Changes to Navy-Marine Corps MARS

The US Department of Defense (DoD) is phasing out the US Navy-Marine Corps Military Auxiliary Radio System(MARS) program. Its operational mission will transition to the other MARS service branches by the end of September. The head of the US Navy-Marine Corps MARS program in Williamsburg, Virginia, made the announcement. The Navy-Marine Corps MARS program also supports the US Coast Guard as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the US Department of Homeland Security, and local emergency management agencies. A US Department of Defense-sponsored program, MARS branches are separately managed by their respective military service branches. MARS volunteers are Amateur Radio operators who provide auxiliary or emergency communications to local, national, and international emergency and safety organizations, as an adjunct to normal communications.

“Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Atlantic (NCTAMS LANT) intends to work with US Army MARS and US Air Force MARS in transitioning the Navy-Marine Corps MARS (NAVMARCORMARS) program by 30 Sep 2015,” the announcement said. “The intent of the transition is to best align the program to support national mission requirements.” Chris Jensen of NCTAMS LANT told ARRL that the Navy no longer has any service specific requirements for Navy-Marine Corps MARS and is working within DoD to transition the program into Army and Air Force MARS. “We will continue to publish updates as this transition progresses,” he said.

The announcement encouraged current Navy-Marine Corps MARS members and clubs to submit applications to the US Army MARS or US Air Force MARS programs as soon as possible.

“The US Navy greatly appreciates the thousands of MARS volunteers, past and present, who have been integral to the success of MARS,” the announcement concluded.

One individual who is very familiar with the MARS program said the change was not unexpected and came to a head as the US Strategic Command embraced Army MARS as the lead branch for contingency communication and Air Force MARS began partnering with the US Army program on the operations side.

“The Army and Air Force MARS branches have an obvious role in providing contingency communications for the 50 states,” said the individual, who preferred not to be cited by name. “Members are everywhere ‘on the ground,’ and experience in Afghanistan and Iraq has proven the tactical usefulness of HF on land. There was no similar role for the landlocked membership of Navy-Marine Corps MARS.”

He said the MARS program can use all the volunteers it can attract and hopes the Navy-Marine Corp MARS volunteers will join one of the other MARS branches.

Army MARS Program Manager Paul English, WD8DBY, echoed those sentiments. “Navy leadership will continue to stay engaged with the MARS services to support the DoD quarterly exercises and other training missions and requirements as they are identified,” English said. “Both Army and Air Force leadership is committed to making the transition process from the Navy MARS program as smooth as possible. Navy volunteers in good standing will transition as full members; they will not have to start over.”

“We understand this will be an emotional time for Navy members to decide if they want to continue supporting the MARS program,” English added.  “We value the service they contributed to the Navy and invite them to continue to serve in either the Army of Air Force MARS programs.”

MARS Exercise 15-1

Quarterly Exercise Concludes!

MARS operators from all three Services joined ranks to conduct a contingency HF communications exercise to train and demonstrate proficiency on sending encoded messages across the US during a simulated wide-spread communications outage. During this exercise MARS stations reached out to local amateur radio stations via radio only means in order to continue building the working relationship between these communities.

Thanks to everyone who trained in today’s exercise! Your ability to react to a changing environment is a testament to your skill as HF operators. Keep up the good work!

MARS Operators Train with UK Army Cadets

Cadets Talk to MARSOn 29 and 30 November, MARS members across the eastern and central US participated in the annual UK Army Cadet exercise “Christmas Cracker.” This two day 31 hour exercise tested the UK Cadet operators’ ability to establish international HF communications with MARS stations located in EUROPE and the United States on a variety of HF frequencies.

Coordination for this exercise was led by Captain David Holman, UK Army and Daniel Wolff, Army MARS EUROPE. On the results of the exercise, Captain Holman offered the following: “Our cadets are not only eager but very grateful for the ability to talk to overseas stations, something they had not done before. Many reported ‘excitement’ at being heard and actually speaking with a MARS Station.”

Captain Holman further elaborated: “The scores indicate the large
number of exchanges (over 1,000) took place over the period of the
exercise and the hard work put in by the cadets and their adults. Special thanks must go to all of the MARS Stations who took part and were always there for us, often the time zone where they were based meant operating at extended times, and their help is very much appreciated.”

