We return to the MSS by a slightly different route to avoid possible ambush on our previous route, eventually making our way to the designated entrance entrance/exit point. Using multiple entrance/exits at an MSS or patrol base increases the risk of it’s compromise by anyone coming across the additional sign. Also, anyone not approaching the base toward the designated point should be regarded with extra scrutiny.

As we approach the entrance, Andy assumes we are close enough to be under the observation of the man on security, so he signals a halt and then goes to ground. I turn to watch our back trail as he reaches up with his support hand, lifts his boonie of his head and holds it with the sewn-in VS-17 panel inside showing toward the entrance. After waiting for a few seconds, he sees the reply through the thicket, the magenta side of another small VS-17 panel flashed our direction. This is the proper IFF sign-countersign per our current SOI. If the wrong color is displayed on either end, it is assumed that end is compromised and under duress.

Moving through the concealed entrance we find Al on security. Andy and I take up positions on his right and quietly watch our back trail for a few minutes.

After determining we aren’t being trailed, I stand and move next to Al. “Rally on the rucks” I whisper to him, having noticed that our rucks have been retrieved and are lying ready next to the others at the center of the MSS. Jim is lying prone near them, watching in the opposite direction.

Al nods, falls in behind Andy and we gather next to Jim, who looks our way and gives a nod.

I look toward Al and ask, “Messages go out O.K.?

“Yes,” he replies, “No traffic our way though.”

I nod and then tell them, “We’ve found a good spot for the hide. Good news is, it’ll fit all four of us and there’s not much digging involved.”

“Digging, all four of us?” Al questions, a confused look on his face.

He goes on to say, “I thought you were going to set up a hasty above ground hide while we were running the MSS here. Just long enough to look the area over before we go down to Mr. Conner’s place. You know, make sure nothing is out of the ordinary first. “

Jim rolls over on his side to face us.

“Al, do you honestly believe that everything we’ve seen in this valley is “ordinary”?” Jim remarks using his fingers to make apostrophes in order to emphasize the word “ordinary” and then adds, “I agree with Dan. I think we’re gonna be here longer than we bargained for. There’s a lot of bad actors moving around in this AO and I for one don’t want 30 of them bringing heat down on the four of us just because we were too lazy to build a proper hide. All it would take is a hunter out looking for a deer or turkey for his pot to stumble on us and next thing you know we’re fighten’ for our hides. No sir, I’m all for diggin’ in.”

Jim has said his piece and turns back to his sector. It’s quiet while we take in Jim’s comments. I look over at Al half expecting him to take offense at Jim’s usual tactless reply.

Andy not wanting to be left out of the conversation adds dryly,

“Jim, we haven’t seen any sign of a deer, bear, hog, or a turkey in these mountains for over 2 years, let alone the real thing. Not even a whistle pig.” Andy adds, referring to the local name for the ground hog. “They’ve all been hunted out, you know that. It’s so bad the coyotes have left”

“Well… squirrels then. We still got lots’a tree rats around here.” Jim responds, this time not turning to face us.

I shake my head and smile at Andy. He grins back.

“Okay guys,” I say, “I’m doing a FRAGO (fragmentary order or change) to the OPORD. That’s why the MSS is listed as “Tentative” in the OPORD. That gave us some flexibility in case the proposed site sucks or the mission changes. And as I see it, the mission has changed from checking up on Jack’s place to getting an understanding of the overall situation in this valley and sending that info back to the retreat so they can analyze it and make an informed decision on how we’re going to handle this. Remember, this is very close to our back yard. You wrote the radio intercept transcript Al. You know they were making comments about our valley. My guess is that after they clean this area out, they are headed there next.”

Al nods in agreement, or at least understanding, as I continue. “It’s going to take a little longer than we anticipated and the threat level has gone up considerably. So we’re going to all move to the new location where we’ll set up a dug-in observation hide. I know in the past you’ve worked out of a temporary “sniper hide” or FFP (Final Firing Position). This is a little different. An observation hide is a long term hide used primarily for surveillance missions, so it’s more complicated and usually takes more time, muscle, material and different tools to construct. We’ll run a combined MSS and hide until Martin pulls us out or the mission changes.”

“Al,” interjects Andy, “It’ll be built a lot like the over-watch bunker up on the hill at the entry road to our cove only not quite as permanent.” Then he adds, “Hey, remember when Jim, and Randall and I had to work out of one over near the airport back before everything started to get real bad? This is the same thing.”

“Yes, I remember. “Al replied. Then he added quietly, “Randall never came back, he’s still buried over there.”

