Hospital Ship Crew Members Get Amateur Radio Training at Sea

03/23/2018
On February 21, US Army civilian contractor Tim Millea, AJ7UU, and MARS Volunteer Doug Smith, W7KF, embarked on the hospital ship USNS Mercy from San Diego to Hawaii to begin its deployment for “Pacific Partnership 2018” (PP18), a humanitarian assistance exercise that will include several Pacific stops. Their mission during the first leg of the voyage was to conduct Technician and General Amateur Radio classes for more than a dozen military and civilian personnel crewing the Military Sealift Command hospital ship, and to provide training in military HF communication procedures.

The pair provided two or three training classes a day for the crew, who took the classes following their work shifts. Classroom training was interspersed with on-air activities in the ship’s Amateur Radio room. The Mercy is utilizing the Weak Signal Propagation Reporting (WSPR) tool under K6MRC.

On March 3, the Mercy docked in Hawaii, where a group of local Volunteer Examiners (VEs), headed by ARRL Pacific Section Manager Joe Speroni, AH0A, administered Technician and General licensing exams to the students.

“The ARRL VE Team in Honolulu was fantastic to work with,” Smith told ARRL. “Due to spotty internet connectivity while at sea and strict base access and security issues in port, the VEs in Hawaii had to exhibit extraordinary patience and persistence to administer the exams aboard Mercy.” Smith singled out ARRL VEC Manager Maria Somma, AB1FM, for being “super helpful throughout this endeavor.”

More than 18 sailors and civilians assigned to the USNS Mercy passed their Amateur Radio exams, administered on March 3 in Pearl Harbor. The successful candidates had their new call signs or upgraded tickets by March 5.

Among those upgrading was Captain David Bretz, WH6FIR, the PP18 Mission Commander. “I am very excited to host the trainers on Mercy,” Bretz said. “We will be researching the effectiveness of using Amateur Radio aboard the Mercy for the duration of PP18. Amateur Radio operators have played a huge role throughout history assisting in humanitarian and disaster relief efforts. I am looking forward to gathering research on how this older technology can still be relevant in current humanitarian and disaster relief missions, such as PP18.” The Mercy arrived in Guam this week.

PP18 has a Facebook page. — Thanks to Doug Smith, W7KF, and Robert Mims, WA1OEZ, Region 1 US Army MARS Director

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