17. April 2005 · Comments Off on WHO NEEDS COMMERCIAL STUFF WHEN SCROUNGES RULE? · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, War

I started this out as a comment on Kevin’s post below, but it got too long, so here we go again. During the cursed 60’s, when I was a young airman in the “theater,” a lot of us were desperate to hear the voices of our loved ones back in the land of the golden BX. You know,where they had paved roads, fresh eggs, (heck, even fresh chickens!) and real, working telephones.

There were no cell phones, no satellite relay systems (unless you worked in COMM, or were a general) no commercial telephone systems that worked, and not even direct-dial long distance in the States. Yes, Virginia, there was a time when you went through a live operator just to make a long distance call. All we had was that damnable back-scatter over-the-horizon single-sideband system that was notoriously badly mistuned, leaving one, sounding like Donald Duck, with a costly session consisting mostly of “Can you hear me, Mom?”. My first OS call, from Korea, sitting inside a soundproof box, was just such a call, trying to find out if my girlfriend had received the engagement ring I had sent her, so I’d know if she was my fiance yet. After some 5 minutes of her crying, me snuffling, and the frequent “What did you say?”, I paid the princely sum of some $150 out of my monthly $178 A2C salary for a call where I still wondered if I had even talked to the right girl.

After this incident, being a “ham” operator already, I got involved with Air Force MARS. No, not space cadets, the Military Affiliate Radio System. Officially, it was the backup for the “official channels” of radio communication, and it was used for that sometimes, but mostly it was a bunch of ham operators tinkering around with AF radio equipment, playing with our hobby at taxpayer expense. It was with MARS that I got to be the king of all AF scrounges. We operated the best means of communication with the “world,” making contact with Stateside MARS stations who would put through collect calls to our homes via a “phone patch,” a device that hooked the radio up to the phone lines.

We could get anything from anyone on base. Not just supply. Midnight, in the middle of a 24-hour period of placing calls, and hungry. Call the chow hall.

Me: “Anybody there want to call the States?” Minutes later: C/H: “Hey, you guys, the MARS station has a connection to the states. Fix them a dozen ham sandwiches and get the SP’s over here to deliver them! And whoever wants to make a call get in the office here!” (Then we’d put through a call for the guy from Security Police, too.)

I got us a 15,000 watt amplifier for our radio when the Comm SQ turned one in (MO’ POWAH!). We got good, comfortable office furniture, for those long sessions sitting in front of radios. Most of what we had, though, was cast-off, second hand stuff, because officially, we were the purple-haired stepchildren of the Air Force. We worked based on how long the atmospheric propagation would allow us to have 2-way conversations with the States, and I think my record was something like 28 hours. Some days, nothing. Some days, Katy-bar-the-door, until everybody on base who wanted to call had gotten through, some more than once.

God bless one man, not with us any more: Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) had about the best ham station on earth. And he had volunteers to staff it. On holidays, he would place our calls for free, and everybody got to call home without the expense of a collect call. Now, that was a man who cared about the GI’s. And everybody in the service at the time knew it.

Not only MARS operators, but a lot of folks in the service learn to be good scrounges. Sometimes I think the military really works on the backs of its best scrounges, because they know how to find what they need, be it DRMO, supply, or whereever. They are the ones who get things done, and it’s “full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes!” Here’s a salute to those unsung heroes of the war effort, I know that today they are just as important to getting things accomplished as they were back in the “old” days!

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