"The Call Home"

 

The MARS (Military Affiliate Radio Service)

was a "Ham" radio station on base, located

on the trail (aka the "clit") between the

hooches and the flightline. One day I

received the privilege of scheduling a call

home.

 

Such calls had to be set up in advance, as

the MARS operator had to find another Ham

operator stateside near to the call

destination (in deference to long-distance

collect phone charges), and arrange a

"phone-patch" - the stateside operator

relaying the radio call through his equipment

to a local telephone line.

 

All told, this required setting up the contact

frequency with a stateside volunteer Ham

operator based on the radio propagation

effects at the time of the scheduled call, as

well as ensuring the calling party and called

party would be available in addition to the

MARS operator and the stateside operator.

 

These prearrangments were made for each

call, and a string of calls would be slotted,  

so it could take several days before the call

request could be set up and scheduled.

 

Call protocol allotted for 3 minutes, and each

party would be instructed to conclude their

speaking with the word "Over" so that the

operators could switch from transmit to

receive and vice versa, so the other party

could then speak.  

 

Finally I received notification of when my call

would be placed, and as instructed I arrived

at the MARS shack about 10 minutes ahead

of time to "check in" for the call. The MARS

shack had a single phone handset on the

outside wall that we would use, and after

check in I joined a few other Marines

standing a fair distance away to provide

some measure of privacy to whoever was

using the phone on an active call.

 

This, however, was merely a courtesy

gesture because anyone in the world with a

Ham receiver could listen in on the

conversation if they tuned in the proper

frequency. The only "security" was that each

call was likely made on a different frequency

then the last, depending on where the next

scheduled phone-patch Ham operator was

located.

 

Since our operations were classified, I had

been cautioned not to reveal our location or

provide detail of my activities. Still, I was

pretty excited to be calling home, confident

the voice contact would be worth the work

these guys go through to put the calls

together.

 

The MARS operator finally called my name,

and I came over, picked up the phone,

listened while the operators established

contact, was reminded of the call protocols

and as the phone connection was made on

the other end.

 

My father answered the phone, the stateside

HAM operator identified himself, reminded

him of the call protocol, then told me to go

ahead..

 

<Me> "Hi Dad! How'r ya doing? Over.

 

<Dad> "I'm fine, son. Where are you?" Over.

 

<MARS Operator mutes me and cuts in..>

"I'm sorry sir, he can't answer that question.

Over.

 

<Dad> "Oh.... well.. ..OK son, what are you

doing wherever you are? Over."

 

<MARS Operator mutes me and cuts in..>

"I'm sorry sir, he can't answer that question

either. Over.

 

<Dad> "Oh... well...OK.... well, son, it was..

ah.. good talking with you..."  <click .. dial

tone>

 

<stateside operator cute in> "I think he hung

up. Should I call him back? Over".

 

<Me (laughing so hard I can hardly talk>

"No. (chuckle)  Thanks guys. Over and out.

 

-------------------

 

Footnote: My dad quit drinkin' about 10

years ago. He has no recollection of the call.

 

- Steeley (fmrmarine@zardoz.com)