of separate Army and Air Force MARS programs, reflecting the creation of the Air Force as a separate service. The program’s name was changed to the Military Affiliate Radio System on 2 September 1952, in recognition of the organization’s changing nature with the growing number of civilian volunteer members. Eventually, the Navy-Marine Corps MARS program was established officially on 17 August 1962, and began operations on 1 January 1963. This followed the Cuban Missile Crisis and President Kennedy’s concern for viable and extended communications capabilities.

During the Korean War, Vietnam War and Gulf War, MARS was most known for its handling of “Marsgram” written messages and providing “phone patches” to allow overseas servicemen to contact their families at home.

The program’s name was changed again to the current Military Auxiliary Radio System on 23 December 2009.

MARS continues to be active today. Its primary mission is to provide contingency communications to the Department of Defense and Military Services. MARS is also available to provide communications for Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA) such as FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security. Under DSCA, MARS may also available to assist state and local emergency response agencies.

On a day-to-day basis MARS members are available to handle messages to and from service men and women: active duty, reserve, guard, or retired and certain employees of the federal government who are stationed outside the US.

Armed Forces Day Crossband Test

MARS celebrates Armed Forces Day annually, the third Saturday in May, with a traditional military to amateur crossband communications test and a message-receiving test. These tests give amateur radio operators and shortwave listeners an opportunity to demonstrate their individual technical skills and receive recognition from the Secretary of Defense or the appropriate military radio station for their proven expertise. A QSL card is provided to those making contact with one of the military stations. Special commemorative certificates are awarded to anyone who receives and accurately copies the digital Armed Forces Day message from the Secretary of Defense.

Participating military stations transmit on selected military MARS frequencies and listen for amateur radio stations in the amateur bands. The military station operator will announce the specific amateur-band frequency being monitored. Usually, the military MARS stations are at places such as The Pentagon, Fort Huachuca, Andrews Air Force Base, Nellis Air Force Base, and various Navy and Coast Guard locations.

MARS Today

The Military Auxiliary Radio System is still active today. Morale and welfare messages are no longer the largest activity in MARS due to the increased use of the Internet and e-mail by deployed military personnel. MARS had an increased role in providing interoperability communications between Army National Guard and Air National Guard forces and civilian state agencies. However, this service providing interoperability communications was terminated as of May 2015 based on a decision by USAF and ARMY MARS. MARS also provides testing of Military Standard communication modes for use by MARS members.
MARS participates in exercises such as Grecian Firebolt to help support military communications. MARS members from all around the world played a role in Grecian Firebolt 2005 by sending exercise Essential Elements of Information (EEI) reports through the MARS radio network. The EEI’s consisted of scenario disaster information. When the EEI’s were received, they were sorted and sent to Army Military Intelligence centers. MARS played a large part in reporting up-to-date information on disasters and requesting military assistance using a dispersed and redundant radio network.

MARS also supports government agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and participates in programs such as the Department of Homeland Security Office of Emergency Communications SHAred RESources (SHARES).

The traditional land or sea based MARS Radio Phone Patch is largely a thing of the past because land and sea based MARS stations have been dismantled in favor of Satellite Phones. However, modern military aircraft are still equipped with HF radios, and many military aircrews still use MARS Phone Patches as a backup or substitute to Satellite Communications. The USAF MARS Phone Patch Net provides 24/7 HF Radio Phone Patch service to all branches of United States military aircraft worldwide.

A dispatch issued in May 2009 announced the shutdown of the Navy and Marine Corps MARS program by September 30, 2009. However, Navy-Marine Corp. MARS continued to function until September 30, 2015.

Department of Defense Instruction 4650.02, dated 23 December 2009 changed the status of MARS from an affiliate to an auxiliary (equal in status to the Coast Guard Auxiliary and Civil Air Patrol). This change in status saved the Navy-Marine Corps MARS program from being shut down and put it back in line with the Emergency Communications mission of its sister services (Army and Air Force MARS).


West Mountain Radio

I would like to thank my sponsor, West Mountain Radio! For those of you that don’t know who they are, they make some awesome equipment that I have had the pleasure of using over the past 15 or so years. They make several pieces of equipment that are so well-built and are so useful. Things like the RIGBlaster, RIGrunner and the DC-to-Go Boxes. I talked a little bit about the RIGblaster in my last episode and I’ve talked about the RIGrunner several times in previous episode but today I wanted to tell y’all about their DC-to-Go Boxes.

These are neat cases that you can put a battery in to protect your station’s floor from an unfortunate battery accident, however, they are so much more than that as well. These boxes have a Super PWRgate PG40 and a RIGrunner 4007U or 4008 built into them as well.

The PWRgate provides you an uninterruptible power supply in case you lose AC power it will automatically switch to the battery in the box. This is a perfect solution for a repeater backup and/or event like the upcoming Winter Field Day!

The RIGrunner 4008 provides you with 40 amps of D.C. Power plug over 8 slots while the 4007u gives you 40 amps across 7 slots but it has some extra feature like a digital load meter and USB charging port as well as a solid state push button on/off switch and an automatic shutoff for high or low voltages!