Jim, turning again on his side toward us says quickly, “Andy, thanks for that great example, you knuckle head. Al, this ain’t the same as that. We were pretty green then. This ain’t our first rodeo and you know it, so don’t go gettin’ all spooked on us.”

I reach out and put a hand on Al’s shoulder.

“Jim’s right Al.” I add. “This isn’t the same situation. Back then we had no idea who was our friend and who was our enemy, and we were stabbed in the back by some folks from outside of our community. A lot has washed out since then. I trust you three men with my life and the lives of my family.”

“Sorry about that.” Andy says.

“No big deal.” Jim responds with a shrug. “We took care of those SOBs and nobody in the entire valley has missed ’em.

It’s quiet again as I watch for Al’s reaction. He lowers his head sightly, peering toward the ground for a few minutes, deep in thought. Andy fiddles absentmindedly with his knife.

After a few moments Al shrugs his shoulders, looks up and asks, “So we’re going to run everything from the hide, no MSS?”

“No MSS. It’ll be tight but it’ll make it easier on all of us. One less body pulling security, smaller footprint, less chance of compromise, more rest.” I reply.

Al asks, “What about comms? How will we run comms back to the retreat without a separate MSS?”

“We’ll run them out of the hide.” I answer.

Al gives me a confused look.

I reply, “Not to worry Al, I’ll help you set up. I’ve done it that way more often than not. Really, the only difference is instead of leaving our extra equipment and rucks with the MSS, we will have to build a separate hide for the rucks once we empty them. No room for them in the primary hide.”

“You’re not concerned we’ll get DF’d transmitting out of the hide?” asked Al.

“From what we’ve seen so far I don’t think this bunch has the capability. In this environment, I’m a lot more concerned we’ll get scarfed up by someone out looking for some meat for dinner, like Jim so eloquently stated.”

Jim snorts.

Al has been listening with a thoughtful look on his face and then abruptly replies, “OK, I’m on board.”

“Good,” I reply. “Any questions?

There are none.

Jim, this place sterilized?” I ask.

“Yep, ready to go.” Jim replies.

“Andy and Jim up front, Andy take point, you know the way. Al pick up slack, let’s go.”

We ruck up and slowly leave the thicket then stop about 50 yards out to watch our back trail again. While waiting, we notice that the snow has completely stopped and the wind has slowed a little. The clouds are thinning out. I figure we have about 4 hours of daylight left.

We patrol back up the backside of the spur, stopping about 50 yards short of the hide spot. Prior to occupying the hide location, we set up another over-watch and keep eyes on it for about 15 minutes in the event that someone moved in while we were gone. If we had a larger patrol, I would have left a 2 man team to maintain eyes on the site while Andy and I returned to the MSS to bring up the remainder of the team.

Andy takes security while we work on hide construction.

Per our SOP, we approach the tentative hide from the side opposite of the target area and will avoid moving through the target side if at all possible. Regardless if it would be near impossible for threat personnel to approach the front of this hide due to the cliff, it would build bad work habits that could lead to future mistakes. Surveying the hole under the unearthed root ball, we determine that we will be able to fit all four team members in it.

“Well, you’re right, we won’t have to do a bunch of diggin’, unless you want a full-on sub-surface hide.” Jim states, staring down into the hole.

“No”, I reply, “We don’t have the tools or supplies to build one. We’d need shovels and mattocks and pre-fab roof sections. I think a modified belly hide will do. A little deeper than a belly hide where we can move around some and sit up occasionally, and a deeper area where the observer can stay seated.”

Jim steps into the depression to locate the direction of the target and to determine the best location for the viewing aperture. The rest of the hide will be situated and built around it.

“The clouds are really lifting out.” Jim states as he looks over the lip toward the west. “We’re gonna have a birds-eye view of the whole valley from here.”

“This is a good spot.” Al adds, looking around. “The cedars provide a nice dark area to work in. There’s very little danger of being silhouetted against the ridge behind us. Very good for antennas.”

“Yep, good piece of real estate.” says Jim. “The cliff out front is a nice touch. The only way anyone gets to us is from the rear or sides and we’ll have plenty of warning if they try. I like it.”

“I’m glad you two approve. Now let’s get to work.” I reply.

We pull all of the empty sandbags from our rucks and lay them out in a square outlining the proposed hide. Then due to the wind, we temporarily peg ponchos around the outside of the hide to protect the area from disturbance and to catch any loose dirt taken from the hide.

