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AB8AAT

"The Voice to the World"

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Old Station 1969
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New Station 1970

A Brief History of MARS Station AB8AAT
Da Nang 1969-1970

By Sgt. F. E. Laird

INTRODUCTION:

The MARS station AB8AAT evolved from an old and cramped AN/GRC-46 Van that was designed to handle Radio Teletype Communication between various ground force units spread throughout the Northern sector of DaNang and Hue, (ancient Capital of Vietnam), into a radio "show place" for men of the 37th Signal Battalion as well as visiting dignitaries that landed at the DaNang airbase and required a quite place to call back to the states and conduct official family and family business.

Company A of the 37th Battalion was tasked to set up and maintain a Military Radio Affiliate System (MARS) station late in 1969 just as the monsoon season was about to begin in Southeast Asia. Headquarters for the 1st Signal Brigade, located in Phu Lam (near Saigon), was anxious to provide a means for the men of the 37th Signal Battalion to communicate with friends and family members back in the States, or more commonly referred to as "back in the world". The Collins Company of Cedar Rapids, Iowa donated hundreds of their elite S-Line Amateur Radio Rigs to the U.S. ground force units operating in Vietnam that were capable of setting up the equipment and operating a station.

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As a newly recruited SP-4 with Company A of the 37th Signal Battalion, I was assigned to help set up and operate the new station. This was actually a stroke of good luck for me, as my original MOS was 05B-20 (radio operator) which could have landed me with a PRC-25 somewhere in the "Delta" where I initially began my tour in September 1969. After radio school at Ft. Ord, California, I was sent to Ft. Gordon, Georgia to complete the 05C-20 program that designated me as Radio Teletype Operator'. I believe that the final decision to place me in the Mars program, however, was the fact that I had been a Ham Radio Operator as a kid growing up in various countries of the South Pacific and was familiar with all the modalities of Radio (Voice and Morse Code) and with Army training Secure Crypto Teletype. As a teenager on the Island of Guam I communicated with my fellow "Hams" in Australia, Japan, and Indonesia under the call Sign of WA6AIQ and later in California WA6JAP.

With the addition of the newly acquired Collins Radio gear it became readily apparent that our "van" quarters would not allow the teletype operation to function efficiently, so with the help of a few senior sergeants in the unit, a plea was made to the company commander to see if we could move to a larger facility.

Shortly after our request went to the company commander and battalion commander for a larger facility, our team was informed that if we were up to the task that we could take over an old farm house shack that was about to become vacant very soon. This old shack was once part of a French Army Compound that dated back to the colonial period in the forties and fifties, and was situated very close to a RVN unit that was no more than three-hundred meters to our North.

OPERATORS OF TANGO:

Our radio team which consisted of SP-4 Miller, SP-4 Laird, SP-4 Collins, SP-4 Laidlaw and PFC Ijams went to work immediately to clean up the old French shack, and remodel the interior of the structure.

We all worked hard to rebuild the station to the standards of the 37th Signal Battalion, and uphold the lineage of the battalion that was originally activated May 11, 1942 and was a veteran of the Rhineland Campaign in Austria during WW II. The unit was reactivated in Vietnam August 1, 1966, and went on to win two Meritorious Unit Commendations and eight campaign streamers.

The 37th Signal Battalion was a component of the 1st Signal Brigade. The headquarters of the 37th was located on the large air base at Da Nang which was approximately half way between Hanoi to the North and Saigon to the South. Strategically, DaNang fell into I Corps, which was one of four tactical combat zones created in the Republic of Vietnam in an effort to manage the course of the war during its seventeen phases.

DEDICATION OF TANGO:

The MARS station was originally staffed by operators from Company A of the 37th, but was re-designated the 14th Signal Company in early 1970 after the dedication of the new station by BG Jack Albright in March 1970. General Albright was the Deputy Commander of the 1St. Signal Brigade with headquarters in Phu Lam, and he would stop by the station from time to time to a call his family in the states.

AB8AAT was just one of fifty-one "in country" Army Mars stations that were spread throughout South Vietnam during the period 1966-1975.

The last MARS facility to go off the air was probably AB8SG located in the American Embassy in Saigon during the evacuation of the Embassy in 1975. Just about every Army unit in the field had a MARS station, including Airborne Brigades, Special Forces Advisory Groups, Infantry Divisions, Transportation Battalions, Medical Units, Aviation Battalions, and of course most Signal Corps units.