HQ Army MARS appreciates the 44 Army and Navy MARS stations who participated in this international exercise. Events like this continue to build international esprit de corps…good job by all who participated!

MARS Exercise 14-4

Radio amateurs in the Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS) concluded an unprecedented 48-hour marathon exercise October 28th that linked the continental US, Hawaii, Japan, Europe, and Canada during a simulated breakdown of normal communication systems, including the Internet. For the first time in a nationwide test, W1AW staffers activated the Maxim Memorial Station Army MARS stationAAN1ARL at ARRL Headquarters to facilitate input from the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) community.

 

“Well done by all,” messaged Army MARS Chief Stephen Klinefelter, when the test was concluded. The exercise involved the transmission of hundreds of encrypted messages via HF radio. The traffic carried “situational awareness” information needed by a joint Department of Defense entity responsible for responding to a national crisis situation. Many operators, net control and relay station members in particular, put in long hours maintaining the seamless connection.

Joining Army MARS in providing backup communication for a US Department of Defense entity responsible for homeland security were members of the Navy-Marine Corps and Air Force MARS branches. Elements of the National Guard, FEMA, the Transportation Security Administration, and selected state authorities also participated.

During the final day of the exercise, MARS members also acted on a real-world request from DoD to be prepared to monitor International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) emergency frequencies as Typhoon Haiyan appeared poised to develop into a category 5 storm and strike the Philippines.

MARS members were given strict time limits for providing the requested information in order to receive credit for completing their message handling. These statistics will be used to evaluate how quickly and efficiently the multi-branched network might be able to handle information requests and responses under conditions mirroring an actual catastrophe. Poor propagation, particularly in the overnight hours, added a realistic touch.

A formal after-action report from Army MARS Program Officer Paul English, WD8DBY, and Operations Chief David McGinnis, K7UXO, in still in the works, but Klinefelter saluted the overall performance.

“You have just completed the most complex and longest MARS communications exercise in recent history,” he said. “I want to thank each of you for participating and devoting long hours to make this exercise a success. The dedicated efforts to maintain effective nationwide contingency communications support demonstrated by all participants were exemplary.”

New AM 1 “This is Army MARS” Issued

The U.S. Army Military Auxiliary Radio System (ARMARS) is an elite group of dedicated citizen
volunteers who support a Global High Frequency Enterprise Radio Network (GHFERN). The GHFERN
provides contingency radio communications to the Department of Defense (DoD) in a variety of
circumstances, including complex catastrophes and cyber denied or impaired conditions. MARS is
the program that trains, organizes and tasks volunteer Amateur Radio operators to support the
GHFRERN.
Army MARS citizen-volunteers demonstrate the Army’s values of Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless-
Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage, freely and generously giving their time and
resources as a reflection and measure of devotion to our nation. The world has changed
dramatically since the MARS structure was first developed and implemented but what has not
changed is the dedication of these citizens to serve.

Click here to read AM 1

Wyoming National Guard Utilizes Army MARS to Strengthen Communication Skills

September 30, 2013 at 9:08am

Figure 1  Emit Hurdelbrink  demonstrates the RF 1944 antenna to SFC Faass, left, and other members of the 115th Fires Brigade Wyoming Army National Guard.

Nothing was usual about the National Guard/MARS meeting in Cheyenne on September 14. It all started far away with an Army MARS presentation to the National Guard Bureau by Army MARS Operations Officer David McGinnis and Program Manager Paul English in Little Rock. This created the spark that caused the C.O. of the 115th Fires Brigade Wyoming Army National Guard to ask the Army MARS Region 8 Director, Steve Carver, and through him CO/WY Army MARS members for some help. The long term intent of the N.G. units was mastery of ALE and effective use of digital signals on HF between brigade elements.

 

The MARS help came in the form of a six hour class on HF properties, NVIS, frequencies, antennas, and propagation by Army MARS Member Emit Hurdelbrink and Army MARS CO/WY State Director Steve Schroder. The practical exercises included deployment of the RF-1944 antenna and operation with a PRC-150c portable radio as initial contact was made with Army MARS Members in Pueblo, Colorado. Each individual practiced entering a scratchpad frequency and making a radio call. This small but successful event could well herald a long and fruitful future of National Guard/ MARS cooperation.