Next we remove the large twigs, limbs and leaves from the ground on top of the future hide and set them aside for later use. Jim then uses a small pair of pruning shears to lop off the brambles and small saplings growing from the bottom of the pit.

We then cut any sod inside the hide boundary with e-tools. We carry one per 2 man team. The e-tools are locked at a 90 degree angle and the sod is first cut into 2′ wide sections perpendicular to the hide, from the center of the pit toward the sandbag boundaries. When the sections are all cut length-wise, we set the e-tools at full extension, then undercut and roll the sod away from the hole onto the ponchos, keeping the outside edge of the sod attached to help hold each section in place when it is rolled back out. Next we cut the walls of the hide perpendicular until the floor is completely flat, about 24 inches deep. Then we cut a lip in the dirt, 8 inches wide and 6 inches deep, completely around the hide next to the walls. Most of the spoil is placed in the empty sandbags. Jim points out that we have enough room to excavate a sitting area for up to 2 side-by-side observers. This area is directly behind the aperture, near the right hand corner of the pit, facing the target. The area for the feet is about 24 inches deep below the seat. The seat is about 30 inches below the lip of the hide. Any roots we encounter are either cut with the e-tool or by plunging the 10” blade of a Sportsman folding saws into the ground and cutting it loose. Rocks are pried out with the e-tools.

Since the heavy sod will cover about 1′ to 2′ of the hide roof from the edges when it is rolled back out, its weight will cause the poncho roof under it to sag. To support the sod, we select 4 small trees, place a poncho on the ground at their base to catch the sawdust, then cut them as close to the ground as possible and limb them. The sawdust is placed into one of the sandbags while the small limbs are cut into small sections with the pruning shears and disposed well away from the hide along with any extra soil. The tree stumps are painted with a mixture of soil and water to age the cut and then covered with leaves.

To support the poles, a filled sandbag is placed about a foot from each corner of the lip. The end of each pole is then laid on a corner sandbag and the pole ends are lashed together. Each horizontal pole is then supported at the center by lashing it to a short vertical pole stuck into the ground. We stand back and look at our handiwork while Jim completes the last of the lashing. He puts the weight of his body on each pole in turn and grunts his approval. We now have a sturdy pole support system, about a foot inside the lip, completely surrounding the pit.

We fill the rest of the empty sandbags with a majority of the removed soil. To deal with the left over soil, Al and I empty two of the rucks, then line them with black trash bags. After we work for a few minutes I notice Al is shoveling a lot of soil in his ruck.

“Al, you might want to take it easy with the dirt” I warn him.

“Why don’t we fill the rucks? Less trips right? Al replies.

“Well, these are 110 liter rucks and 1 liter of dry clay weighs a little under 2.5 lbs. Do the math.” I say as I close up the bag and top flap on my ruck.

Al stares at his ruck for a moment, and then with a grunt, attempts to lift it. He tips the ruck back into the hole, dumping a good portion.

“Ready” he announces as he lifts the ruck onto his back.

It takes 3 trips. We find an area of thick briars growing just below a small rock face. There we dump it off from the top of the cliff into the thick mass below.

“Al,” I point out, I picked this spot out to dump the dirt because these rock faces usually make good dens for Timber Rattlers. I don’t think we need to worry about anyone poking around in the briars beneath them and finding it.”

Al looks the rocky area over intently and nods.

I go on to add, “If we didn’t have this slide, we could look for a groundhog hole or the hole from a rotted tree stump to dump it in. Even better would be a large creek or river. Worst case we would have to scatter it over a large area.”

While we are dumping the soil, Jim connects and arches 4 flexible fiberglass tent poles sections over the top of the hide and then pushes the ends into the ground on each side forming a low dome. The poles are held together with internal shock cords. Then the overlapping poles are secured to one another with duct tape at each cross-over point. He snaps 2 military camouflaged ponchos together, stretches them over the poles and secures them at the lip surrounding the hide with small aluminum tent stakes pushed through the grommets. Next he places the filled sandbags along the lip surrounding the excavation and onto the edges of the ponchos to hold them in place.

Jim retrieves the patrol’s two 4’x8′ camouflaged nets, tie-wraps them together and drags them face down on the ground through an area behind and below the hide. This will cause the net to pickup a lot of natural plant material. The net is then stretched over the camouflaged ponchos and sandbags and also pegged into place. Last, he rolls the sod back in place over the sandbags, the wooden support poles and up the net about a foot. We return from our dump mission in time to help camo the sod and the rest of the net with the dead fall and leaves that were saved from the pit.

