Submitted by Jeff Winner for Olympia Amateur Radio Society

During the Winter break from school, local Sea Cadets of the Capitol Battalion Sea Cadets took the opportunity to earn their Amateur Radio Technician’s License. On December 18 through 20, Thurston County District 13 Griffin Fire Station hosted these local Cadets. The class and hands-on practice were provided by Lee Chambers KI7SS, Steve Ward WC7I, and Bruce Montgomery WA7BAM, from the Olympia Amateur Radio Society (OARS). Following their test on the 20th, the group received a gift of five hand-held VHF/UHF ham radios on Thursday followed by a field trip to Lee’s (KI7SS) shack. On Friday, they visited the Thurston County Emergency Operations Center and talked with Emergency Coordinator, Tom Bohon W7BHN.

How did this training come about?

In order for the cadets to receive promotions in the Sea Cadets they have to complete several requirements. One of the requirements is to attend an advanced training for each promotion. These training camps, usually 1-2 weeks long, take place all around the country and cover just about any subject you can think of. But, due to budget changes this year within the federal government, it was unclear if there were going to be any training opportunities within driving distance of Olympia during winter break from school. The unit leadership started looking at training opportunities we could provide locally for our cadets. Ham radio seemed like a good fit on a number of levels, from the opportunity for more community service if they earned ham licenses, to fitting in with the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program which would benefit our cadets in virtually any career field they choose to enter after leaving the Sea Cadet program.

I was vaguely familiar with the Olympia Amateur Radio Society (OARS) because I had started to get my ham license a number of times over the years.  I emailed the person listed as the training contact on the OARS website, Lee Chambers KI7SS, to get advice on how to go about putting on a ham radio class. At that point Lee pretty much laid out the entire 5-day course for us including finding instructors and guest speakers for the week. Then it was just a matter of finding out how many cadets and adult leaders were willing to commit a week of their time over the holidays to learn about a subject that many of them had never heard about before. In the end, we had four League Cadets (age 10 to 12), three Sea Cadets (ages 13-17) and four adult leaders attend the training.

Who instructed the class?

Olympia Amateur Radio Society Sea Cadets
Front row: Jaxon Wolfe, Joshua Merry, Caleb Swanson. Second row: Stephanie Winner, Jasmine Gilliland, Jackson Winner, [name removed]. Third row: Aaron Hayes. Not shown: Jeff Winner, Deb Laur, Evan Laur. Photo credit: Bruce Montgomery WA7BAM
Lee Chambers KI7SS and Steve Ward WC7I were the lead instructors for the course.  Both were incredible with the kids and made the at times highly technical subject matter engaging and fun.  Bruce Montgomery WA7BAM, the current President of OARS also spent a day instructing during the week.  Lee also arranged for the cadets to tour the Thurston County Emergency Communications Center and talk to Tom Bohon W7BHN the Emergency Coordinator for Thurston County Amateur Radio Emergency Services.

Did any of the students receive their ham license?

We decided to title this training “Theory and Operation of Amateur Radio” or “TOHAM”. OARS administers a ham license testing session every month prior to their regular Wednesday meeting.  Because of the way the school holiday schedule fell, this gave us three days of training prior to the testing session. In the months prior to the training I decided to finally finish studying for my license and take the test to see what it would be like for the rest of the group, I was able to take and pass first the Technician and then the General exam.  While the subject matter is not necessarily difficult, there is a lot to learn. It was decided that obtaining a ham license during this one-week training would not be a requirement for successfully passing the course. However, the students were given the option of testing for their Technician license. In the end we had two cadets and two adults take the test and qualify for their Technician licenses bringing the total number of hams in Capitol Battalion to five.  The others are diligently studying and hope to obtain their licenses in the coming months.

Were there any surprises during the course?

On Thursday, Dec 21, Bruce WA7BAM showed up to training wearing a Santa Hat and carrying a huge box. He informed the class that a very generous OARS member had donated 13 brand-new VHF/UHF hand-held ham radios, one for each student when they obtained their license. This was completely unexpected, and I am still shocked by the generosity.  The support of everyone in the ham community has been amazing to me, it’s a wonderful group of people and we hope to team with OARS in the future in community service events.

I think another surprise was how many things you can do in ham radio. From emergency services and helping out at community events to meeting people on the air in almost every country in the world, participating in “hide and seek” contests tracking radio signals or just communicating with friends, it really does have something for everyone.

I turned in my ARES application to Tom Bohon last Friday and have completed the required FEMA training. My wife Stephanie was one of the ones that passed her test and she also got an application for ARES and plans on joining.

My son Jack is one of the cadets that passed, we are now a true ham radio family. He is up at a Sea Cadet Basic Medical training this week but made me promise to check the database every day to see if his call sign is posted. He can’t wait to contact Lee and Steve on the radio when he is “official”, I’m pretty sure they are both his heroes after last week. Before last week his plan was to attend the US Naval Academy and be an Aeronautical Engineer and design drones. After last week it suddenly changed to Aeronautical and Electrical Engineer! Ahh, the power to shape young minds.

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