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Fathers Day for Coast Guardsmen at Sea:

Bill Sexton (N1IN) on June 17, 2013
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From Sea to Shining . . . Desert

Fort Huachuca, Arizona -- The calling station was a rather unusual one for operators at the Army MARS gateway in the Arizona desert: a seagoing U.S. Coast Guard cutter.

Just before Father’s Day, the Cutter Mohawk out of Key West, Fla., radioed to ask if the MARS HQ station could connect crewmen to their families via HF radio on Sunday (June 16). Chief of Operations David McGinnis gave an affirmative answer and turned the organizing over to James Sylvester, the national phone patch coordinator based in Poinciana, Fla.

It was a struggle against the boisterous (air) waves, but despite poor propagation, eight MARS members succeeded in patching with a total of 30 families during a four-hour window. An additional handful of crewmen were able to leave voicemail messages.

At Fort Huachuca, with its massive log periodic beam antennas, McGinnis logged close to half of the successful contacts. He was joined in the operation by Army MARS members on both sides of the country: William Piles (NC), Brian Handy (AZ), Scott Rando (PA), Ben Corder (FL), Chatmon Houston Jr., (MA), Jude Flores (NM) and Pat Lane (TN).

Though hastily set up, the procedure was a familiar one. MARS handled hundreds of thousands of similar free phone patches and radiograms for service members during the Korean and Vietnam Wars and first Iraq War. Email and cell phones largely took over the military’s health and welfare communications in the 1990s, but somebody in the Coast Guard still remembered.

The three MARS branches—Army, Air Force and Navy-Marine Corps—maintained their telephone linking readiness after Desert Storm (1990) despite the steep fall-off in use. Recently the service has been proving its continued usefulness in the Department of Homeland Security’s preparations for response to major disasters.

MOHAWK is a 270 foot, “Famous” Class Medium Endurance Cutter. Since her commissioning in March, 1991 MOHAWK has been responsible for the rescue of more than 5,000 Haitian, Cuban, and Dominican Republic migrants and has supported more than 750 migrants on deck at one time. She brought aid to Haiti after the earthquake catastrophe in 2010. Mohawk’s crews have been awarded two Unit Commendations, the Joint Meritorious Service Award and two Humanitarian Service Awards.

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