All of the MARS operators, regardless of where their Station was located, had to rely on a network of Stateside Ham Operators to complete the phone connection sequence, which was referred to as a "phone-patch". This was accomplished by first establishing a contact with a U.S. based MARS operator that could place a phone call from his or her radio station to the person that the caller in Vietnam wished to talk to. All long distance telephone charges were usually accepted by the person receiving the call in the States.

FREQUENT VISITORS OF TANGO:

Although the prime responsibility of AB8AAT was to provide stateside calls for personnel of the 37th Signal Battalion, we also provided a great deal of traffic for allied military and civilian agencies that visited our station while enroute to the Phillipines, or back to Hawaii for briefing sessions with their respective commands. For example, Air America pilots would stop by our station routinely to call home after dropping off CIA officers that were travelling through DaNang on their way from Vientiane, Laos, to Saigon or Manila. They shared many interesting stories with us about what was going on next door in Laos, and the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail interdiction attempts.

The more interesting visitors, however, were U.S.Air Force pilots that wanted to call home after returning from missions over North Vietnam with the 366th Tactical Air Wing that was stationed just down the road from our battalion compound. The pilots that used the station the most would reciprocate by bringing us fresh fruit or some necessity items (Scotch, & Cigars) from Manila when they visited the Philippines on R&R, or if they took a weekend escape junket to Clark Air Force Base in the mountain area of Bagio. As I think back four decades ago about my Vietnam experience the one thing that stands out the most, was that not all units had the same food standards. Somehow the Air Force always seemed to have the best mess halls and the best chow. As a consequence whenever the pilots extended an invitation to join them for chow, our MARS station staff usually jumped at the opportunity. Needless to say the pilots knew that they could rely on AB8AAT to help them call back to the States on a regular basis.

MARS Station AB8AAT Chain of Command:
BG Jack Albright Deputy Brigade Commander 1st Signal Brigade
Col. D.W. Ogden 12th Signal Group, Phu Bai
Lt. Col. Rajchel Commander 37th Signal Battalion
Major C.J. Zabriski Deputy Commander 37th Signal Battalion
Cpt. Wm. Pratt Company Commander 14th Signal Company
Sgt. F.E. Laird Station Chief
SP-4 K.L. Miller Station Operator
SP-4 W.D. Collins Station Operator
SP-4 J. Ijams Station Operator
SP-4 S. Laidlaw Station Operator

REPUTATION OF TANGO:

The reputation of "Tango" as a very efficient and well run MARS station began to spread throughout the DaNang area, and as a consequence we would periodically get the attention of senior officers from all branches of the military that would require immediate help to contact someone in the States for personal issues, family issues, or in some cases legal issues.

We always appreciated it when a grateful officer sent a letter of thanks to our commanding officer that would usually be filed in our personnel file. The Signal officers in the 37th Signal Battalion were all "strack" West Point graduates with the exception of one captain that was a math major from William & Mary. These officers enjoyed feedback from troopers as well as other unit commanders regarding the efficiency of the MARS station. They left the MARS station team alone for the most part, because they realized that we contributed to the morale of the battalion, and the station was a show place for visiting dignitaries and politicians that needed a diversion from their inspection tour of Army and Marine Corps units located in the DaNang area to the DMZ. The chain of command for the station would notify us when the station was being acknowledged for some form of excellent performance from a fellow officer in the Da Nang area. One such letter of commendation came from an Air Force Major that lavished praise on the station after having a terrible experience with rival MARS Stations in the vicinity of our station, because he could not make contact with his family back in the states.

Due to the time zone difference between Vietnam and the U.S., most of our phone patches were run at night. The station kept a wall chart that tracked the number of calls that we completed in a twenty-four hour time period beginning at 08:00 Zulu Time and concluding the next morning at 0:800 Zulu. We were encouraged to keep the calls going all night in order to justify the personnel assigned to the station, and in some slow periods we walked around the compound and asked the battalion troops if they would like to call home. When activity was slow during the day, most of us slept in the station where it was much cooler and chatted with our sister stations that were spread throughout Southeast Asia. Our favorite operator was "Hank" up at Camp Evans with the 101st Airborne. He was the station chief for AB8AAQ and an Electrical Engineer from the University of Iowa. Hank was our "goto" person when we encountered a problem of some sort with the Collins S-Line.

