Mil Radio Ops at FOB COVID 2020

July 2020: The following is a brief After Action Report on Military Radio training operations at Forward Operating Base COVID, July 2020. Scheduling difficulties required delaying from the June 2020 ARRL Field Day. No worries. No QRM. A few preliminaries:

I operated from a shady clearing up in the Sierra Nevada mountains for 4 days while “social distancing” from nearly everyone else. The weather, chow and comms were great, As Per Usual. The primary radio equipment I used was all “ex” military.

The dirt roads into this box canyon are always pretty scenic. About 40 miles north of Yosemite National Park. Second gear, 1200 RPM, back country Recon. This spot is within 155 mm range from the USMC Mountain Warfare Training Center (MWTC) at Pickel Meadow. Another great place to train.

Social Distancing – With a view

No Grid, no Cell service, no WiFi, no Interwebs, no InstaGag, no Zoom, no Faceplant, no Smart Phone Zombies, no Twitter Twits (but lots of Tweets..), and no neighbors! A place to re-calibrate.

This FOB is about 8 miles from the nearest pavement, ideal for getting “lost”. I had to deploy the VS-17 Signal Panel so my late-arriving buddies could find me in here.

Clear skies, no rain, temps between 32 and 79, lots of high altitude sun. Stars galore, perfect for “Introduction to Celestial Navigation” training with your M2 Compass and WWV.

Campsite elevation 7560′ AMSL

Above: The dashboard altimeter reads 7560 feet elevation. Dense conifer and aspen forest in here, alongside a perennial trout creek, er refrigerator. No RFI from anything.

Below: My buddy’s son testing the waters – Wet Suit required! This was snow 3 klicks up the canyon, even in mid July; the Survival Cylinders were chillin’.

Swimming in the reefer!

The setup was a hasty campsite with a fairly simple equipment deployment this time. An AN/TRC-77 HF CW field set and an AN/PRC-127ef VHF handy talkie. Plus the AN/GRC-9 and AN/VRC-7 mounted in my old truck. (Available were mounted commercial HF and VHF radios for “liaison” back to the home HQ. if necessary)

TRC-77 and PRC-127ef Comms Suite, no touch screens

The TRC-77 is a great field set for extended Ops like this.

Below: I ran the Morse Code TRC-77 from its internal SLA batteries for 4 days without a need to recharge them but the little solar panel was At The Ready. I worked mostly 7050 kc CW and some on 3550 kc in the early evenings with the J-45 Knee Key. The antenna is the ever-reliable horizontal half wave 80/40 meter double-dipoles about 45 feet up in the trees.

Ditty Boppin’ with the J-45 key in the mountains

The TRC-77 runs about 8 watts output, crystalled for 3550, 3560, 3985R, 7030, 7050, 7055 kc. With freq/time agility and the low “NVIS” dipole it’s reliably good for local and out to a few hundred miles to my other buddies. With the dipole about half wave up (and clear of this canyon) I can work the east coast fairly regularly from The Bush. A great Recon setup!

NVIS (Near Vertical Incidence Skywave) Ops was the intent: It worked well getting signal into/out of this deep canyon considering freqs and the time. 10.7 cm solar flux was barely 70 while here. Verticals/end-fed slant wires need not apply.

I had the PRC-127ef Handy Talkie set up on our normal Simplex freq to coordinate local ops with my buddies, 3 of whom on this trip are now Hams. This radio is the third iteration (made by E.F. Johnson) of the basic AN/PRC-127 and is fully programmable from the front panel.

AN/PRC-127ef Handy Talkie

We also utilized the great K6TUO linked repeater system for convoy ops as well as liaison back home to the HQ QTH where my YL was operating (from 115 miles away from the repeater). Thanks TCARES! had good comms with her on 2 meters and also 75 meters SSB, testing “deep backup” commercial HF Ham gear during the trip.

This setup is an example of communications “PACE” planning for a “camping trip with comms”: The acronym representing Primary, Alternate, Contingency, Emergency communications channels.

In this case the TRC-77, GRC-9, VRC-7 and the PRC-127ef VHF Handy Talkie.

(VHF here would require moving out of this canyon to high ground for direct VHF FM simplex or repeater relay.) VHF as for an emergency helo MEDEVAC on the 156.075 MHz CALCOORD simplex freq in CA for example. The Marines at the MWTC Base Ops could also hear a Medevac call on 40.50 MHz FM if needed. Always have your Lat-Long / UTM-MGRS grid posted near the radio.

Andy & Alex: Your PRC-515 and PRC-47 sounded great up here on 75 meters. Solid comms both ways, even with low power.

GRC-9 Ops in the mountains

Above: I checked into the West Coast Military Radio Collectors Group AM phone net on 3985 kc on Saturday evening at 0330Z. The AN/GRC-9 received good signal reports from the (8-9?) net members up and down California and Nevada.

It’s always great to hear the familiar voices/CW fists of friends rolling into a remote spot like this. Thanks for listening for this little peanut whistle. If you worked me during the Net, this was the setup on my end. Chain saw optional….

Tom: Your SCR-284 also sounded great up here. Probably my first GRC-9-to-SCR-284 QSO. Haul it up here next time!

Despite that brief camera flash, the phosphorescent panel markings helped me tune and operate this Korean War vintage set in the total darkness here. No moon. Just imagine: Freezing cold, bugles, Danger Close….

This GRC-9 is always reliable from up here on CW or AM, maybe due to close proximity to the Ionosphere. It is permanently mounted in the ’71 Bronco and powered by a homebrew transistorized HV power supply mounted under the passenger seat – no room in here for a DY-88 dynamotor supply. Using the T-17 carbon mic of course; the dipole coax had been patched in here from the TRC-77.

The Chow was great as usual! Meat & Potatoes. No avocado toast, no Starbucks ….

Well, we call this annual operation “The Pigout” for a reason.

We were well prepared for any UFO’s, EMP, BigFoot visits or stray Nd:YAG laser target designator beams.

Yet another miserable trip to the mountains away from all those viruses.

Our Campfire

Red sky at night, Sailor’s delight.

Always great to get outside and exercise all this old military field gear in its natural element. NO SHELF QUEENS!

(After Action Reports from some prior years FTX’s:)