N1IN writes "A Year's Accomplishments By Army MARS Members At Army MARS, the start of a New Year can be challenging in more ways than one. For instance, 2000 began with MARS members on alert to cope with any Y2K communications problems. Comes now 2001 and a major weather emergency in progress across much of the country. Chief Army MARS Robert Sutton took advantage of his December 29 net to congratulate members on the organization's accomplishments during the 12 months in between, and it was quite a list. He particularly singled out emergency incident reporting, cooperation with other federal agencies in emergency preparedness and morale activities like Operation Holidays and the new VA MARSgram program. Highlights of the year as Sutton recounted them: Y2K SUPPORT. Actually, MARS began preparing for Y2K possibilities with a Joint Service Exercise conducted on 25-26 Dec. 1999. Inter-service interoperability was one of the main missions of this joint service exercise and a record number of exercise reports were sent via radio to our headquarters. Army MARS was included in the Department Of Army Y2K Contingency Operations and joined many emergency agencies who were in full force all around the country the first few days of this year. EMERGENCY REPORTING. A key MARS functions year-round is reporting local emergency situations to Pentagon response planners. Up to the winter storm emergency that closed out the year, members had collected and transmitted 655 actual-incident "EEI" reports (Essential Elements of Information) covering everything from tornadoes to train wrecks. That would be a 24 per cent increase over 1999. "The noted increase is the result of the dedication of our volunteer membership and the greater emphasis placed on this part of our MARS program," Sutton said. TRAINING EXERCISES. There were 18 exercises that provided a wealth of 'Lessons Learned' to be shared with the membership thanks to the After Action Reports that were submitted. A significant increase in State and Region exercises was noted during this year. Delaware, Washington, Missouri, Texas, California South, Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia, Kentucky, and Michigan won special mention. FEDERAL OPERATIONS. MARS, as an affiliate of the government, takes part in operations of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and also SHARES (the Shared Resources program of the National Communications System, a collaborative of all federal agencies with emergency communications needs). "Army MARS continued to be the major participating agency in all of the SHARES exercises," Sutton said. "Again, Army MARS continued to be the major participating agency in FEMA, too." HELPING HANDS PROGRAM.. More than 300 members are in Helping Hands as being disabled and being served and/or as helpers. Most of the disabled are the most active as helpers for their fellow disabled. The Helping Hands program proves that anyone with any disability can contribute in a significant way through being active in MARS for our county in times of need and crisis as well as for the morale of our military. VA HOSPITALS 'ANY VETERAN PATIENT" PROJECT. This project, new in 2000, provides a fresh method of increasing MARSgram traffic as well as making contact with VA hospitals. When MARS members transmit messages of greeting and support to patients in VA hospitals, they also open a communications channel that can become a valuable asset during a major disaster situation, since VA installations are a key source of medical support in an emergency. OPERATION HOLIDAYS 2000. Another great year for Operations Holidays is unfolding. Based upon initial reports, a significant number of MARSgrams have been injected into the MARS network which has had a positive impact on our military stationed overseas. NEW TECHNOLOGY. Army MARS continues to move ahead with the experimentation and eventual use of new technology. One example is PSK31. It has taken hold in many regions and continues to grow as a cost effective means for digital traffic handling. PHONE PATCH. Although MARS phone patches have significantly reduced over the past year due to both email and cost effective 'phone cards' the need for radio phone patch services still exists. As an example, Army MARS continues to provide phone patches for US Army vessels in many parts of the world and will be needed during major disaster relief efforts. INTERNATIONAL DISASTER RELIEF. The MARS mission statement includes the ability to provide emergency communications support. This year we have embarked on a new horizon to fulfill this mission. Initial coordination has begun with the US Agency for International Development (USAID). this is the first agency other than the Red Cross that MARS has supported that focuses on disaster relief on an international basis. ARMED FORCES DAY CROSSBAND EXERCISE. The 51st Annual Armed Forces Day military to amateur radio cross band test was successfully executed again in celebration of the 50th Armed Forces Day. The theme this year was "Saluting America's Best". Army MARS registered over 741 contacts and Air Force MARS reported 573 contacts. ARMY MARS WEB SITES. The Army MARS WWW sites continueto be a source for the public to learn about MARS and its capabilities. As of 14 Jun 00, the actual number of hits by visitors over just the past two years was noted at 73,860. INTEROPERABILITY. "What I consider to be one of the best achievements this past year, "Chief Sutton concluded, " is the significant increase in inter-service interoperability. I suggest that without it, the noted achievements could not have been made. "We have witnessed combined service activities at all levels including the participation on this Chief's net," Sutton told the members. "This is the team effort that we strive for and I anticipate that it will continue to grow in 2001. For all of you, from all services, that made this a reality our hats are off to you. Your dedicated efforts have paid off-- big time."