Tags: us army amateur radio society

Visalia man installs radio antennas to talk to son in Iraq

By Nick McClellan
Staff writer

Visalians driving south on Court Street just north of Caldwell Avenue may notice two skeletal misfits between the trees and houses on Oak View Drive.

But don't mind them — they are there so a father can talk to his son deployed overseas with the Marines.
Or at least that's what will happen after some further modifications.

Dan Woolman, who lives at 111 W. Oak View Drive and owns the 60-foot and 35-foot towers, first flipped the switch on ham radio at the age of 13. Now at 55, Woolman has resurrected his past enthusiasm for amateur radio in his retirement by investing more than $100,000 in top-of-the-line equipment and antennas.

"If there's one thing I enjoy, it's ham radio," said Woolman, whose call sign on the airwaves is W6ATR. "It's been a lifelong avocation for me."

Woolman is also involved in the Navy-Marine Corps Military Affiliate Radio System program, which sends messages to service men and women overseas.

He hopes that once he has placed an 80-meter antenna onto his larger tower he will on occasion be able to speak to his 18-year-old son Brett, who has recently completed his fifth week of training with the Marines.

"I'm pretty proud of my son," Woolman said. "He's quite a kid."

Woolman also wants to use the setup to help other families communicate with their loved ones who are in the military and overseas. That communication is usually through computer messages, called MARSGRAMS.

New technology has largely diminished the useful role ham radio once played in keeping military personnel in touch with their families back home.

"It has slowed down now with the advent of cellular telephones," said Wilbert Musselman, a fellow ham radio user in Goldsboro, N.C., who chats with Woolman on air. "But it's still active and [we're] doing a lot of computer correspondence now."

Woolman's friend Mike Meraz of Visalia advised him in the building of the towers.

One of the more difficult tasks, Meraz said, included the piecing together of each of the antenna elements on the ground and delicately placing and balancing them onto the boom, which is suspended in the air.

Though Woolman elicited some attention from the city of Visalia over the structural integrity of the towers, Meraz said the cement has been stress-pressured. Aside from tightening bolts to the boom that may become loosened by torque from the rotating antenna, the structures are sound, he said.

"If he wants to, he can drop [the towers] all the way down, and it can clear

the roof," Meraz said, which Woolman does do when high winds risk toppling the towers.

Woolman added that the towers are designed to withstand 70-mph winds, which are not frequent in the Valley. Woolman said the 80-meter antenna, will enable contact with his son and further participation with the military radio program. It operates at low voltage so it will not interfere with any of the neighbors' electronics.

He said he offers filters to anyone who tells him they suspect the signals are responsible for interference.

Meraz, who will help him place the antenna on the 60-foot tower, said the two plan to install it this month.

As far as the reception on the airwaves to Woolman's high-end hardware?

"By golly you have a good signal," said one broadcaster.

# The reporter can be reached at nmcclell@visalia.gannett.com

No hamming....

I haven't been on the HF bands for a while. No CW, no DX Packet Cluster, nada. I'd like to get some quality time with the CW paddle.

The weather station is down - not sure what's wrong.

My 2M packet station is partially working. The TNC is hooked up to yet another old computer that I moved out to the garage. But the wireless network connection out to the garage is hit and miss.... so I'm going to try to set up a bridge to extend the network out there.

I have been prepping the W4V Veterans Day Special Event cards and certificates. I plan to finish up the cards and should be able to print the certificates out tomorrow. All should be in the mail on Thursday.

Beer update: The total fermentation time was two weeks. I bottled the first batch on Saturday. I varied the amount and type of sugar. In 1/4 of the bottles I put 1/2 brown sugar and 1/2 regular sugar. In another 1/4 of the bottles I put all brown sugar. The rest of the bottles got the regular sugar. We'll see what kind of difference the sugar makes. This Saturday I'll put 4 of the beers in the fridge for conditioning..... then 4 more the next week, etc. I have another batch to start fermenting... probably this weekend.

Went to the eye doctor today and was diagnosed with keratoconus in my left eye. At first I thought that meant that my eye would bulge, possibly pop out and/or bleed... but it's actually not too bad. Keratoconus, or KC for short, is a thinning disorder of the cornea that causes distortion and reduced vision. The biggest short term impact is that I have to get hard contact lenses. I do need to start taking better care of my eyes.