Both of these are mounted to the side of the battery box. All you have to do is drop a battery inside and hook up the leads and you are ready to roll!!

Here are the links for the premade versions of the DC-to-Go boxes. It you can also Custom make one to your own choices!


Ham Blog Spotlight

This segment is take from the Weekly North Texas Net for YL’s blog. The author of this blog with Allison Hollier, KG5BHY. I had Allison on my podcast back in episode 31 – A YLs View on Amateur Radio.

Her latest blog post is about Destiny Cosner, KG5MRD and her journey to become a ham. Check it out at the link below.


Upcoming Events


NRAU 10m Activity Contest 1800Z-1900Z, (CW), 1900Z-2000Z, (SSB), 2000Z-2100Z, (FM) and 2100Z-2200Z (Dig), Mar 2
ARRL Inter. DX Contest, SSB 0000Z, Mar 4 to 2400Z, Mar 5
Wake-Up! QRP Sprint 0600Z-0629Z, 0630Z-0659Z, 0700Z-0729Z, 0730Z-0800Z, Mar 4
Open Ukraine RTTY Championship 1800Z-2059Z, 2100Z-2359Z, Mar 4 (Low Band) and 0800Z-1059Z, 1100Z-1359Z, Mar 5 (High Band)
UBA Spring Contest, CW 0700Z-1100Z, Mar 5
DARC 10-Meter Digital Contest 1100Z-1700Z, Mar 5
SARL Hamnet 40m Simulated Emerg Contest 1200Z-1400Z, Mar 5
NSARA Contest 1200Z-1600Z, 1800Z-2200Z, Mar 5
RSGB 80m Club Championship, Data 2000Z-2130Z, Mar 6
ARS Spartan Sprint 0200Z-0400Z, Mar 7
AGCW YL-CW Party 1900Z-2100Z, Mar 7
AWA John Rollins Memorial DX Contest 2300Z, Mar 8 to 2300Z, Mar 9, and 2300Z, Mar 11 to 2300Z, Mar 12
RSGB Commonwealth Contest 1000Z, Mar 11 to 1000Z, Mar 12
SARL VHF/UHF Analogue/Digital Contest 1000Z, Mar 11 to 1000Z, Mar 12
South America 10 Meter Contest 1200Z, Mar 11 to 1200Z, Mar 12
F9AA Cup, SSB 1200Z, Mar 11 to 1200Z, Mar 12
SKCC Weekend Sprintathon 1200Z, Mar 11 to 2400Z, Mar 12
Oklahoma QSO Party 1400Z, Mar 11 to 0200Z, 1400Z-2000Z, Mar 12
AGCW QRP Contest 1400Z-2000Z, Mar 11
Stew Perry Topband Challenge 1500Z, Mar 11 to 1500Z, Mar 12
EA PSK63 Contest 1600Z, Mar 11 to 1600Z, Mar 12
TESLA Memorial HF CW Contest 1800Z, Mar 11 to 0559Z, Mar 12
QCWA QSO Party 1800Z, Mar 11 to 1800Z, Mar 12
Idaho QSO Party 1900Z, Mar 11 to 1900Z, Mar 12
QRP ARCI Spring Thaw SSB Sprint 2000Z-2359Z, Mar 11
North American Sprint, RTTY 0000Z-0400Z, Mar 12
UBA Spring Contest, 2m 0700Z-1100Z, Mar 12
WAB 3.5 MHz Phone 1800Z-2200Z, Mar 12
Wisconsin QSO Party 1800Z, Mar 12 to 0100Z, Mar 13
RSGB 80m Club Championship, CW 2000Z-2130Z, Mar 15

*Information taken from the WA7BNM Contest Calendar









*Information taken from the ARRL Hamfest Calendar



MARS Refocuses Its Mission, Encrypts Data Nets

Today’s Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS) program has changed markedly from what it was just a few years ago. So says US Army MARS Program Manager Paul English, WD8DBY, who contends that MARS must adapt in order to remain relevant and useful to its sponsor, the US Department of Defense (DOD).

“Probably the most significant changes were the Navy’s decision to ‘sunset’ the Navy Marine Corps MARS program and our move to refocus Army and Air Force MARS on providing contingency HF Radio communications support to the DOD and the services,” English said. “In order to focus our support on the Department of Defense, MARS leadership had to rethink, essentially from the ground up, what it means to be a MARS member.” MARS relies on volunteers from within the Amateur Radio ranks. Among other things, recruits receive specialized training in military messaging formats and digital messaging protocols.

While the priority MARS mission is to provide contingency HF communication to support the DOD and the military, MARS also supports communication for combat commands providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, provides contingency communication for Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA), and provides “morale and welfare communications” in support of the DOD.

MARS still provides support for civil authorities, but it must follow DOD procedures for how that support is provided, English explained. “MARS leadership used to actively encourage our members to support civil authorities,” he said, “and that put us in direct competition with the Amateur Radio community as well as with other federal agencies.”

