By ANGIE THORNE
Guardian staff writer
FORT POLK, La. — What do you know about radio airwaves? If you’re like most people, it’s probably not a lot.
Most folks experience these frequencies from music and talk shows coming through their car speakers and, as technology has increased, through Wi-Fi and internet computer connections. That one-sided interaction means most people don’t understand the science behind communication through radios (unless you are a Soldier on Fort Polk).
That’s something the West Central Louisiana Amateur Radio Club is trying to change one person at a time.
Randy Day, WCLARC president, said his club is an organization of amateur radio operators that promote amateur radio technology as a hobby and provide emergency communications in case of a disaster.
Day is a retired Operations Group signal planner that currently works with Raytheon on Fort Polk as an Integrated Defense Systems engineer. Raytheon develops a variety of Army air defense missile systems.
WCLARC is affiliated with the national chapter of amateur radio, called the American Radio Relay League. One of the main purposes of the organization is to safeguard the radio frequencies officially used by amateur radio enthusiasts.
“The League fights to keep those frequencies dedicated to amateurs because just about everything today operates on radio frequencies such as Wi-Fi. Even your washer and dryer can be run wirelessly,” said Day.
Robert Partigianoni, WCLARC events coordinator and former president, is a retired Army medic. He explained how amateur radio operators were given the frequencies they use today. He said in the early 1900s when the history of radio was young, “professional” broadcasters thought they had the perfect frequency for radio. Thus, when “amateurs” wanted to talk to each other without interfering in the professional broadcasts, they were given the lower frequencies on the scale.
“The folks in charge said to put the amateurs down on the lower frequencies of the band because they believed those frequencies were useless and the people using them are just ‘amateurs anyway,’” he said.
Little did those “in charge” know how important those frequencies and amateurs would become in the future.
Anyone can become a licensed amateur radio (ham radio) operator. Day made it clear that you don’t have to become a member of his club to be an operator, but you do have to take a Federal Communications Commission test.
Day said one of the functions his club provides is the ability to give that FCC test. “You used to have to go to an FCC office and sit down with a federal employee to take the test. What they have done over the years is adjust that procedure to allow certified volunteers — through the volunteer examiner certification program — to administer tests. So someone like myself or another certified member of our club can give exams on behalf of the FCC and then send that paperwork up. It’s one of the main functions our club provides,” he said.
The club makes presentations in schools.
“I try to discuss the importance of this technology and explain the inner workings behind the radio. It’s great to show kids this technology isn’t complicated. Anyone can learn to do it. A couple of diodes and resisters, a speaker, battery and a wire and you have an FM radio. It’s science in action. We try to share and promote our knowledge, not just with kids, but also the community in general,” said Day.
In addition the club has two community events a year — one in the summer and one in the winter — where the club shows the public what amateur radio is all about. “They are called field days. We set up with generator or solar power and invite the public to come out and see what we do. The event has a dual purpose in that it is also training for us in case of emergency,” said Day.
Partigianoni said during these events the club sets up in places they don’t normally operate.
“There are no antennas out there for us to use. Instead, we pull up in our mobile trailer and set up a bunch of wire antennas. We even have a tower that can put out a beam if we need to talk farther. After we set up, we see how many contacts we can make in a 24-hour period and where they are located. We keep a log. Normally, we can contact about 47 states and 15 to 20 countries.
That means if it was an emergency, we would have communication capabilities and can make contact almost anywhere,” he said.
Day said the club and its members have an understanding with the City of Leesville and Vernon Parish that if communications go down in the event of a large-scale disaster, they would provide a communication backbone through their amateur radio emergency service program (ARES). Though many of the WCLARC members are members of ARES, it isn’t mandatory to be part of that organization.
“Instead, people volunteer to do that and our club members are simply part of that effort. That provides local, long distance, interstate and out of state communications across a national grid,” said Day.
Partigianoni said to be a member of ARES, you need to take some Federal Emergency Management Agency courses.
“Those are the courses that tell us how an amateur radio group or any group interfaces with the federal government. Those courses are important. There are certain emergency operation centers that you can’t step into unless you have taken one of these FEMA courses that deal with operation security and more,” said Partigianoni.
“In case of an emergency, we work directly with the Sherriff’s Office, as well as Fort Polk. Day said there are several members of the Fort Polk EOC who are also members of the club.
“They are licensed as amateur radio operators in case an emergency that knocks out communications in a large area,” he said. “In fact, we have a lot of military affiliated members; whether they are veterans, or retirees, I would say our membership is made up of about 75 percent veterans.”
The club has other connections to Fort Polk. When hurricane Rita hit the area in 2005, Leesville and Fort Polk lost their main communication systems for a few days and it was Partigianoni that suggested a amateur radio option as a backup system in case something like that happened again.
“Now Fort Polk has the necessary set up with radio and antennas, licensed and certified people to run the system and are part of the Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS) with their own call sign,” he said.
Partigianoni helps Fort Polk maintain its radio system.
“I go to the EOC every six weeks to check out their radio equipment and make sure it is in good working order. I do a radio check with Fort Huachuca, Arizona, through the MARS program. That means we can reach them anytime we want, including during an emergency,” he said.
Partigianoni and the club also helps out Fort Polk units by troubleshooting problems with communication and radio systems when requested. He said he gets a call about once a month to request his help.
“I’ve helped units with issues as simple as correcting the height of their antenna when they weren’t making contact to teaching soldiers the optimal radio broadcast frequencies and how to find those frequencies to make the connections they need in the field or downrange,” he said.
Finally, if there is interest and a unit makes the request, the club has offered to teach a class periodically on post and give the FCC test to those who are interested in earning their amateur radio license.
“I think the last class we had about seven people attend,” Partigianoni said. “Over the years we’ve probably certified about 50 people.”
Partigianoni said amateur radio is a rewarding and enjoyable hobby.
“I feel like I help people. I enjoy the communication I have with amateur radio enthusiasts and like learning about the technology. I will probably always do this. I tell my wife I’ll probably die with a little ham (amateur radio) in my hand,” he said.
Day also encourages folks to delve into amateur radio.
“Until I got involved in amateur radio, I didn’t know how a lot about the technology behind the radio, internet or how wireless systems worked — this common technology that we all take for granted. Amateur radio pulls that curtain back and I understand it now. It’s a really great hobby that not only promotes radio, but also an understanding of past, current and future technology. It’s the future of everything,” he said.
For more information about the West Central Louisiana Radio Club check out their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/wclarc/.
DISCLAIMER: This article was originally published at the Defense Video Imagery Distribution System Hub (www.didvshub.net). The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.
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