Welcome to Communications Wing 7 AFMARS

The Military Auxiliary Radio System is an elite group of citizen volunteers sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) authorized under DOD Instruction 4650.02.

Our mission is to provide joint services backup communications support to Department of Defense customers using military modes and procedures.

But is DOD our only customer? Not at all. In fact, our Operating Instructions (MOI) point out that we are authorized to assist and train with:

  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (and FEMA Disaster Assistance)
  • Transportation Security Administration
  • Community Emergency Readiness Teams
  • Federal Law Enforcement Training Center
  • Secret Service
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
  • SHARES HF Interoperability Working Group stations
  • Civil Air Patrol
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • U.S. Department of Defense
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • U.S. Department of Interior
  • U.S. Department of Energy
  • U.S. Department of Transportation
  • U.S. Veterans Administration.

In addition, our MOI tells us that we shall facilitate and participate with:

  • The American Red Cross
  • The American Radio Relay League
  • The Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Net
  • Any state or state sponsored emergency operations center
  • All State sponsored Militias.

Clearly, our customer base is very broad and we are devoted to assisting where and when we possibly can.

Air Force MARS operators train and practice their voice and digital skills on multi-mode regional and national networks. On-going training ensures that our Air Force MARS volunteers can provide communications support independently of wire line infrastructure, satellite, and internet services.

The core of this network of operators is capable of responding and functioning in the aftermath of a variety of circumstances and our infrastrucure offers a high degree of survivability in a variety of contingencies.

Air Force MARS Communications Wing 7 consists of four states or groups (Iowa, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska) each managed by individual Group Commander and staff who report to a central Wing Commander and staff. These commander naming conventions are taken directly from the USAF.

Our members come from all walks of life... we are retirees, farmers, technical and business professionals, educators, and even performing artists. Each person brings unique and particular skills to the team but we all share a mutual desire to support the MARS program by volunteering our time, equipment, and skills as part of a highly trained joint services team of contingency communicators.

Please feel free to browse our site to learn more about Air Force MARS, our people, and our mission.



Randy Atkinson

Former Communications Wing 7 Commander



Date: 29 January 2018

To: MARS Membership Re: Article by Bill Sexton

Attached please find an article authored by Bill Sexton titled: "Updating Army MARS at 90: 2017's Awesome Makeover." The piece examines and reflects upon Army MARS as it has grown and morphed over the decades. We herein provide this article for your enjoyment. It does not constitute an endorsement or promotion for Mr. Sexton's books or other published works. Thank you.


James B. Potter

Updating Army MARS at 90:

2017's Awesome Makeover

So much had come together for the Military Auxiliary Radio System in the year just past: On the air Army and Air Force MARS routinely now operated as a single team. Members had (mostly) mastered new software and net protocol, too. It was a struggle but the payoff came quickly in accelerated traffic-handling. And in the year's climactic exercise November 2-6, Wing and Group leaders executed the local response to a simulated national communications blackout without direction from Fort Huachuca—a first and a revealing test of preparedness for the real world.

Surely just as significant (in this member's view, anyway) the amateur community shouldered a key role in that drama. ARRL HQ endorsed the two MARS chiefs' invitation to gather situational information (electric service, water, etc.) by radio. Remember, there was no internet, no cellphones, etc., in the scenario. MARS HQ reported that members using their FCC call signs copied over 3,000 county reports from some 2.000 hams for relay into the military system.

It had been an awesome 12 months, surely to be remembered when MARS celebrates its centennial eight years hence.

It's a very minor point, but makeovers do carry a downside. Unlike active-duty troops, MARS members seldom meet and work together face-to-face. Informal chatting on the nets satisfied the need for bonding that uniformed commanders take for granted. In today's fraught circumstances, OPSEC even rules a lot of training off the air. To some it must seem like the more effective the auxiliary becomes, the less fun there is. Enter the phone bridge!

