Ham-MARS Joint Ecomm Exercise:
Bill Sexton (N1IN)
August 27, 2013
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Everything about Pacific Endeavor-13 was simulated except for one unexpected occurrence. Electric power actually failed in "Pacifica" the disaster-battered Asian nation that a small band of amateurs was seeking to assist.
It happened right at the start of the globe-spanning exercise organized by the U.S. Defense Department Sunday night into morning (Aug. 25-26). At 9N1AA in Nepal, the real "Pacifica." Dr. Sanjeeb Panday and fellow operators kept going on battery power with only 25 watts output. But a stroke of the other kind of luck provided a low-power digital link to an amateur in Afghanistan.
Tim McFadden, a retired Army communicator now helping train Afghan troops, had only joined Army MARS less than a month before the exercise. Although the operation only lasted just under three hours, months had gone into preparing PE-13.
The Pentagon and U.S. Pacific Command set it up as a test of amateur emergency support in Asia after Japan's tsunami catastrophe, using procedures of the International Amateur Radio Union. . MARS, military stations and amateurs collaborated. "We had stations monitoring in the Continental US, Hawaii, Japan, Germany, and Afghanistan," reported Paul English, Army MARS program officer. "There was only intermittent reception in Germany and the US on PSK but we had a solid connection between Nepal and Afghanistan. Approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes into the exercise, power was restored in Nepal and we did have marginal voice communications from Nepal to Afghanistan and Germany." "We were able to submit a number of spot info reports to the Pacific Command and responded to a number of Information requests in a timely manner," English said.
This was a great showing by all. The star of the show was PSK-31, the very basic digital mode that travels well on low power, even in the otherwise grim propagation conditions during PE-13. "When power was restored in Nepal," English said, "we did make limited voice contacts with Afghanistan. Germany.
"Hawaii could hear but not talk to Nepal. Propagation for voice only lasted a few minutes." Tim McFadden, who put in 31 years service in uniform, went for his ham license after watching a fellow solder work a pileup with only 100 watts while they were deployed in Turkey during 1991 in the Iraq War's early days. Now employed as a military contractor in Afghanistan, he has a homebrew delta loop and G5RV installed as an inverted-V for his Yaesu FT-897D.
Preliminary account had a total of 60 stations logged at MARS headquarters at Fort Huachuca and the station in Germany of MARS region director Daniel Wolff.Β Participants, including MARS stations in the U.S, and Japan, used their amateur call signs.
One unique feature of PE-13 was use of the Defense Department's open bulletin board for civil emergencies, APAN (All Partners Access Network). Army MARS Operations Chief David McGinnis coordinated information flow via APAN to the DoD and U.S. Pacific Command. A second departure was avoiding mistaken public alarm from use of usual emergency language. Instead, all communication used terms from the game of cricket.
During rehearsals, messaging had been disrupted by hams seeking to contact Nepal, which is rarely heard on the air in most of the world. That was alleviated by resorting to abbreviated call signs plus the accident of dependence on digital during the actual exercise. Program officer English did note that "contest DX hunters" reappeared during the brief period of voice transmission.
There are many lessons learned from this exercise and I hope for "Β great learning process for all participants," English commented. "Propagation was challenging throughout exercise. We had real-world challenges just as one would expect in a natural disaster."
9N1AA had the last word. Dr. Panday, a college professor, messaged to his relay station just over 1,000 miles west along the Himalayas, "I am very thankful to you. You did a great job." "Right now I am feeling like I have climbed an Everest ," he added.
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