A few months ago, back in 2014, I heard a podcast (Forward Observer Podcast) with guest John Jacob Schmidt. John runs a blog, Radio Free Redoubt, and AMRRON, all centered around amateur radio, liberty, and preparedness. He is also involved in the Patriot movement in the American Redoubt and doing some great things that I hope will make their way to other regions like Texas. He talked about AMRRON and some communications basics as well as using radio to gather intelligence (SIGINT).
The podcast itself was published the day after the Ferguson riots started and was actually recorded during the riots. I participated in the Virtual ACE (that is, Analysis and Control Element) that Sam Culper put together over at Guerrillamerica. Our goal was gathering intelligence centered around the Ferguson riots and live battle-tracking the police, national guard, and protesters. My part was limited to the OSINT team (Open Source INTelligence, ie what I could find online, TV, print, or other freely available sources). Great experience overall and further fueled my interest in intelligence and the applications for preppers and patriots. I even landed a short interview with Sam and made it in to the podcast (I’m practically famous y’all!). I will do a post in the future about my experience with Operation Urban Charger (code name for our efforts with riots). But I digress. Back to the point. As the topic of the podcast focused on Op. Urban Charger and Ferguson, John talked about what he and the AMRRON guys were doing to collect information over the radio with some local assets and get that information sent back to the Virtual ACE for analysis.
The podcast was a great one for me because it did a few things. It reminded me of the importance of communications (both skills and equipment), it introduced me to Radio Free Redoubt, and I was able to support AMRRON with a donation and receive the AMRRON Communications SOI. The amount of useful, actionable information that they were able to get from SIGINT would have been immensely helpful if I lived in that area and wanted to avoid the violence or have enough warning to either hunker down or get out if the violence was moving my way. I realized that I need this in my life and I couldn’t procrastinate any longer.
AMRRON was created in 2011 as a communications network with the goal of keeping communities and states within the American Redoubt connected in the event of a major disaster or socio-economic collapse. As John tells it, he found that over half the members were outside of the Redoubt and has now grown to over 2,000 members. AMRRON joined with another similar group called TAPRN (The American Preparedness Radio Network) in early 2014. In John’s words, AMRRON is “a network of Preppers, Patriots, and Redoubters who have volunteered to keep each other connected when other means of communications are unavailable or unreliable. AmRRON operators participate in scheduled nets to practice using non-conventional communications.”
I dragged my feet for a month or two and then started to study. I need to get my HAM license and some gear. I want to be able to practice now, join AMRRON, and participate in the nets so that if and when the time comes, I am well-practiced and know what to do. I have actually had a handheld HAM radio for about a year now. I picked up a BaoFeng UV-5R dual band (2m and 70cm) unit for under $40. Really great price, tiny handheld radio, inexpensive accessories like antenna upgrades, extended batteries, car chargers, etc. Since I could not legally transmit and I wasn’t really sure on the procedure either, I started by just listening. I drive a lot for work so I dropped the handheld in its charging base and set it to scan. I learned some good info on procedures by listening to other HAMs talk as well as what is common traffic on what frequencies, who uses them, etc. There is a group here Texas that talks every morning at 6:30AM. They just chit-chat about little things going on, the weather, news articles they read in the paper, whats happening in their little towns. I see the appeal of trying to reach new people and making friends in other cities. Plus, the gear. So. Much. Gear. Handheld units, mobile units for the trucks, mobile units in backpacks, large base station units for home. I can feel my wallet lighten just thinking about it.
But first things first. I need to get my license. I found a site called HamStudy.org. I have been running through their flashcards and have learned a lot. I tried reading the ARRL book but I have a hard time learning from books, page after page. I will go back and read through it as I can stand and will certainly keep it around for reference, but I like the flashcard format of HamStudy. They cover all the needed topics and each card has a question or scenario and you pick an answer. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the questions are physics heavy. As I go through them, all of that information my physics professors swore I would use comes flooding back from the deep dark recesses of my brain, and I actually can’t get enough. I am unavoidably a nerd. Anyway, after you answer, it tells you if you are correct or not and why. You can get the explanations behind it, often with a link to further reading if you want to get in to it. It is very helpful for my learning style. I have been spending a few hours each day for the last week or two and I’m only 35% through their flash cards with 29% aptitude (since I am getting the majority of the questions right, I am assuming that is like 29 out of 35). If you miss a question, it will come back up later on to make sure you did learn from that one. Once I’m done with the flashcards, I will try my hand at their practice tests and then schedule my actual test.
Once I get my Tech license, I plan on grabbing another BaoFeng radio for my wife and a few to keep in different bags and what not. I also have my eye on a mobile unit, the Elecraft KXR (HF) with a 2 meter add-on module. I want to make a mobile bag as well as mount one in my truck. I haven’t done all of my research yet, but I am thinking this is the one I will get. The functionality seems like it is there and it is tiny. I could clip it to my dash in my truck or tuck it in a pocket in my backpack and just run antenna and power. It also has internal batteries for grid-down or in the field communications.
I plan on having a mobile bag with this, an external 12v battery, a longer antenna, and a small computer to connect to it. The bag will be handy to be able to grab and go or attach to my plate carrier (or someone’s) and turn the carrier in to a comms guy. Having a computer connected allows you to send and receive digital text data over the radio. This radio comes with its own software for advanced use of the radio’s functions or you can use a software like fldigi to send/receive digital text. I have been researching the new Raspberry Pi 2 board and its applications in the comms field. There is a touch screen, USB powered monitor and case that I can use in conjunction with the Pi 2 and a USB power pack to make a portable computer that I can store with the radio for situations where I might need to utilize the radio’s software for fldigi. I am still looking in to just a tablet but I don’t know what software I could use with it. Plus the price of the Raspberry Pi can’t be beat and Microsoft will have a custom version of Windows 10 designed for the Pi 2 (if Windows is your thing). With the 12v battery in my comms bag and a backpack mounted solar charger, I think I would be set for emergency, grid-down communications, but more research is needed.
I am still in the early stages of this project but hope to be progressing along at a good pace. As I move forward and get my licenses and start to piece together gear and participate in nets, I will update more. In the mean time, check out the videos below to AMRRON and get your comms up!
Introduction to AMRRON
Comms Up! trailer, full video, and 4-part Comms Up 2 video
Comms Up! Video 1
Comms Up! Video 2 – Part 1
Comms Up! Video 2 – Part 2
Comms Up! Video 2 – Part 3
Comms Up! Video 2 – Part 4