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Navy-Marine Corps MARS in Vietnam

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N0ETH/N0MOH Stories

Pat Person     Frank Lazar     Steve Grewe     Gary Enochs

Pat Person

LCpl 2/69 - 5/69

I was on my way to the "DMZ" in Vietnam and stopped to say hello to the known ham operators at Camp Hansen, N0ETH. When they realized I was a licensed ham, this meant I was a ticket home for someone. There was a Sgt assigned to the station who was told if he could find himself a replacement (me) then he could go home a few months early. Of course I had plenty of jokes played on me, being just out of boot camp only a few months earlier I wasn't ready to bite until he had me in front of some local brass that wanted operators. Licensed operators. He told me to return to my unit which was scheduled to leave for the flight to DaNang in about 4 hours. That Lt Col told me I might get on the bus but that plane was not leaving with me on board.  I thought to myself "can this be happening to me?"  Sure enough when I got back to my battalion for muster, they called out 5 names for some kind of special orders and I was one of those.  I started my MARS service right there at Camp Hansen and over the next 13 months worked at several stations on Okinawa. 

After returning to the States I was assigned to the Motor Pool at Santa Ana, Calif. This was a real shock to my state of mind. I thought to myself "this is nothing like the MARS system" as I wasn't very accustomed to zero respect.  

As quickly as I could get to a phone I called a certain Lt, in Washington DC, I remembered who was in charge of keeping track of the MARS station personnel.  He heard my plea and gave me an immediate choice between 29 Palms, Yuma, or Barstow.  I said which one is closed to civilization?  He recommended 29 Palms, CA and thatís where I spend my last 1.5 years before being discharged in August of 1971.  I told that Motor Pool Sgt in Santa Ana I was transferring out and he laughed at me, saying I'm not going anywhere.  How sweet it was when only a week later that same Sgt had to hand me my new orders to leave for 29 Palms.  He wanted so bad to ask me what I did to pull that off.  I just said "Have a nice day." 

Wow what an experience!  It was a real confidence builder at least.  We worked with people of every rank and status from day one. When high ranking officers used our services and treated us with extra respect it just made the enlisted fellows suspicious. Our required uniform attire was a white shirt and slacks mainly to level the perspective in the eyes of all. The more we tried to convince people we were just enlisted personnel the less they believed us. They always thought we were using the MARS operation as a front to cover what we were really up to.  The experience was great. We got to use radio gear we could only otherwise dream of.  The Collins gear was a great dose of what good quality gear should look and perform like.  The chance to learn about Teletype was priceless.  I still have a room full of Teletype gear to this day.  Presently there seems to be enough interest for us old guys to still have some fun with it.

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Frank Lazar

Cpl 5/69 - 7/69

In 1968 the phone patches from Okinawa were made on the ham bands and all operators were licensed hams.  We communicated between stations on the island via two meters and with the States on various Amateur frequencies primarily 20 meters. Message traffic was relayed on MARS frequencies with a relay in Hawaii.  My participation in Navy/MARCOR MARS was limited to my stay for 13 months on Okinawa. 

Volunteering for duty in the MARS system on Okinawa kept me out of Nam.        Back to top

 

Steve Grewe

Sgt: 5/67 - 12/67

I served in RVN as a field radio operator from Jan until late April  1967.  We returned to Okinawa on a BLT (float).  While having a little R&R and undergoing additional training, I happened to notice a 20meter YAGI antenna on a tall tower. I proceeded to the station and met the chief operator there at Camp Schwab. Upon discovering that I had an Amateur license he asked me if I wanted to become an operator in the Navy/Marine Corps MARS program there on Okinawa.  I told him I was interested and before long I had orders for duty with the MARS station at Camp Hansen.  I also worked a short time at the station at Camp Foster for a little indoctrination training.  My MARS and Amateur call signs at Camp Hansen were N0ETH/KR6MH respectively. 

We had a very busy operating schedule at N0ETH/KR6MH. We ran many phone patches and cut many MARSGRAMS on RTTY, which were relayed to the US. Our highest priority became running phone patches back to the US for transient personnel. These guys were either headed for RVN or on their way back home to the US. It was extremely important that they be able to talk with their loved ones back home for obvious reasons. We also ran many phone patches for the permanent personnel at Camp Hansen. This was always given a lower priority since these guys could make calls more frequently. The only exception for giving them higher priority was Emergency situations. Amazingly we always managed to get everyone in on a daily basis as long as radio conditions were cooperating. We had a card file (before computers) on all the permanent personnel with all the required information, i.e.: dates, home phone number and their phone number on base so we could call them directly at their duty station, and patch them thru. Permanent personnel were limited to one call every 2 weeks except during emergencies. This was done to allow as many personnel as possible to have a chance. 

