Updated by Gus Bernard – K5GMB and Walt Sepaniac – N5TQ
Harris County TX ARES

As ARES members, we support a number of agencies around us with emergency communications. There are also other organizations that support the same or similar agencies with emergency communications. To be fully effective in an emergency, we should be well informed about both our role, and how we interface with these agencies and our partners.

Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS)

MARS provides contingency communications support to the Department of Defense and other U.S. Government users in support of diverse national security missions whenever, however and wherever required.


MARS is a Department of Defense (“DoD”) sponsored program, established as separately managed and operated auxiliaries of the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force. The two auxiliaries are made up of specially trained licensed amateur radio operators. MARS members volunteer their time and radio equipment to ensure DoD has reliable contingency communications capability if needed, regardless of circumstance.


The primary operational requirement of MARS is to provide DoD with high frequency (HF) radio contingency communications support by establishing communication nets, which support a broad spectrum of potential applications over a wide range of territorial and organizational entities. MARS also supports other elements of the U.S. government. For example, they actively participate in the SHARES HF Radio Program, which promotes interoperability between more than 100 federal, state and private sector entities in support of national security/emergency preparedness. Other examples include:

• MARS radio operators, available around the clock and at no cost to the government, facilitate contacts and run phone patches between military aircraft and ground stations every day. Many of these phone patches are used to conduct official business freeing up more sophisticated and costly military communications assets for other purposes.
• During the January 2009 Presidential Inaugural, MARS stations established continuous on-the-air liaison with the FEMA National Emergency Coordination Net (NECN), National Communications System SHARES network, and military and other communications centers for the purpose of disseminating information and passing emergency traffic as needed.
• Throughout the course of the space shuttle program, Air Force MARS operators activated an auxiliary HF communications network in support of space shuttle missions and have provided a contingency HF communications link between satellite launch sites and remote tracking stations.
• The MARS communications station at the Pentagon provides contingency communications to the Joint Staff and the National Military Command Center and participates in communications exercises with DoD airborne assets.

MARS applicants meet the following minimum requirements:
• are U.S. citizens or resident aliens, at least 18 years old, and hold a current FCC amateur radio license;
• have both voice and digital mode capability;
• have the capability to transmit 100W on MARS HF frequencies;
• are approved for membership by MARS HQ; and
• Satisfactorily complete a formal training process within 6 months.

Upon approval for membership, applicants receive personalized training, during which they:
• Learn network operations and message composition & handling;
• Learn digital mode protocols;
• Learn net control operations; and
• Learn communication security and data encryption/decryption.

In order to maintain proficiency after completing the training process, MARS members must operate a minimum of 12 hours per calendar quarter and participate in at least one joint Army-Air Force MARS communications exercise each year.

To request additional information about MARS contact:

Air Force MARS:

Army MARS:

That concludes tonight’s training. Are there any questions, comments or suggested additions to this material?

Thanks, this is (callsign) clear to net control.