I was known around the ship as “The Man from MARS” since I operated our MARS station just about every evening running morale phone patches for the crew.  The Boatswain’s Mate of the Watch (BMoW) on the bridge would announce over the 1MC (ship-wide PA system) that the MARS station was making phone patches.

I would make phone calls just about everyone night when we were steaming off the coast of San Diego.  I was a member of the San Diego Amateur Radio Club (SANDARC) which had a local repeater with an autopatch that I could easily contact within about 50 miles of the coast.  I convinced our ship’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) officer to cut a check to SANDARC for membership along with a charitable donation in exchange for using the repeater late in the evening when radio traffic was pretty much non-existent.

The basic order of operations went like this:

Frist, the crew member would call the MARS shack and sign up for a phone call.

Next, my phone operator (usually a shipmate I dragged upstairs kicking and screaming) would write down the crew member’s name, his extension on the ship, the name of the third party he wanted to call, and the third party’s phone number ashore. Then, on my second phone line, I would call the crew member at his extension, flip the switch on phone patch in my shack and then place the call through the repeater as normal.

 

MARS

The Military Auxiliary Radio System is a civilian auxiliary consisting primarily of licensed amateur radio operators who are interested in assisting the military with communications on a regional and national level when access to traditional forms of communication may no longer be available. The MARS programs also include active duty, reserve, and National Guard units; and Navy, Marine Corps units.

Finally, the crew member and the third party (usually wife, girlfriend, parents, etc) would have a quick 5-minute conversation and then I would move on to the next person on the list.

This system worked well and I could usually get through 15 to 20 phone calls an hour.  That is until one night when I had to change things up a bit.

 

You see, when I flipped the switch on the phone patch in my shack the crew member could hear me placing the phone call, keying up the repeater, dialing the autopatch access code and dialing the phone number.  It all came through the headset of the phone as well as the speaker on my VHF radio.  I did this because I liked to brief the third party on how the calls worked before I keyed up the radio and this allowed the crew member to hear that briefing as well.  I made for a smooth operation.

Smooth operation…until I called Seaman Schmuckatelli’s wife one night and another man answered the phone.  Well, you can guess where this is going.  Being in a strong marriage myself, and being a little naive, I didn’t think much of it and just placed the call as normal.

As soon as I keyed the radio the slew of obscenities that poured out of this crew members mouth was unlike anything I’d ever heard.  I immediately disconnected from the phone patch and made a blanket apology over the repeater for anyone that was listening.  Unfortunately, I had to deny the sailors request to get his wife back on the phone.

From then on, I was careful to not flip the phone patch to the ON position until I had ensured that the requested third party was on the other end of the phone.