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Earth from MARS - saying hello this holiday

The "MARS" mission: building soldier morale with radio messages of hope

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Even with the spread of satellite phone and instant Internet messaging, older forms of communication - such as amateur radio - have continued to survive.  And today, volunteer ham radio hobbyists are sharing their enthusiasm and their equipment to help boost the morale of soldiers and other armed forces personnel serving around the world.

The Military Affiliate Radio System, or MARS, is a Department of Defense-sponsored program that coordinates the efforts of ham radio volunteers to communicate messages to and from loved ones serving overseas via emergency and safety-related installations in theater.  The messages travel the globe via a network of military and civilian radio operations and are eventually delivered by mail or by telephone at Defense Department expense.  The messages take, on average, between 12 and 48 hours to deliver, depending on the destination.  And those messages are currently being regularly transmitted to and from locations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait as well as locations in other parts of the world.

To send a message, users must access the MARS program Web site at  And there are a few rules to keep in mind.  For example, the message can't consist of an initial notice of death.  It can't contain profanity, include information about troop movements, have a commercial nature, nor can it contain information that authorities would classify as sensitive.  The original message (typed into a message field at the MARS Web site) must be written in English.  An APO or FPO address is preferred if the message is traveling overseas.  Also, messages must be sent to or from the following: U.S. military personnel and their family members, Department of State personnel and their family members, Defense Department personnel and family members, military units and official Defense Department organizations, and civilians who work for any of these named organizations.  Finally, senders are encouraged to include a phone number for the recipient, if known, although soldier recipient phone numbers are not usually practical, nor are they required. However, messages without phone numbers generally may take longer to deliver.

Although the MARS program is designed primarily to convey messages of hope and encouragement from loved ones and  the service member's unit, there is another way to use the system to help boost troop morale.  System users are also encouraged to send messages marked: "To Any Service Member."  These messages are distributed among those who are serving away from home particularly over the holidays.  Note that special addressing instructions are provided for "To Any Service Member" messages on the MARS Web site.

Messages sent via the MARS network need to be 80 words or less.  But thanks to the Defense Department's sponsorship, those 80 words are radioed to their overseas destinations at no cost to the sender.

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