“HL9 ‘Texas’ ‘R’anger”
From April 1971 until late January of 1972, I was a U.S. Army Lieutenant commanding an air defense missile battery in Camp Howze Korea.
In those days, there was no Internet and a telephone call from Korea to the United States cost something like $10 a minute and few soldiers, to include myself, could afford to actually place a telephone call home. However there was a way to get in touch with loved ones and that was via MARS or Military Affiliate Radio System, which was made up of amateur radio operators around the world. To use MARS, a soldier would call up his local MARS station and tell the operators that he wanted to speak with his wife or other loved one in Georgia or California or some other state. The MARS operators would then attempt to make a contact\connection with an amateur radio station as close as possible to a soldier’s requested hometown and if a connection was made, the ham stateside would connect his transmitter and receiver to the telephone lines via what is known as a phone patch and after placing an actual telephone call to the soldier’s home, for some short period of time, a soldier could talk with his loved ones via the MARS radio linkup.
I am not sure how long I was at Camp Howze before I learned there was a MARS shack or station on the compound but one day, in my spare time; I found the small building hosting the MARS station. Knocking on the door repeatedly for several minutes, finally a sleepy eyed corporal answered the door and immediately came to attention, sort of. He quickly explained that because radio conditions between our compound and the United States was normally only good in the late afternoon and early evening, the 2 soldiers manning the station usually got their sleep in the late morning.
Looking around, I found that the MARS station was made up completely of Collins KWM2 radio equipment, which at the time, was the best money could buy. Furthermore, the station had a rhombic antenna outside, which was huge and finally, the whole station shack stunk to high heavens of marijuana.
Collins equipment not being used all the time: an idea formed in my head. Since I was 13, I had had an amateur radio license and if I could get a Korean license to operate while I was in Korea, could probably get permission to use the MARS equipment when conditions were not good for stateside phone patches.
Not sure now how I went about it, but after a month or so, I did receive a Korean amateur radio station license, HL9TR.
And so begin my operation of the Collins equipment almost every day, calling out “HL9 Texas Ranger” and getting the whole world calling back at me, wanting to make a contact with me as there were so few English speaking Korea amateur radio stations operating at the time.
Bible translators in the jungles of South Pacific islands; 737 ground pilots moving an aircraft around some airport; newly weds on a yacht sailing around the world; a stateside contact now and again with some ham probably running more power out of his gear than the legal limit; South America; Africa; India; Japan regularly and China now and again.
Sitting at the desk full of Collins gear and keying that transmitter and calling out just one time, “CQ, CQ. This is HL9 TR. HL9 Texas Ranger” and then having my headphones simply flooded with callbacks: an amateur radio operator’s dream.
I guess I could have sought out a printer somewhere in my area but Camp Howze was a small compound and the closest major city was Seoul and so I bought heavy construction paper and made my own QSL cards. QSL cards are used by hams to verify with various organizations that they have in fact made contact with a specific country or US County or whatever. For every contact I made, I sent out a QSL card as I knew the chances of some of the contacts I made ever contacting a Korean, English speaking, station again was slim to none.
Oh, and the dope was not bad either.