by SSG Gary Watson
FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. � The Army�s Military Affiliate Radio System played a significant part in the U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology Command/9th Army Signal Command�s annual communications exercise Grecian Firebolt 2002 that focused on homeland security.
MARS, headquartered at NETCOM/9th ASC here, played a bigger role than ever in the June exercise.
Army MARS chief Robert Sutton just completed compilation of reports and statistics from this year�s exercise, and he said member participation was by far the highest ever and was the highest recorded for an emergency-communications exercise.
Over four weekends in June, more than 600 Army MARS stations in 42 states, in addition to Puerto Rico and Germany, took part. The exercise involved a series of simulated terrorist actions requiring actual emergency radio links with military and civilian relief agencies.
Sutton said 124 nets were established, and many included participants from Air Force and Navy-Marine Corps MARS � an important goal of the exercise.
The impact of the terrorist attacks last year was evident from the start of the exercise June 1, Sutton said. Participation jumped from 469 stations in 2001 to 604, an increase of about one-third. Also, use of emergency power increased dramatically, he said.
MARS area coordinators Bob Hollister (Eastern) and James Banks (Western) logged 823 messages handled during GF �02. The agencies receiving communications support ranged from local National Guard armories to the U.S. State Department and included state and local emergency-operations centers, Army Reserve components, Veterans Affairs hospitals and a U.S. Air Force base.
This kind of networking � providing long-distance communication when commercial phone and cellular links fail � is only part of the MARS role in homeland security. Another is the early warning capability offered by MARS members in thousands of communities across the country.
Formal integration of MARS information services into the government�s overall homeland-security apparatus was under discussion in Washington this summer, and the GF �02 record is now part of that planning.
�You did good, MARS,� said Sutton in his after-action message to members. �Once again, we appreciate all the dedication and effort that you, the volunteer membership, put forth in GF �02.� Next year�s exercise, he added, will be even bigger. MARS is already involved in planning for GF �03, and its involvement will increase in scope.
The focus of GF �02 was on homeland security, using scenarios that simulated terrorist activities, vs. natural-disaster relief, Sutton said. It also was the first time during a GF exercise that MARS provided direct support simultaneously to Reserve Components and disaster-relief agencies, he said.
State MARS networks developed exercise scenarios to which their members responded, in some cases by relocating their stations. In Delaware, for example, MARS members responded to a suspected biological attack on the state Army Reserve Center. The center was actually evacuated to the MARS regional-gateway station.
Alabama members coped with �bombing� of a federal courthouse in one city and theoretical release of toxic gases from an Army depot at another.
Kentucky established emergency communications between a major Army Reserve center and the state emergency-operations center.
Army MARS members Mike Hagle, left, and Harv Frye handle high-frequency radio communications from a tent at the Lexington Reserve Center in Lexington, Ky., during Grecian Firebolt '02 in June.
Rhode Island coped with destruction of the bridge that links two halves of the state.
The high Army MARS participation drew positive comments.
�All traffic for the eastern United States got shipped to me,� said John Scoggin, eastern-area emergency-operations coordinator. �It�s been a while since Army MARS was the centerpiece of Grecian Firebolt.�
John Scoggin, eastern area emergency operations coordinator, takes a radio message at the Region 3 gateway in Delaware during Grecian Firebolt '02.
Barry Thayson, station manager for the eastern-area gateway at Fort Detrick, Md., noted the record-high participation and said it was very good.
A key part of the exercise was preparation by MARS participants of Essential Elements of Information reports, Sutton said.
�EEI reports provide standardized information concerning the disaster area that may be useful to military decision-makers,� Sutton said.
This information is captured immediately after a natural disaster � such as an earthquake, flood, major power outage or hurricane � or after a manmade disaster � such as those caused by terrorists. EEI reports are prepared and transmitted by individual volunteer MARS members when a situation occurs that dictates the need for using the MARS network. This information is transmitted via digital means to military decision-makers.
The number of EEI reports for all of 2001 was 2,928, including 641 actual and 2,286 exercise reports, which was a significant increase over 2000, Sutton said. During the first seven months of 2002, more than 2,867 EEI reports were recorded, he said.
�The dedication and support provided by our volunteer membership is outstanding,� Sutton said. �You could not pay anyone to do the job our volunteers accomplish daily. I�m very proud of being a member of the MARS team. They are the best of the best. The volunteer MARS membership met the challenge of GF �02 and lived up to the Army MARS motto of �Proud, Professional and Ready.� One couldn�t ask for anything more.�
SSG Watson is assigned to U.S Army Network Enterprise Technology Command / 9th Signal Command�s public-affairs office at Fort Huachuca.
Back issues on-line | "Most requested" articles | Article search | Subscriptions | Writer's guide
Army Communicator is part of Regimental Division, a division of Office Chief of Signal.