 

Meanwhile, the rain totals continued to accumulate in Colorado as the full scope of the flood damage was becoming frighteningly clear.  The class ended with Steve Schroder racing south to Colorado, but continuing to talk to N.G. members on his mobile radio as the last three participants practiced making their radio calls.

 

 

Figure 2  Emit Hurdelbrink, right, with members of the 115th  Fires Brigade Wyoming Army National GuardFigure 2 Emit Hurdelbrink, right, with members of the 115th Fires Brigade Wyoming Army National Guard

 

Emit went to the Colorado State E.O.C. where he was greatly needed, and Steve was deployed for the next eight days at the ICP in Evans , Colorado. When the event was planned, no one could have guessed that an emergency training class and exercise would end in such an unusual and intense full blown emergency deployment.  On the other hand, what could be more appropriate than putting emergency training into practice?

 

Robert D. Barclay, Region 8 PAO

MARS Concludes Nation-wide Communications Exercise

Army MARS members from across the United States just completed a challenging 24 hour training exercise supporting a larger Department of Defense Communications Exercise. Joined by MARS members from the other MARS Services, this exercise challenged the MARS community with sending military standard message traffic to every region across the US. A new requirement for this exercise was to demonstrate interoperability with the Department of Homeland Security SHAred RESources High Frequency Network at both the Region and National level.

MARS members commented on the challenging propagation conditions throughout the exercise but labored on using multiple relay stations in order to pass the required traffic to all destinations.

Thanks to all who trained during this exercise; we hope you found this event both challenging and rewarding. Now it is time to get some rest and hopefully listen to something in lieu of the HF static crashes from the last 24 hours!

MARS’ Mission: Find a New Home, Continue Long-Standing Tradition of Service

September 17, 2010
By David Trachtenberg

For decades, the military and specially trained civilian amateur radio operators of the Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS) have provided reliable zero-cost back-up communications to the U.S. Defense Department and armed forces. This civilian-military partnership has served the nation well.

The U.S. military’s reliance on sophisticated communications architectures and networks is a double-edged sword. It conveys distinct advantages to the armed forces. Yet the more sophisticated the technology, the more susceptible it becomes to unexpected failures, disruption or destruction from asymmetric threats, such as satellites’ vulnerability to antisatellite warfare. Systems do fail and can be compromised. Therefore, reliable back-up communications are critical.

In both war and peace, the military has benefited from a formal partnership with nearly 5,000 volunteer licensed civilian amateur radio operators who form the backbone of MARS. Though little-known outside amateur radio circles, this relatively “low-tech” means of back-up communication has a storied record of service to the military.

In the days before cell phones, e-mail and the Internet, MARS was known for relaying messages of morale from service personnel stationed abroad. The MARS mission has evolved to support the U.S. government’s post-9/11 emergency preparedness efforts. As a Defense Department-sponsored program separately managed and operated by the Army, Navy-Marine Corps and Air Force, the system has been recognized by senior Defense Department leadership and was recently reaffirmed in departmental guidance by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD).

In December 2010, DoD Instruction (DoDI) 4650.02 upgraded MARS (formerly the Military “Affiliate” Radio System) to an organized military “auxiliary,” tasking it with providing contingency radio communications support not only to the Defense Department but also to civil authorities at all levels, in accordance with the department’s homeland defense responsibilities. In addition, the secretaries of the military departments were tasked with reporting annually to the OSD on their respective MARS programs.

In a February 2009 SIGNAL Connections article, “Amateur Radio Community Experts Crucial to Emergency Communications,” I discussed how MARS could benefit from OSD’s active guidance and oversight. Under the DoDI, primary policy oversight for emergency communications initiatives involving MARS was assigned to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration (ASD[NII]). In April 2010, Acting ASD(NII) Cheryl Roby declared her strong support for the MARS program and commitment to broadening its role within the department and the combatant commands.

The NII, however, is being eliminated as a result of the “efficiency initiatives” announced by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in August. Many of its functions will be transferred to the Defense Information Systems Agency, the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics or elsewhere.

Where MARS program oversight will reside after the organizational disestablishment of NII remains to be seen. But wherever it migrates, MARS operators remain ready to fulfill their contingency communications mission and to expand their relationship with the Defense Department and civil agencies.

In addition to providing high frequency (HF) radio contingency communications support to the Defense Department, MARS operators support other elements of the U.S. government. For example, they actively participate in the National Communications System Shared Resources HF Radio Program, which promotes interoperability between more than 100 federal, state and private sector entities in support of national security/emergency preparedness.