Already the 19th of November!

I've been falling behind on my updates...

(1) W4V - Veterans' Day Special Event Station. I got a late start on Saturday... took a while to pack the truck. Setup at Fort Story took longer than expected - my biggest challenge was tying down the center mast after I'd gotten it vertical. It's really a two person job and hard to do alone. But once I got the antenna up, the rest was easy. A beautiful day as well, low 70s and clear skies. The QSOs rolled in, as long as I was calling "CQ" I was getting QSOs. Sunday was a different story. The forecast called for rain, but I thought I could weather it out. I arrived at Fort Story but the winds became too extreme - no chance of getting the center pole up. I threw in the towel for a portable operation and headed home to operate. Not the same satisfaction running a special event from home, but I still enjoyed the QSOs. Even got Wyoming... which completes my Worked All States Award!

(2) Kenwood TS-930S.... my "new to me rig". I picked this up from a local ham at a bargain. What a radio!

This piece of electronics perfection is over 20 years old, but it performs like a dream. The receiver is amazing. Also getting great reception reports on both SSB and CW. This rig is now the centerpiece of my shack.

(3) I didn't work the Sweepstakes this weekend, but did have a QSO with a special event station celebrating Oklahoma statehood. However, I did work a sweepstakes station on 15M who was operating from the Santa Clara Valley.

(4) Also a few CW QSOs - I've hooked up my Logikey CMOS4 Keyer. Amazing little device, lots of features - but does a great job as a basic keyer.

Upcoming Special Event Stations

Nov 9-Nov 12, 1600Z-2000Z, Arlington Heights, IL. Armored Force Amateur Radio Net, KA9NLX. Veteran's Day SE honoring all veterans. 14.325 7.283 7.035 3.985. Certificate. John Paskevicz, 1423 North Ridge Ave, Arlington Heights, IL 60004. AFAR members will operate from different parts of the country on all amateur HF frequencies and 2 meters.

Nov 10-Nov 13, 1300Z-2100Z, Hampton, VA. US Army Amateur Radio Society, W4V. Veteran's Day observance from Fort Monroe, VA. 14.248 7.248. Certificate. US Amry Radio Society, 224 Beauregard Heights, Hampton, VA 23669. www.usaars.com

Nov 11, 1200Z-2359Z, Nutley, NJ. Robert D. Grant United Labor Amateur Radio Association, N2UL. CQ Veterans Day, Labor remember our heroes. 28.420 12.260. Certificate. RDGULARA, c/o WA2VJA, 112 Prospect St, Nutley, NJ 07110-0716. rdgulara.org

Nov 11, 1300Z-1900Z, Brownsville, TX. Charro Amateur Radio Club, W5CRC. Return of the Snow Bird to South Texas. 28.335 21.335 14.335. QSL. Bob Austin, K5VC, 107 W Park Dr, Brownsville, TX 78520. www.qsl.net/w5crc

Nov 11, 1430Z-2039Z, Grand Rapids, MI. Michigan Amateur Radio Alliance, W8USA. Veteran's Day. 14.250 7.250 14.070 7.040. QSL. W8USA, PO Box 670, Comstock Park, MI 49321. www.w8usa.org

Nov 11, 1500Z-2230Z, Baton Rouge, LA. Baton Rouge Amateur Radio Club, W5KID. Veteran's Day. CW 28.060 21.060 14.060 10.106 7.040 SSB 14.250 to 24.320. QSL. W5KID, c/o USS Kidd Museum, 305 South River Rd, Baton Rough, LA 70802. www.lsu.edu/brarc/USS_Kidd.htm

Nov 11, 1500Z-2200Z, Waterloo, IA. Five Sullivan Brothers Amateur Radio Club, W0FSB. Veterans' Day and the 64th Anniversary of the loss of the Five Sullivans. 50.140 21.240 14.240 7.240. Certificate and QSL. Five Sullivan Brothers Amateur Radio Club, 4015 Independence Ave, Waterloo, IA 50703.