Vietnam In-Country U.S. Army Mars Stations:

Citation for the following table:
Marine Corps MARS Home. 2012. Navy-Marine Corps MARS in Vietnam. 11 Oct. 2012 http://www.marinecorpsmars.org/army/armyrvn.htm.
Station Location(s) Sponsoring Units Years
AB8AB Qui Nhon HHD, QNH Sub-Area Command 66-72
AB8AC Cam Rahn Bay C Co 41st signal 67-68
AB8AD Di An 121st Signal Battalion, 1st Infantry Division 66-70
Kontum Task Force #2, ADV 70-72
AB8AE An Khe 509th Signal Battalion 66-67
An Khe 41st Signal Battalion, 1st Air Cavalry Division 67-70
DaNang 142nd Trans 71-73
AB8AF Soc Trang 52nd Signal Battalion 67-70
Long Binh USARV Headquarters 70-73
AB8AG Nha Trang 54th Signal Battalion 66-73
AB8AH Phuoc Vinh 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division 66-69
Bien Hoa HQ, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment 69-70
New Port (Saigon) USS LTC Page 70-72
AB8AI Bac Lieu MACV Advisory Team 51 66-69
Ca Mau MACV Advisory Team 51 69-72
AB8AJ Cu Chi 125th Signal Battalion, 25th Infantry Division 66-71
AB8AK Phan Rang 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division 67-68
Camp Eagle (Hue) HQ, 1st Brigade. 101st Airborne Div. 68-71
Song Be MACV Advisory Team 28 71-73
AB8AL Lai Khe/Thu Dau Mot MACV Advisory Team 70 66-71
AB8AM Bien Hoa 173rd Airborne Brigade 66-68
Due Pho (LZ English) 173rd Airborne Brigade 68-71
AB8AN Can Tho 13th Aviation Battalion 66-72
AB8AO Xuan Loc MACV Advisory Team 95 66-71
Cao Lanh MACV Advisory Team 84 71-72
AB8AP Hue City Special Forces Advisory Group 66-70
Camp Eagle MACV Advisory Team 3 71 -72
AB8AQ Phu Bai 8th Radio Research Field Station 66-73
AB8AR Cam Ranh Bay 1st Trans Battalion, USNS Corpus Christi 66-68
Off of Vung Tau 1st Trans Battalion, USNS Corpus Christi 68-72
AB8AS Pleiku 4th Infantry Division 66-70
AB8AT   Co A 53d Signal Bn, II Field Force Vietnam 66-68
Long Binh (north) The Plantation Units of the 25th Infantry Division 68-70
AB8AU Camp Bear Cat / Dong Tam 9th Signal Battalion, 9th Infantry Division 66-69
Bien Hoa HQ, II Field Force, USARV 69-71
AB8AU/AZ MOBILE Unit Traveled throughout AOR 9th Signal Battalion, 9th Infantry Division 68-69
AB8AV Vung Tau 369th Signal Battalion 36th Evacuation Hospital 68-71
AB8AW Nha Trang HQ, 5th Special Forces Group 66-71
AB8AX Hoi An (Hawk Hill) 196th Light Infantry Brigade 68-70
AB8AY Phan Thiet (LZ Betty) MACV Advisory Team 37 67-68
Phan Thiet (LZ Betty) 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division 69-70
Tan Son Nhut (Saigon) 224th Aviation Battalion 70-73
AB8AZ Dong Tam 9th Signal Battalion, 9th Infantry Division 67-69
Phu Bai 501st Signal Battalion, 101st Airborne Division 69-71
AB8AAA Long Binh 1st Logistical Command 68-70
Saigon Headquarters, MACV 70-72
AB8AAB Bien Hoa 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division 68-70
Bao Loc MAC V Advisory Group 70-71
AB8AAC Bear Cat Mountain 4th Infantry Division 68-70
Dau Tieng / Phuoc Vinh 587th Signal Company for 3rd Brigade 25th Infantry 1968
13th Signal Battalion, 1st Air Cavalry Division
70-71
AB8AAD Chu Lai 523rd Signal Battalion & 27th Evacuation Hosp & Americal Division 67-72
AB8AAE Camp Eagle (Hue) 501st Signal Company, 101st Airborne Division 68-71
AB8AAF Tuy Hoa 261st Signal Company 68-71
AB8AAG Camp Evans (north of Hue) 1st Air Cavalry Division 67-68
AB8AAH Duc Pho 11th Infantry Brigade 67-71
AB8AAI Dong Ha (near DMZ) Units of 101st Airborne Division & 5th Mech 69-71
AB8AAJ Pleiku 43rd Signal Battalion & 71st Evacuation Hospital 68-71
AB8AAK Camp Red Devil (Quang Tri) 1st Brigade, 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized) 69-71
AB8AAL Phu Loi 520th Transportation Battalion 69-72
AB8AAM Pleiku (Camp Frank Jones) 146th Signal Company 70-73
AB8AAN Dalat 5th Special Forces Advisory Team 69-72
AB8AAO Dong Ba Thi MACV Advisory Team 70-71
AB8AAP Vinh Long 7th of the 1st Air Cavalry & 164th Aviation Group 68-71
AB8AAQ Camp Evans 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division 69-72
AB8AAR Firebase Mace 199th Light Infantry Brigade 69-70
AB8AAS Phu Bai XXIV Corps HQ & 101st Airborne Division 69-71
AB8AAT Da Nang 37th Signal Bn Compound 69-70 China Beach 71-73 68-73
AB8AAU Phu Lam (near Saigon) Stratcom HQ, USARV/MACV 69-73
AB8AAV Song Be (Phan Rang) MACV Advisory Team 69-71
AB8AAW Cat Lai MACV Advisory Team 68-71
AB8USA Long Binh Headquarters, USARV 65-72
Tan Son Nhut (Saigon) 69th Signal Battalion, USARV 72-73
AB8SG Saigon U.S. Embassy 73-75