The support for the MARS station at Camp Hansen was outstanding.  Everyone on base was always there to help with any maintenance items at the station if needed.  Prior to a Typhoon, we had to take down the antennas and tie them down.  I was amazed at how many personnel from all ranks showed up to pitch in to help.  Without their help I could not have managed the task by myself.  They even sent pole climbers to take down the 15 meter beam off a 40 foot telephone pole. 

There was one instance that I remember when I was running some RTTY traffic over the air, and the phone rang.  The call was from a Colonel who wanted to make a phone patch.  I was interrupted while talking to him by another call on a different line, about the RTTY traffic I was sending to another station on the island.  While talking to the station operator on the other end I had forgotten about the Colonel who was on the other phone (he wasn't on hold so he could hear my conversation with the other operator). 

After about 3 minutes I realized that the other phone was off hook sitting on the operating desk.  I then remembered I had a Colonel on that line waiting. I quickly picked up the phone and he had already hung up.  The next thing I heard was a pounding on the station door. It was him, and he was very unhappy with me to put it mildly.  All I could think of was being busted or losing my position at the station.  I managed to calm him down and had arranged for him to come back to the station that evening and I would see what I could do to run a patch for him.  He came back that evening and the patch I ran for him was excellent.  He was very pleased, and had forgiven the earlier incident.  That was one lesson I learned about paying attention to the phone and never leaving anyone hanging on.

Being a MARS operator during that period was a very rewarding experience. It was great to see the many happy faces with those who got to talk home. The morale that this service provided was beyond explanation. It was a great feeling to help these guys and after a while I even got to know some of the family members on the other end, by running so many patches. The hardest ones of course were the family tragedy patches. Some of these were difficult for me as it was sometimes hard to keep control of both parties, but somehow it always worked out. Being a MARS operator in the military was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had.

All the stations listed above were my steady phone patch schedules, however there were many other stations whom I worked on an occasional basis who really helped a lot with many fill-in between regular schedules. All of these people deserve a lot of appreciation for all they did. 

One final note, the operator at the station at Camp Schwab was Bob Mattson, whom I have met after many years after the military days.  We continue to be good friends and keep in touch with each other on a continuing basis.  Guess it is a small world.   Back to top

Gary Enochs

LCpl 1977 - 1978

I began my career as a radio operator 2531 in 1976 and was assigned to 3rd Recon Bn, Okinawa from Oct 31st 1976 until March 18th, 1977. I had attended ham radio meetings in the Kadena area and was interested in MARS so when transferred to 7th Comm Bn I requested FAP to MARS and spent the next 13 months operating NNN0MOH (My Okinawan Home) with SSgt Mike Christie, L/Cpl David James, Cpl David Balasco, Sgt John Quick, Cpl Arthur Walters and finally Sgt. Carlos J. Santiago Jr. - a blond haired, blue eyed Puerto Rican from Elizabeth, New Jersey. I passed my novice and assigned WD6DTX. I met S/Sgt Jim Kuhl briefly for the 1st time when he was attending classes at Camp Hansen - TAD from N0MJF.

I was transferred in my MOS to MABS 29 - MCAS New River but somehow orders arrived reassigning me to N0MCL with Bill Wolfrom, Mac McDonald and others until my reenlistment and transfer to Millington, TN. There I hooked up with SgtMaj Jim Moffatt WD4SMW and helped at the all volunteer station on the North Side - W4ODR (Old Dusty Rebel). There I helped license several radiomen from the reserve units and participated while attending school.

Next I was off to my new MOS - 5958 (Now 5954) at MCAS Tustin and met Jim Bogue at N0MET which was then located in the old weather station with 3 huge towers at MCAS Tustin's north east corner.

Again I was transferred to MCAS Kaneohe Bay in Dec 81 and was immediately assigned to N0MHK with Msgt "Wild" Bill Riley. We weathered Hurricane Iwa together while he configured his brand new IBM 4.77Mhz PC running on the Comm Center's generators. We were the 1st military station that we knew of to run TTY using computers (we called them telecommunications terminals because computers were taboo in those days.)  Next came Jim Kuhl and too many stories to write about here. (Hehehe.)

We had Sgt Jim Doyle, Cpl Dru Pontius, Cpl Jerry Mosher, Carlos Marcano Jr. and Robert Thain who later ran N0MJI.

After KBay I was assigned CHOP of N0MPN and worked alongside Wes Wilson for the next 18 months. Here Cpls. Scott Jefferys, Dave Kunkle, Sgt Diane Fratalone and Cpl Cheryl Archer ran the station at West Coast Gateway in tandem with N0MTP & N0NRI.

Again being transferred to Millington for advanced training then on to MCAS Iwakuni as the Air Station Radar Chief. When the need for a CHOP was realized I was assigned the collateral duty.

I retired from the USMC Jan 31st, 1996 at MCAS Camp Pendleton and entered civillian life as a telephone techincian and now a network administrator for Riverside County Sheriff's Department. See my website at www.GaryEnochs.com

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