K3WWP's Ham Radio Activities
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Bob - KG8TH

I arrived in Wildflecken Germany in January 1964 at the ripe old age of 17. Wildflecken was a major training area for the NATO forces in Europe at the time. It was also just a few miles from the communist border of Czechoslovakia and the Fulda Gap where the biggest threat of a Soviet invasion of western Europe would supposedly come from.

I was a brand new wireman communications MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) of 310 and was only 4 months from leaving the farm in Indiantown, Michigan - population of about 75. I had big eyes and the world was proving to be very HUGE indeed. The Cuban missile crisis wasn't far in the past and Russia was making war sounds. Our life expectancy was rumored to be about 5 mins or less if the balloon went up. It seems like sirens were going off everyday as communist jets penetrated the border. There was a Hawk Missile Battalion stationed there and a big USAF radar site.

I was assigned to the 54th Engineer Battalion (combat) and there was also a Battalion of the 3rd Infantry Division (The 2/15) stationed there at Wildflecken. Just a few miles away was the 14th Armored Cav of the famous Spearhead 3rd Armored Division. I guess you could say we were a combat ready area. It was quite a change for a 17 year old farm boy.

I spent my first year as a wireman which included providing communication during trips to the field that lasted anywhere from 1 week to a month at a time. This included running all of the wire for unit operation and setting up the switchboards. Then if commo was lost we had to go out and repair it. Believe me those M-60 tanks could tear apart wires that had to be laid on the ground. I remember sleeping in pup tents when there was 3 foot of snow or more on the ground and then getting up in the middle of the night because a squadron of tanks had come through and torn out 2 miles of wire.

I remember one day when we were not in the field that the commo officer came through and told me to pack up as I was going TDY (Temporary Duty) to Hearst Germany to Radio Operator school.

I arrived in Hearst in June of 1965 and we were set up to start school. We started on a Monday morning and received the requirements to graduate. They were the ability to send and receive Morse Code at the rate of 20 WPM and knowledge of the Q and Z signals, net operations, message formats, and Crypto SSI's. This took about an hour. We than put on a set of headphones and spent the rest of the day hearing individual letters of code. We learned letters then numbers then punctuation. This went on for 8 weeks and you had to copy almost perfect. The code was increased in speed about every 3 or 4 days. Code was sent in 5 letter groups and in so far as mistakes I have to say that the military was very strict concerning errors. You just were not allowed to have them. By the time eight weeks were over we had to send and copy at 20 WPM errorless and this was in the form of messages containing the Q and Z signals along with decoding Crypto codes and messages. We were required to receive an encoded message then take it and decode it before turning it in. It had to be correct because it had grid coordinates and one number wrong could mean the death of innocent people and or friendly troops.

When final test day was upon us it was a sweaty day. Failure meant going back to our units in shame and back out to crawling in the mud, rain or snow repairing commo lines. I strapped that leg key on for the final test and it seemed like I had been doing it all of my life. I sent my 20 WPM and was sent over to receive. I sat down and put on that set of headphones and took about 6 sharp pencils and waited. Here comes a series of V's then a slight pause and then the 5 letter groups. I aced that receiving test and after all the other exams I was awarded the MOS of 051 Radio operator. JOY JOY JOY!! My problems were over - I thought.

I arrived back at the 54th and walked kind of cocky. I was a RADIO OPERATOR!! The next night I was assigned with an old hand and went into that secret room and locked it behind myself. There sat the biggest transmitter I had ever seen. It was black and had dials on the front and a cover on top. You lifted the top and looked down into a mess of tubes with one HUGE final. I must say here that radio operators were not taught a thing about repair as that was another MOS. They figured we had enough to do with taking messages and getting them right. On the door was a huge chart with the Q and Z signals listed and highlighted was the most common we would use. My first overused signals were QRS and ZZO - PLEASE SEND SLOWER, NEW RADIO OPERATOR!!

When that first message started coming in I did not hear it. This was not the world of headsets and perfect quiet code with no QRM or QRN - it was a RIOT going full blast!! Callsigns were a mixture of numbers and letters like 5XH2JS and there were probably 5 other stations on the same frequency so you had to be able to pick your callsign out. They would call you about 3 times and if you missed it the telephone down at operations would ring and the next thing was a mad Major or above kicking on the radio room door. I do not know where they got the NCS operators because they had no fingers!! At least they were sending with a hammer or were hungover and stuttering. That had to be the worst code I had ever heard and if you asked them to repeat it got ugly.

Oh, oh it was now time to transmit. You stuck that clamp on your leg and threw the transmit switch and WOW you forgot every letter of morse code!!! But as it came back to you the key would not take your perfect code. It was sending S for E or C for Q numbers were backwards you send number 3 but the key sent 8. What a mess! Where were the tanks, and why were they not running over commo lines so I could get out of here???

After 2 weeks with the old hand I was finally alone and sending my hourly commo checks. I don't remember all of it but I do remember that a question was proceeded by INT then the Q or Z signal. For instance INT QRU - Do you have any traffic for me? QRU - I have no traffic for you. First though we gave an RST report. I remember that the BFO pitch had a lot to do with how well each different operator read their code and the first thing you did on coming on duty was to get that pitch set to your ear.

When an alert came in from Division headquarters it came through that Radio Room and you better not screw it up because it just might be the real thing and orders issued to move out. After you received it and decoded it and authenticated it you delivered it to the CQ and the sirens and orders were all sent or set off. The radio operators had to get their radio trucks loaded up and operating. We used 1/4 wave antennas until we got set up in the field. I also believe that I was sterilized with RF a couple times and I got my bell rung more than once with those radios my first RF burn is remembered well and it leaves no mark. I was a radio operator for two years then sent off to Texas, Panama, then Viet Nam. I spent 6 years in the Army but CW was phased out and I changed my MOS and was an advisor in Viet Nam before getting discharged in 1969. If there are any other 051's out there please contact me. I am KG8TH@ARRL.ORG.

I hope this entertained a few of you OM's out there. Oh and of course the YL's and XYL's too. 73, Bob

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