Amateur Radio News

Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS)—“Proudly Serving Those Who Serve”

You may be surprised to learn that MARS doesn’t always necessitate a fiery launch into orbit, conveniently-packaged freeze-dried snacks, or a red planet touchdown. This four-letter planetary reference is also an acronym for the Military Auxiliary Radio System. Previously referred to as the Military Affiliate Radio System, MARS is a civilian unit of Amateur Radio operators who assist the Department of Defense with national, regional, and international communication when access to traditional modes of communication is problematic.

MARS is managed by the United States Army and Air Force (the naval unit disbanded in 2015) and is made up of more than 3,000 volunteer operators who support communication efforts for the Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA)—including FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security. MARS members operate on specific military frequencies far removed from traditional radio bands with specialized functions assigned to each band.

Administrative bands accomplish day-to-day program management objectives. Traffic networks are used only for third-party traffic, and there are also specific emergency networks, technical nets, and training nets to accomplish various goals.

Historically, MARS is perhaps best known for transmitting phone patches during the Korean, Vietnam, and Gulf Wars. Phone patches provided overseas service members with a means of communicating with loved ones at home. While its primary purpose is more utilitarian these days, MARS phone patches are still used for back-and-forth communication between service people, including those on active, reserve, and guard duty, as well as retired military members and certain overseas employees of the federal government.

MARS operators work on a strictly volunteer basis—but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to become one. The list of requirements for eligibility is on the lengthy side—you can peruse the guidelines for Army MARS here and the Air Force MARS guidelines here. Read them and feel intimidated or pat yourself on the back if you’re already eligible to apply. If your skills aren’t quite MARS material yet—don’t fret. There’s plenty of time to work your way up and serve your country in this truly commendable way.

Ready to apply? Fill out this Army MARS application or use the contact information on the Air Force MARS site to request an application for an Air Force MARS membership.

Look for more on MARS in future OnAllBands posts.

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