Nov 13, 2100Z-0000Z, Fort Wayne, IN. Amateur Radio Military Appreciation Day, KC9HAJ. Military Appreciation Monday/DAV -- Golden Corral. 21.240 14.260 7.240. Certificate. Emery McClendon, 6116 Graymoor Ln, Fort Wayne, IN 46835. www.armad.net

Lunch contact

I had a short QSO with Ray, W3YBF during lunch today. After my second call of CQ on 7.114 MHz, Ray came back with a nice 59 signal. He started out sending faster than I could copy, but then slowed down. I wish had had more time for a longer QSO.

I'm also slowing sending out the remainder of the certificates and QSL cards from the W4M Memorial Day special event station. These are to folks who have not sent a SASE (or anything else), but I figured I might as well send out the certificates I've printed and the QSL cards that I have.

A few updates from the shack....

Scouts: received my Radio Merit Badge pamphlet in the mail today. Between the pamphlet and web resources, I want to put together a course package for the merit badge. One of the gentlemen I work with has a son who is interested in pursuing the Radio Merit Badge... so I need to get crackin'.

Army MARS: put in an application for Army MARS. The VA state rep told me it will be a couple weeks before I get my MARS callsign and initial training information.

US Army Amateur Radio Society: picked up a few more members. need to make contact with the Iraqi folks to check on the status of the pending YI9 applications.

DX: made contact with one of the newest DXCC entity... Montenegro! The YU6AO Montenegro DXpedition team now has a Web page at http://www.yu6ao.info/ and a log search at http://www.yu6ao.info/log.html ... I'm in the log!

eBay: purchased an ASTATIC D-104 microphone. Should be a fun project adapting it for use with my IC-706MKIIG.

Local ham swap: made a deal to purchase a SB-220 Heathkit HF Linear Amplifier! This should give me a little more motivation to improve my antenna situation. Also need to acquire an antenna tuner.

Lighthouse QSL cards: finished my QSL cards for the Bodie Island Lighthouse (USA-062) and the Currituck Beach Lighthouse (USA-212) activations. Some of the Currituck Beach contacts are getting a North Carolina lighthouse key chain/compass/thermometer. Tried to get those to fellow ARLHS members.

W4M Special Event Station QSL cards/certificates: everyone who had sent me a SASE has been sent a QSL card (and certificate if they provided a large envelope).

SkyWarn Net: checked into the Chesapeake Amateur Radio Service (CARS) SkyWarn Net. They had made recent improvements to their repeater and have greatly expanded the coverage.

W4M Feedback

I got the following email:

From : KC2HZW
Sent : Monday, July 24, 2006 8:20 PM
Subject : RE: W4M QSL

Hi Scott!

I recieved your QSL card and Special Event Certificate today. WOW! I Have to say this is one of the most beautiful cards and certificates I have ever seen. It's really obvious that you put quite a bit of time and thought into their creation. While I don't "chase" special event stations, I do work a hand full each year; this one will definitely go into my book to show my ham friends and visitors to my station! Nice job!

73 de Richard, KC2HZW

It's nice getting the positive feedback. Makes all the effort I put into the event worthwhile!

Lazy Sunday

Knocked out some more QSL cards and certificates for the W4M special event station. It's fun going through all the QSL cards. Two QSL cards stood out from this morning, one from Washington State near Fort Lewis and the other from Sierra Vista, AZ... near Fort Huachuca. Each QSL response has the W4M folded QSL card, the Old Point Comfort Lighthouse (USA 567) QSL card, the W4M US Army Amateur Radio Society special event certificates, and sometimes a picture or two from the actual event.

The US Army Amateur Radio Society is picking up more members. We've been able to identify more hams downrange as well as hams getting ready to go - trying to get them their reciprocal licenses as soon as possible. Also identified some folks in Korea, to include a POC to help with licensing. I need to start looking at Germany as well... I'm sure there has to be quite a few Army hams in Germany.

.... and I even had a 40M CW QSO today! Had about a 40 minute ragchew with AA4TB who is down in Summervile, SC (near Charleston). Tommy put up with my horrible CW skills and kept it slow. I need to find the time to do some serious work on my CW. I wish I could find somebody I could establish a regular CW sked with... like two or three times a week. I think this would really help me improve. Plus - on air practice is a lot better than working one of those CW computer programs.

