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'HAM' RADIO OPERATORS GET THE MESSAGE

'HAM' RADIO OPERATORS GET THE MESSAGE

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Static crackles over the amateur radio set in front of Curtis Youngblood.

A woman's voice, dim this evening because of interference on the radio waves, asks if anybody wanted to check in.``Reception is not very good tonight,' says Youngblood.

The Greensboro man fiddles with a few knobs on his radio receiver and the woman's words coming from the radio receiver are more understandable.

Voices from all around North Carolina answer the woman's call for check in.

When it comes Youngblood's turn to check in, he picks up his microphone and says, ``N-N-N Zero, Quebec, Alpha, India.'

Soon another voice, obviously close by, booms over the receiver.

``N-N-N Zero, Lima, Yankee, Lima,' the voice says.

``That's Ben Phillips,' Youngblood says off the air.

Phillips, like Youngblood, is a Greensboro amateur ``ham' radio operator.

Phillips, Youngblood and the other amateur radio operators who have checked in tonight are members of the Navy-Marine Corps ``MARS' system. ``MARS' stands for Military Affiliate Radio Systems.

Youngblood and Phillips are civilians as are most MARS radio operators although the Army and Air Force also have MARS networks.

The two Greensboro men, along with several other local hams, help Navy men and women and Marines stationed all over the world who want to send messages to loved ones and other acquaintances in the Triad area.

Tonight, neither Phillips nor Youngblood will receive any messages from Marines and Navy men and women of Desert Storm.

But in the last several weeks, more and more messages from the Persian Gulf have found their ways into Phillips and Youngblood homes.

The MARS radio operators are volunteers. Phillips is retired from A.M. Corp. and Youngblood is retired from Southern Bell. Most evenings, Phillips and Youngblood devote an hour to the Navy-Marine Corps MARS system.

To send word back home, military personnel go to message centers on their base or aboard some ships.

The messages then are sent across the airways by radio. After going through several hands, the messages land in the hands of somebody like Ben Phillips or Curtis Youngblood.

``I usually telephone the person to whom the message is directed and read it to him or her,' Youngblood says.

Tonight's messages are destined for North Carolina cities and towns such as Raleigh, Dunn, Richlands, Havelock, Stanley, Kinston and Dudley.

But there are no messages for Greensboro.

One of tonight's messages from a Marine or a sailor to a loved one in eastern North Carolina reads: ``You are very special ... You will always be in my heart.'

Another message says, ``I love and miss you guys a lot ...'

Since Operation Desert Storm began, Youngblood and Phillips have received and delivered several messages to Greensboro area people.

``You feel kind of a kinship with the service people,' says Youngblood, a Navy veteran of World War II.

The Navy was where Youngblood got his first experience with radio. He was a radio operator aboard a heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Chicago in the Pacific. When the war ended and he left the Navy, he took up amateur radio. He has been a volunteer civilian MARS operator for more than 21 years.

When he calls a relative or acquaintance of a Marine or a Navy man or woman with a message, he starts off upbeat so that the relative or acquaintance will know nothing is wrong.

A message from a military person now in Saudi Arabia that Youngblood delivered to a Rockingham County woman the other day was typical.

The message: ``Mom, I love you. Tell ... I'm OK. Hope to see you soon. Love, your son.'

Another message from Saudi Arabia that Youngblood transmitted to a Rockingham County resident said, ``Hi .... Just to let you know I'm OK.'

When either Youngblood and Phillips are out of town or can't check into the Navy-Marine MARS network for other reasons, messages for the Greensboro area that they would normally handle are directed to other Navy-Marine MARS operator in the nearby towns.

Some of the other area operators include Pell Kennedy, who owns a Greensboro business but lives on High Rock Lake, Otis A. Nunn of High Point and George Clifton of Lexington.

When Youngblood decided to become a MARS radio operator, he had the choice of working with the Army, the Air Force, or the Navy and Marines.

He chose the Navy and Marines without hesitation. After all, the Navy - the Marines are part of the Navy - is his alma mater.

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