English said that in today’s MARS program, the primary digital protocol is software that emulates Military Standard (MilStd) 188-110A (M110A) serial phase-shift keying, which is compatible with what is used by the military. MARS members may still use Amateur Radio digital modes on working channels, but M110A is the principal mode. There are no plans to transition to digital voice modes.

This year, MARS introduced an online encryption program that allows all digital radio traffic to be encrypted as it is being transmitted. MARS has also expanded its use of automatic link establishment (ALE), although members are not required to use it.

“Our bread and butter remains single-channel HF communication,” English said. “The majority of our members who do use ALE are using the MARS ALE software program. Some of our members who support our national nets are moving to hardware ALE radios.”

The MARS program supports quarterly contingency communication exercises supporting the DOD. These are based on “very bad day” scenarios, where traditional forms of communication are no longer available. “Through these exercises, the DOD — via the MARS community — reaches out to the Amateur Radio community to provide situational awareness information at the county/local level,” English said.

That makes sense to MARS member Bill Sexton, N1IN, who was Army MARS public affairs officer from 2001 until 2014. “At least in theory, the blanketing omnipresence of hams across all 50 states offers a backup for blacked-out regions in the event of a catastrophic attack or natural disaster,” Sexton allowed. “The challenge is mobilizing back-up operations in the total absence of internet, telephone, cell phone, or texting resources.”

Orlando HamCation a Hit, Posts New Attendance Record


When Orlando HamCation®  hosted the ARRL Southeastern Division Convention February 10-12, it posted a new attendance record. As a result of its growing popularity, the Orlando show may now be the third largest ham radio gathering in the world — behind the JARL Tokyo Ham Fair, with an estimated 37,000 attendees in 2016, and Hamvention®, which attracts some 25,000 visitors each May. This year, HamCation logged a record 19,000 attendees, up from 2,000 last year, moving it ahead of Ham Radio in Friedrichshafen, Germany.

HamCation’s sponsor, the ARRL-affiliated Orlando Amateur Radio Club, has announced the retirement of HamCation Chairman Peter Meijers, AI4KM, who has headed up the show for 10 years. Michael Cauley, W4MCA, will succeed him. Cauley has served for 7 years as HamCation’s Tailgate Chairman, for 6 years as the IT Chairman, and for 1 year as Finance Chairman.

“Peter had planned on retiring at the end of the 2016 show, but I asked if he would stay on one more year, which he agreed,” said OARC President John Knott, N4JTK. “I’m extremely sad to see Peter retire, but totally understand that after 9 shows he felt it was time for a little rest!” Knott said planning for HamCation 2018 “starts now!”

Representing ARRL Headquarters at HamCation this year were CEO Tom Gallagher, NY2RF; ARRL Marketing Manager Bob Inderbitzen, NQ1R, and ARRL Contest Branch Manager Bart Jahnke, W9JJ. They were joined by ARRL Southeastern Director Greg Sarratt, W4OZK; Vice Director Joey Tiritilli, N4ZUW; Northern Florida Section Manager Steve Szabo, WB4OMM; ARRL Honorary Vice President Frank Butler, W4RH, and a handful of other ARRL Field Organization volunteers.

Szabo and Sarratt moderated the standing-room-only ARRL Forum, which Gallagher and Inderbitzen attended, while Jahnke supported an ARRL Contesting Forum. Also attending was ARES E-Letter Editor Rick Palm, K1CE, who described the forum as “all positive” and focused on how to gain the attention and interest of younger people.

“[O]ne comment that struck me came from a member of the Lakeland Amateur Radio Club, who said that the club had faced declining attendance at club meetings and membership until they eliminated the business portions of the meetings in favor of more hands-on, show-and-tell demonstrations of equipment, modes and antennas, which turned into big hits,” he recounted.

The ARRL College Amateur Radio Initiative (CARI) enjoyed attention throughout HamCation. Gallagher, wearing a “Penn” sweatshirt for his University of Pennsylvania alma mater, welcomed attendees to a CARI Forum, moderated by Andy Milluzzi, KK4LWR.

Volunteer Don Search, W3AZD, headed up DXCC card checking. Membership sign-ups were brisk, Inderbitzen reported, “and we couldn’t have kept up without the additional help of volunteers Lindy Gallagher and Dr. Sherry Mahafza, KM4VSW.”

Jahnke and Inderbitzen also attended the Florida Contest Group dinner, which included a keynote presentation by elite contester Tim Duffy, K3LR.

“I’m extremely grateful for Peter Meijers’ long and dedicated service to Orlando HamCation,” Inderbitzen said. “He’s done an incredible job — a true and good leader in our Amateur Radio Service. I know how much hard work goes into organizing a convention, and Peter has always been the right person for this important job. I appreciate all the ways Peter, his wife Lidy, KJ4LMM, and his fellow Orlando HamCation and OARC members have supported ARRL, and our common resolve to advance Amateur Radio together.”

Inderbitzen has posted a photo album on ARRL’s Facebook page.


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73 de Curtis, K5CLM

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