The Army MARS program is alive, well (contrary to many pundits who say otherwise) and continuing to grow. All service MARS programs have been undergoing a significant refocusing of their priorities in the last few years. Morale and Welfare message support for servicemen and women overseas has decreased significantly with the advent of inexpensive telephone calling cards and e-mail/internet access for soldiers serving overseas. But for those soldiers deployed to areas of the world where these facilities are not available the MARS program may be their only expeditious means of maintaining contact with families and friends back home. This support historically has been the program's most visible activity, however emergency communications support to the services during disasters, both natural and man-made, and an expanding role in support of Homeland Security are now the driving force for MARS.
As with the amateur service the level of interest and participation varies by state. In states with active memberships, training in emergency communications operations, in particular Essential Elements of Information (EEI) disaster information reporting to the Joint Staff in the Pentagon, furthering the state of the art with digital modes, antennas, and other technical pursuits keep the level of interest high. Although the surplus property programs have become more limited recently there are still opportunities for members to acquire radio, electronic test, power generation, and computer equipment free of charge.
Having said all that the MARS programs are not without problems, but the good news is that those problems have been identified and are being addressed (at least in Army MARS).
On balance if you're interested in a more structured and rewarding way to support the security and well being of our nation and the servicemen and women of our armed services I'd recommend joining MARS. As a now retired soldier with 26 years of service I can tell you that the MARS program has been and remains a valuable asset to the nation and the Army and its soldiers, to include me personally.
Give it a try...it's a volunteer organization and if you don't believe it's for you please find other ways to channel your volunteer efforts to support our nation. You can find out more info about the Army MARS program at:http://www.asc.army.mil/MARS/
Army MARS Operator AAT3BE