Sending strong signals: South Washington County ham radio operators tuned inFor the 25th year in a row, members of the South East Metro Amateur Radio Club (SEMARC) will take part in National Field Day competition Saturday-Sunday, June 23-24. They will operate from the grounds of Cottage Grove Fire Station No. 2, at 8641 80th St.
By: Scott Wente, South Washington County Bulletin
Gary Esler listens intently as the radio crackles to life.
He jots down information as his partner operating radio equipment connects with someone from Hawaii. A Navy veteran who was once stationed in Hawaii, Esler asks for the controls.
“Aloha! Where are you located?” Esler, a member of the Cottage Grove-based South East Metro Amateur Radio Club (SEMARC), asks the other ham radio operator.
The two exchange information before signing off. Connections like these excite the Hastings resident.
“I guarantee you we’ll work all of the United States today,” he says.
The communication took place June 2 at Fleming Field in South St. Paul, where SEMARC members gathered for an event in honor of the air field’s namesake.
The event commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Midway, which was considered the turning point in the Allies’ war in the Pacific.
The Battle of the Midway was also where Capt. Richard Fleming, a St. Paul native, died in battle. The Navy pilot died during an attack and was posthumously awarded the military’s highest recognition: the Medal of Honor.
Fleming flew back into battle on just four hours of sleep – and after assuming leadership after his immediate superiors had been killed, explained SEMARC member Jim Boyd.
“He was really given the award for his leadership,” the Cottage Grove resident said. “We’ve done this because of our support not only for him, but for all of our military.”
SEMARC members chose to honor Fleming — and the anniversary of the battle — as part of their ongoing efforts to raise awareness of the club and to sharpen their skills on the airwaves.
Amateur radio operators, also known as ham radio operators, enjoy the hobby side of the activity, but point out that there also is a very public service-oriented side of the pastime. When all other communication systems fail, the apparatus remains in place for ham radio operators to send and receive transmissions.
Esler noted that in the early days after Hurricane Katrina, it was ham radio operators who relayed critical information to emergency service crews to summon help.
On June 23, SEMARC members will gather in Cottage Grove to practice for just that kind of a scenario. There they will work off emergency power to simulate what could happen in the event of a disaster.
SEMARC currently has 50 members from across the area, including Woodbury, Cottage Grove, Hastings, Rosemount and Cannon Falls. They’re members of some 700,000 licensed hams in the United States, “yet we seem to be an invisible hobby,” Esler said.
That’s why he said activities like the Fleming Field event are essential in maintaining visibility.
Hams use two-way radios to communicate over frequencies set aside by the Federal Communications Commission for noncommercial use. Operators are all tested and licensed by the federal government.
Originally lured into the world of amateur radio in college, Woodbury resident Dave Finley said he is drawn to the conversational side of the hobby. He said he uses his hand-held radio to talk with other operators several times a week, often on his way to or from work.
“It’s a fun hobby,” he said.
With his ability to reach people worldwide, Finley has been able to put friends in touch with people from around the world. During college, he was able to connect a friend with his family in Bolivia via amateur radio.
He’s even got his daughter in on the action.
“It’s kind of a family thing now,” Finley said.
Indeed, many hams enjoy interacting with others they encounter on the radio. A common practice among hams is to send out self-addressed stamped envelopes to operators they meet on the airwaves. In return, they receive cards from their counterparts indicating their location and call sign.
“Hams love to work these things and collect cards,” Esler said.
Area ham radio operators will take part in national competition
For the 25th year in a row, members of the South East Metro Amateur Radio Club (SEMARC) will take part in National Field Day competition Saturday-Sunday, June 23-24. They will operate from the grounds of Cottage Grove Fire Station No. 2, at 8641 80th St., where the club’s fixed base emergency operations center is located.
Gary Esler, club president and field day chairman, said the public is invited to observe SEMARC members operating their stations “off the grid” utilizing only gas powered generators, batteries or solar panels. Clubs affiliated with the American Radio Relay League in all 50 states will be competing to make the most contacts with other clubs during the 24 hours beginning at noon, Saturday.
All aspects of the competition, Esler said, are designed to help hams become better able to get their portable stations on the air quickly as would be required in emergency situations. Transmission exchanges between stations are verified by the ARRL. The competition is based on points awarded for each verifiable exchange, he said.
SEMARC members include residents from Cottage Grove, Woodbury, Hastings, Rosemount and Cannon Falls.