I have grand plans for a new antenna. The Radio Works is a local company and produces quality antennas. I have two Radio Works G5RVs - one of which I bought from a local ham. The antenna was originally purchased back in the 1980s, but unused. I used the antenna for the W4M special event station - still looked like new and worked like a champ. My current antenna is a B&W end fed inverted vee. Although it has omnidirectional properties, it has a N/S orientation. My plan is to put a Radio Works Carolina Windom 160 Special with a E/W orientation. I intend to use it as a flattop, 133' in length. I have nice pine trees in the front and back yards, I think I can get the Window up about 50' or more. Just waiting for my CSV17 Pneumatic Antenna Launcher!

How MARS Came to Afghanistan


By Captain Jeff Hammer, N9NIC

It all began in the spring of 2004 when the 76th Infantry Brigade of the Indiana National Guard was notified that we would be going to Afghanistan.

As a 13-year Amateur Radio Operator and National Guardsman I wanted to make use of my skills and do something unique. I decided to establish a MARS station for my Command in Afghanistan. The first step was applying for a MARS license, and it came through before we deployed. C-130 transports flew us to Kabul in July. We began to occupy Camp Phoenix while the unit that had been here for eight months was preparing to move out.

In my case there was a particular motivation to get MARS up and running. Although a few contacts had been made in the past with Special Forces in Afghanistan, no one had successfully established a fixed MARS station here accessible to the troops generally.

I would soon find out why.

Speedway, IN, near Indianapolis, is where I grew up and where my father, grandfather, and great grandfather all called home. Around the 5th grade I started to take a big interest in electronics. My father and grandfather had grown up using CB radios. I got one and joined the Circle City (Indianapolis) Radio Emergency Assistance Communications Team (R.E.A.C.T.) In 1990 I went off to Purdue University hoping to become an electrical engineer. During the first year I joined the Indiana National Guard. At the same time I was going through the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps program. After graduation I took on a military intelligence assignment assisting law enforcement in Northwest Indiana I had never planned on joining the military, but Operation Desert Storm sparked something inside me. My father served as an Intelligence Officer and a Military Police Officer and retired after 26 years in the Army and National Guard. My grandfather and great-grandfather both served in the World Wars. There was a lot of family history and pride that continues to drive me to this day.

Basic Training started in the summer of ’91 and it was then, at Red Stone Arsenal, AL, that I decided to get my Amateur Radio license. I studied every night for two months. One November day I walked six miles into Huntsville (after spending a long time convincing my drill sergeant that it was a good idea), took the test, passed, and enjoyed the six mile walk back thinking of all the new radio equipment I wanted to buy.

Back home in Indiana, the fact that I had a full-time job as a military intelligence officer supporting law enforcement and a part-time job as a police and fire dispatcher at the Speedway Police Department didn’t leave a lot of time for play. However, I earned my General Class license in 2001 and got heavily involved in the new world of HF. In Kabul there were all sorts of regular military priorities involved in getting a military post functioning as opposed to just setting up a field site.

Task Force Phoenix, which is made up primarily of the 76th Infantry Brigade, arrived in Afghanistan in mid July. It took about two months to get the MARS station operational at Camp Phoenix. Our SGC SG-2000 PowerTalk HF transceiver, PowerCube amplifier and SG-104 antenna were going to have to wait because there was no place to put them until the previous unit moved out.

So I patiently (not really) waited for the day to come when we completed taking over Camp Phoenix. That day came and went and still no luck finding the time or place to install the station. There was no place to put the radio in the command post yet, so I started coming up with a way to rig it up in our living tent.

Now the problem was where to put this 90 foot antenna. I climbed up a lighting tower behind the command center and installed the antenna in an inverted-V configuration. It didn't work too well because of the nearby antennas for all the traditional military communications. I had to find a new location.

