AFMARS Celebrates 75th Anniversary

  • Published
  • By Capt. Barrett G. Schroeder
  • Air Combat Command Public Affairs

The U.S. Air Force Military Auxiliary Radio System hosted a celebration recognizing the 75th anniversary of the program on Nov. 6.

The event was held at the Air Force Cyberspace and Communications Heritage Center and attended by several AFMARS volunteer amateur radio operators, including Dr. John Bechtoldt, who has been an AFMARS volunteer for over 50 years.

“It was certainly a pleasure to be involved in the milestone event honoring the 75 years of the Air Force MARS Program and to be one of the many civilian amateur radio volunteers that provide day-to-day operations support to the program,” said Bechtoldt.

Bechtoldt became involved in the Air Force MARS program as a teenager, and after 51 years of involvement has seen many changes over the years.

“Its mission [began] as a morale and welfare program providing personal communications for our troops overseas in its early days, to now providing emergency communications support in its current structure,” he said. “I enjoy explaining the purpose of the program to visitors and discussing how we support state and emergency service agencies throughout the U.S.”

The Military Auxiliary Radio System is a Department of Defense sponsored program, established as separately managed and operated programs by the Army and Air Force. In November 1925, a few dedicated radio pioneers assigned to the U.S. Army Signal Corps formed the Army Amateur Radio System. This organization continued until the start of World War II when operations were suspended. In 1946, operations were authorized to resume, and the Army Amateur Radio System was reactivated and functioned as such until 1948, when the Army and Air Force established the Military Amateur Radio System. The Military Amateur Radio System was rebranded in 1952 as the Military Affiliate Radio System and later renamed the Military Auxiliary Radio System.

During the Korean and Vietnam Wars and Operation Desert Storm, MARS operators helped troops overseas stay in contact with their family and friends at home by providing hundreds of thousands of radio and phone connections at no charge.   

Today, the Air Force Military Auxiliary Radio System falls under Air Combat Command’s Cyberspace Capabilities Center located at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. It is comprised of approximately 700 amateur radio operators who volunteer their time and radio equipment to assist government agencies in the event normal communications channels are disrupted, either by natural disaster or deliberate hostile action. MARS members represent an organized military auxiliary and are trained to meet the requirements of any communications emergency.

One example of meeting such requirements was in January 2010, when the island nation of Haiti was devastated by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake. The country’s fragile infrastructure, including its communications networks, were demolished. In response to this disaster, members of the Air Force Military Auxiliary Radio System—operating side-by-side with other amateur radio operators—played a substantial role in providing life-saving communications. The entirely volunteer effort supported medical and humanitarian relief organizations and provided a real-world demonstration of the important role MARS can play in ensuring communications connectivity after a catastrophe.

While proven useful in natural disaster response, MARS may also have a role on future battlefields. As the world becomes increasingly dependent on new technologies, AFMARS Chief David Antry stressed the importance of sustaining legacy systems such as high-frequency radio.

“In today’s ever changing threat environment, and as weapons technology continues to evolve and advance, the systems we have become reliant upon and once thought to be protected against direct-attack weapons, have become vulnerable,” said Antry. “Mitigating that risk by providing contingency-based alternate communications capabilities is the mission that MARS has been tasked to provide.”

He also explains that sustainment of the system demands new members interested in taking their high-frequency radio skills to the next level.

“The quality of our network of stations depends on the quality of our station operators. The quality of our station operators depends on the quality of our recruiting and training process. It is the strength and training of our operators that we continue to focus on,” said Antry.

Air Force MARS welcomes amateur radio operators seeking a structured operational and organizational venue with a national mission. To find out more about the U.S. Air Force Military Auxiliary Radio System and how to become a member visit