Saturday, February 02, 2008

I just haven't had much interesting to say lately.

I have no shortage of things to say, but as far as interesting, well, I'm a bit short on that.

But I saw something tonight that brought back memories. Proof, I guess, that you can be a graduate of Special Forces school (it ain't easy), and still sort of a geek.

When I was at the former Ft. Devens, which was a great place to be stationed but exists no more, we decided to try and make a radio shot to the then-new special operations command in Florida. Using a 15-watt radio.

Listen to the radio on your morning drive and at some point they'll say something like "30,000 watts rolling across the countryside", but by the time you get to work you can't hear them any more. That's because they send their signal 360 degrees. By putting up antennae that were very directional (and knowing which antenna fit a particular situation and a bit about the atmosphere--E and F levels, for example), we could send low wattage signals in a straight line over great distances. The whole idea behind that is that it minimizes the chance of having your signal intercepted by bad guys--low signal strength, very directional--you get the idea.

I can't remember why we wanted to make the shot from Massachusetts to Florida, but we decided to go for it with an AN/PRC-74 radio and an AN/GRC-71 Coderburst. The AN/PRC-70 radios were coming into service, but the AN/PRC-74s, though older, were a much better radio. Everyone hated the AN/PRC-70 which the Marines had the good sense to dump. We laid out a five-wavelength wire and tied one end of it to a 34-foot tower and the other end to my Ford EXP. The wire was hundreds of feet long and just too heavy to tension by hand, so I actually drove the car until the wire achieved something resembling tension.

And damned if we didn't make communications from Massachusetts to Florida using a radio that doesn't have much more power than those things they sell now as "family radio service".

That was probably the most dramatic of my radio shots, but I also made consistent communications from Minnesota to Mississippi one very cold January--also using the AN/PRC-74.

To this day, while I have no idea what I'd do with it, I'd like to buy a PRC-74. What a radio. And the GRC-71 Coderburst was a hoot. Theoretically us enlisted swine weren't supposed to actually decode incoming transmissions--that was for the officers--but in ten years I never once met an officer who didn't say "Just decode the damn thing and give it to me".

I wanted become a medic, but the Army needed radio operators (this was when the Army did things Army-wide and didn't regard SF as a sub-entity, which they do now). I'd have liked to have gotten the medical training, but the radio training fitted my inner geek. I could go on at length about "E" and "F" layers and terminating resistors and wavelengths...I'll spare you.


Anonymous said...

That is so cool! I have an inner geek, too.


Anonymous said...

I've seen several AN/PRC-74s on Ebay lately.
In 1970 we worked Alaska from Ft Bragg NC with a AN/PRC-74.

Only used the GRA-71 with the AN/GRC-109. HAve the 109 looking for a 71 to go with it


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