THE GENESIS OF MARS IN SOUTH VIETNAM:

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According to John Bergen in his book Military Communications: A Test for Technology (1965). Deputy U.S. Ambassador William J. Porter (himself an Amateur Radio Operator) was responsible for convincing the South Vietnamese Government to authorize frequencies for a Ham Radio network in the Delta.

The 9th Infantry Division's 9th Signal Company converted two old ambulances to mobile MARS stations which provided a means for soldiers at remote camps to call their families in the U.S. The mobile service instituted by the division resulted in over 1,800 calls to the U.S. during its first three months of operation.

AARS BEFORE MARS:

The organization that led to the Military Affiliated Radio System was called "AARS", or Auxiliary Amateur Radio System. AARS was created in November 1925 by a few pioneers in the United States Army Signal Corps led by Captain Thomas C. Rives. His original intent was to enlist the talents of volunteer amateur radio operators who could train soldiers in the then "new" technology of radio, as well as pursuing radio research and development to improve radio equipment within the Army.

Between 1925 and 1941, the AARS continued to operate and function more or less as an extracurricular activity for members of the Army Signal Corps, with its scope limited by budget cuts during the Great Depression.

The AARS continued to operate until the United States entry into World War II on 7 December 1941, at which time radio amateurs were denied the use of the air waves, and the amateur service and the Army Amateur Radio System were deactivated. Following WW II, the U.S. Army recognized the importance of re-activating the AARS to train vitally needed communicator personnel at a relatively low direct cost to the government, and in 1946 the AARS was reactivated.

The AARS functioned as such until the creation of the Military Amateur Radio System in November 1948 with the establishment of separate Army and Air Force MARS programs, reflecting the creation of the Air Force as a separate service. The program's name was changed to the Military Affiliate Radio System on 2 September 1952, in recognition of the organization's changing nature with the growing number of civilian volunteer members.

Eventually, the Navy-Marine Corps MARS program was established officially on 17 August 1962, and began operations on 1 January 1963. This follows the Cuban Missile Crisis and President Kennedy's concern for viable and extended communications capabilities.

MARS continues to be active today. The program's name was changed again to the current Military Auxiliary Radio System on 23 December 2009. Its primary mission is providing auxiliary communications to the U.S. Military and Emergency Communications to such agencies as FEMA and Homeland Security.

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Morale and welfare messages are no longer the largest activity in MARS due to the increased use of the Internet and e-mail by deployed military personnel. MARS now has an increased role in providing interoperability communications between Army National Guard and Air National Guard forces and civilian state agencies. MARS also provides beta testing of new technologies such as Voice Over Internet Protocol and antennas.

The traditional land or sea band MARS Radio Phone Patch is largely a thing of the past because land and sea based MARS stations have been dismantled in favor of Satellite Phones. However, modern military aircraft are still equipped with HF radios, and many military aircrews still use MARS Phone Patches as a backup or substitute to Satellite Communications. The USAF MARS Phone Patch Net provides 24/7 HF Radio Phone service to all branches of U.S. military aircraft worldwide.

Latest Update: December 30, 2018 | Previous Update: July 27, 2018 || November 23, 2013 || MAY 26, 2013 || October 12, 2012