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.”