MARS members are experienced radio operators who communicate on military frequencies using both voice and digital modes. They voluntarily devote their time and resources to ensure the Defense Department has reliable contingency communications capability if needed, under all types of circumstances.

The system also works with domestic civilian and emergency response organizations at the national, state and local levels to ensure reliable communications links during emergencies. This includes use of a global network of nodes to relay e-mail traffic via HF radio when Internet connectivity is unavailable. Several state and county emergency management offices also use MARS as the link between their civilian emergency management radio nets and military radio nets activated in an emergency.

MARS operators provide support to individual military installations, as well as the National Command Authority. While MARS represents only a fraction of the communications assets and capabilities available to the Defense Department, interest has resurfaced within the military with regard to the HF radio spectrum MARS uses for the bulk of its operations. This resurgence is being channeled into a productive, expanding partnership between civilian radio operators and their uniformed counterparts, an outcome that should be encouraged and nurtured.

With new Defense Department guidance, an expanded mission, a proven record of accomplishments, and a pool of talented and capable radio operators providing their services voluntarily, MARS is a communications asset that has attracted the attention and support of senior Defense Department leaders.

Notwithstanding the uncertainties resulting from internal Defense Department decisions intended to reduce overhead, eliminate redundancies, streamline management and improve operational efficiencies, the value MARS provides to the Defense Department, civil agencies and the nation should remain strong for the foreseeable future.

David J. Trachtenberg, president and chief executive officer of Shortwaver Consulting, is a former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy and a member of Air Force MARS and SHARES.

– See more at: http://www.afcea.org/content/?q=2010/09/17/8421#sthash.CmkikGT6.dpuf

MARS Operators Complete “Exemplary” Simulated Disaster Response Exercise

Radio amateurs in the Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS) concluded an unprecedented 48-hour marathon exercise November 5 that linked the continental US, Hawaii, Japan, Europe, and Canada during a simulated breakdown of normal communication systems, including the Internet. For the first time in a nationwide test, W1AW staffers activated the Maxim Memorial Station Army MARS station AAN1ARL at ARRL Headquarters to facilitate input from the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) community.

“Well done by all,” messaged Army MARS Chief Stephen Klinefelter, when the test was concluded. The exercise involved the transmission of hundreds of encrypted messages via HF radio. The traffic carried “situational awareness” information needed by a joint Department of Defense entity responsible for responding to a national crisis situation. Many operators, net control and relay station members in particular, put in long hours maintaining the seamless connection.

Joining Army MARS in providing backup communication for the US Department of Defense entity were members of the Navy-Marine Corps and Air Force MARS branches. Elements of the National Guard, FEMA, the Transportation Security Administration, and selected state authorities also participated.

During the final day of the exercise, MARS members also acted on a real-world request from DoD to be prepared to monitor International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) emergency frequencies as Typhoon Haiyan appeared poised to develop into a category 5 storm and strike the Philippines.

MARS members were given strict time limits for providing the requested information in order to receive credit for completing their message handling. These statistics will be used to evaluate how quickly and efficiently the multi-branched network might be able to handle information requests and responses under conditions mirroring an actual catastrophe. Poor propagation, particularly in the overnight hours, added a realistic touch.

A formal after-action report from Army MARS Program Officer Paul English, WD8DBY, and Operations Chief David McGinnis, K7UXO, in still in the works, but Klinefelter saluted the overall performance.

“You have just completed the most complex and longest MARS communications exercise in recent history,” he said. “I want to thank each of you for participating and devoting long hours to make this exercise a success. The dedicated efforts to maintain effective nationwide contingency communications support demonstrated by all participants were exemplary.”

Discussions between ARRL Headquarters staff, US Army MARS Region 1 leadership, and English preceded the exercise. Eastern Massachusetts was chosen for the first test of full-scale collaboration between ARES and MARS, and Tim Wortley, KQ1Y, the MARS state director for Southern New England, worked out the details with Eastern Massachusetts Section Emergency Coordinator Rob Macedo, KD1CY. Wortley said he received more than a half-dozen responses to inquiries he’d put into the system. Other tactical voice messages on amateur VHF repeaters were forwarded to MARS circuits. The ARES test was separate from the activation of the MARS station at W1AW.