No one noticed at the time and it was entirely coincidental, but the hams participating in the November's exercise were effectively re-enacting the birth of the Army-Amateur Radio System (1925- 1942). Capt. Thomas Rives W1EH (sk) had activated its inaugural network on Nov. 1, 1925 from the Signal Corps' HQ station in New Jersey.

There'll be much to commemorate during the MARS centennial, for just one notable example how the Army Signal Corps helped save bandwidth for America's amateurs after the First World War. Somehow the ARRL ignored this happy chapter of its own history at the organization's 2014 100th birthday celebrations in Dayton. It was an exciting, suspenseful time so here's a brief fill.

"We are going to do some things for the Army, and they are going to do some things for us in return," said an editorial in the December 1925 issue of QST. The editor, Kenneth B. Warner W1EH (sk), was explaining the brand-new partnership with the Signal Corps, out of which MARS evolved.

What the Army did in return was later described in his personal blog by Lt. Col. (ret.) Scott Hedberg N0ZB, author of the Army-Amateur Radio System's official history. "Coming out of WW1, the ARRL was blind-sided by the U.S. Navy when it (the Navy) initially made a grab at permanently taking control of the radio spectrum," Hedberg wrote. "The ARRL was looking to affiliate with a government organization in order ensure the radio amateurs continued to have freedom to use the airwaves." With Army support, ham radio won over Congress.

"The next fight," Hedberg continued, "was against commercial interests as broadcast radio skyrocketed in popularity." Again the ARRL-Army alliance prevailed. But then . . .

Of the 80 nations gathering at the history-making Washington International Radio Conference in October 1927, only a handful backed the U.S. in reserving channels for Amateur Radio. The ARRL's Warner was crushed by the prospect but accepted the challenge. He attended the entire 10-week session, rallying support and gaining a seat on the subcommittee charged with negotiating a compromise.

"Supporting him from the American delegation was Major General Charles McKinley Saltzman, Chief Signal Officer of the US Army, a driving force behind an ARRL-Army joint program," said the Ham Radio History website (note its avoidance of mentioning the AARS by name).

In the end, compromise cost American hams some frequencies but the world gained a band plan closely resembling ours. Close call!

More imminent peril has now been sighted from Newington. Last Dec. 1 the FCC's new (post- Trump) leadership circulated a radical rewrite of the regulations on radio interference. In the February QST retiring ARRL CEO Tom Gallagher NY2RF skillfully decodes the abstruse proposal.

"Well, to begin with, according to the [FCC's Technical Advisory Committee, a private sector panel] receivers must be designed to reject out of band signals in present and future use. [Gallagher's emphasis] . . . but by introducing the notion that receiver performance is a co-factor when it hasn't been featured in the past, the burden of resolving interference begins to shift toward the victim." Among potential rebuttals Gallagher cites the experimental nature of ham radio and the difficulty of setting enforceable limits on interfering transmissions in a realm with so many unpredictable variables.

Are public safety and national security also relevant, Mr. Gallagher? If so, the ARRL legal team will find useful arguments in Army MARS Chief Paul English's After Action Review from the November exercise; also in the Hedberg monograph (Google it); and also, if this writer's immodesty can be forgiven, in his book Army MARS at 90. (Paperback, 96 pages, 60 illustrations. $13.95 plus s&h from www.lulu.com)

Waiting for Armageddon: The gathering threats to U.S. security--nuclear (North Korea) on top of cyber (Russia)--leave no choice but total focus on preparing for total calamity. But once MARS is deemed fully ready for such a nation-spanning "bad day," it shouldn't be unreasonably optimistic to ponder reviving DSCA (defense support of civil agencies). There's still the beckoning need for dependable, disciplined interconnection when neighboring states join forces in a shared emergency. The new network architecture fits this mission perfectly. Moreover, inter-regional mobilizations should pay rich dividends for all concerned in real-world training, in forestalling complacency and (not least) in recruiting new members.


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