I moved into my permanent living quarters (a very nice plywood hut that I share with 7 other officers). I worked with the Signal Officer to get approval for a location that would not interfere with the existing military communications equipment and provide me with a suitable location for the MARS station. Next I got with the engineers to build two temporary masts with the only material we had—two-by-fours (see the picture titled The MARS Antenna). We cut two holes in the top of each two-by-four and ran the cord guy lines through them. The base of the masts is held down by sandbags. The antenna only sits about 25 feet high right now, but when I went back into my hut and fired up the SGC 2000 and started spinning the dial, I heard the call sign UA4FER on the 20 meter amateur band. On my first transmission I made contact with UA4FER loud and clear and in Russia! Not bad for a 150 watt radio some 2,250 miles away.

The next night after some coordination with the MARS European Gateway in Germany, I made contact on the first try with AEM1USA near Heidelberg, Germany.

Unfortunately that was the last time I heard of AEM1USA. The Army had decided to shut the gateway station down to save money. This caused communications problems for many stations throughout Europe and Asia. For those of us in faraway and remote locations it was especially devastating – like being able to hear one day and becoming deaf the next.

I turned to Amateur Radio to continue testing the system by making as many contacts as possible to get feedback on signal strength and quality. So far I have made contacts in Russia, Germany, Croatia, Finland, Sweden, Hungary, Iraq, and the Faroe Islands. Each has reported great signal quality. I look forward to the day when I can make contact directly with the United States.

The fall of 2004 was the season of the antenna moves. Our 90 foot folded dipole required a lot of real estate and as construction projects moved around the camp, my antenna had to keep moving with them, or rather, away from them– eight times in all. I had 200 feet of a special version of super low-loss RG-213 coax manufactured by The Wireman and needed every bit of it.

The antenna currently sits about 25 feet high with half of it hanging over a road inside the camp. One day as I was getting ready to do my first linkup on digital a truck filled way too high with something caught the antenna and snapped it. I managed to get it fixed and restrung in about half an hour and made that contact. After a long winter of almost no activity on the HF bands due to poor propagation and weather conditions, the approach of spring brought new hope. I started hearing faint voice traffic during the nightly net. Voice still doesn’t work as of March, but AEM6AA and I decided to experiment with digital. (That’s Mike Woolverton WB0ZPW, a U.S. Air Force retiree living in Athens, Greece,) PSK31 was the first try and it went pretty well. We had reliable enough digital communications to pass two MARSgrams back to the states.

It wasn’t long before a lot of interference appeared on the frequency. PSK31 wasn’t cutting it. AEM6AA and I decided to try some other modes. The one we have settled on as of March is MFSK16. It is much more reliable and breaks through the interference where PSK31 wouldn’t.

MFSK16 was the mode I received my first MARSGRAM, a reply back from AAV5MK. That’s Mal Lunsford W9MAL, the Indiana MARS traffic manager. He was letting us know the first message had been delivered. It had been addressed to Maj. Gen. Martin Umbarger, the Indiana state Adjutant General, announcing that our station was operational. We have found that a military frequency near the 40-meter Ham band was the only one that worked for MARS contacts. I use the SGC PowerCube linear most of the time because it is practically impossible to make contact without at least 200 watts. MARS is an extra volunteer duty for me so I conduct it primarily in the evening after I am off shift, between 1500Z and 1800Z. There is still a lot of testing. Conditions are anything but perfect when your site is in between mountains and 3,000 miles away from the nearest station. There are plans to add PACTOR capability and raise the antenna higher in an effort to improve signal quality. My ultimate goal is to establish phone patches. For the Command, I feel that establishing a MARS station that is ready to support the troops is a major milestone. For me personally, I am proud to be part of a network of volunteer communicators that support the troops and the military’s mission. Doing it in a combat theater is just that much more satisfying.

For many if not most of America’s troops overseas, e-mail and cell phones provide a quick link with family and friends back home. But not all service personnel are deployed within reach of these services. Here’s the story of a Ham determined to carry on Amateur Radio’s tradition of handling “morale and welfare” messages via the Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS).

Captain Hammer is assigned to the Coalition Task Force Phoenix III as senior intelligence officer responsible for managing Human Intelligence and Counterintelligence Operations. His duties include fielding a team of more than 400 local interpreters. “Of course,” he says, “I have quality Non-Commissioned Officers who do most of the real work.”