Al asks, “Why do we use the camouflage netting, isn’t the camouflage poncho enough?”

Jim looks up from his work, wiping his hands on his trousers as he replies. “Well, the poncho works O.K. at a distance, but its better if you add a little depth and texture for up close. The net adds that. Now, if the sod completely covered the hide roof, we wouldn’t have needed the net, but we would have to spend a bunch a’ time building a stout frame underneath to handle the weight. So, I reckon it’s a wash. Another thing, when that nylon poncho gets wet from rain or the sun hits it at a certain angle, it’ll shine like a nekid babies butt. So, we use the net and the leaves and twigs and such to hold down the shine.”

“Interesting” Al replies, looking closer at the netting.

“Yeah, interestin’” Jim replies.

Opposite the aperture, I dig a small entry opening below the support pole and the 2 sandbags are removed. At the opening, I hang the door itself which consists of a brown section of burlap with a small section of camo net sewn at the top edge. It has also been garnished with natural vegetation. It is then attached to the exterior net and is allowed to drape over the door opening. It will be held in place from the inside with a few small rocks placed on the lower end of the flap. During the day the burlap section can be rolled up inside and tied off while the net is left hanging covering the opening. This will provide more ventilation.

The aperture is constructed next. Al and Jim dig a wide ledge, 36” wide by 12” deep, slightly below ground level to accommodate 2 sandbags. They will be used as a rest for the spotting scope tripod. Several short branches about 12 inches long are pushed into the ground about 24” apart on each side of the opening and lashed together with 550 cord. Next a filled sandbag is placed on either side of these branches, perpendicular to the sandbags around the perimeter of the hide. Then several other large branches about 36” long are placed on top of the sandbags forming a top shelf. The ponchos edges are pulled over the shelf, sandbags placed on top to hold them into place, then the sod is rolled back over the wood frame opening. From the inside, the small aperture opening is then cut out of the sod. Lastly, the camo net is draped over the aperture and pegged down.

“Jim” Al asks, “Why is the hole in the sod so small, why don’t we make it bigger like the bunker at home. Then we would have a wider field of view.”

“Well, mainly because at night, if someone down there,” he points toward the valley below, “has a thermal imager, then all the body heat inside this hide would cause a bigger opening to light up like a neon sign. So we keep the opening just small enough to get our scope or nod lens a good view. We’re far enough away they won’t spot a small image. Don’t take much of a hole to see out of. Now, during the day, we can roll it open and just use the net. It’ll get some fresh air in, and believe me we’re gonna need it if were here for long. We’ll get mighty ripe.”

While Jim and Al are busy inside, spreading out a large piece of black plastic that makes up the floor covering, I do a walk around the hide to look for deficiencies.

The hide is about 18 inches above ground level at the center and about 12 inches at the edges. The south side of the hide is hard against the upturned root ball which adds to the camouflage effect with its tangled mass of roots jutting over the net. The north side is partially covered by some low hanging spruce boughs. I adjust and add camo here and there. Then I moves about 25 yards away and carefully walks around the hide looking for problems just stopping short of walking in the area facing the target. I will do another check after dark when we will use a red lens light inside to test for leaks.

Next, we unload the equipment from our rucks that we will need to operate in the hide. The following equipment is kept in a dry bag in the observation area: Our 0-60 power spotting scope, one set of binoculars, one set of NVGs with spare batteries, blank sector sketch sheets and a small log book.

Al places all of the communication equipment and batteries as well as the radio log, SOI, and one-time pads in a dry bag in the admin area next to the observation area. We unload 1 sleeping bag; it will be warm in the hide and only one will sleep at a time. Food is packed into another dry bag kept in the admin area. Other non-essential equipment is kept in the rucks, which are placed in rain covers, then moved to a separate simple hide site, an area of thick briars, about 50 yards down the mountain but still within view of the man pulling security.

The interior of the hide is now separated into three areas: observation, rear security, and admin/sleeping area. A blackout poncho is hung from the ceiling tent poles to separate the admin area from the observation area. Another is hung near the rear opening or rear security area. No light will be used in the observation or security areas, and only red light is used sparingly in the admin area.

One man will be on observation, one on radio watch and one on rear security at the door opening. The last will sleep. We will rotate through each position once every 2 hours with the man sleeping getting 6 hours at a stretch.

Al and I setup the HF antenna system. We cut and install the dipole antenna low and well hidden in the trees about 25 feet away from the hide, insuring that the antenna wire is not touching any vegetation. This time the cobra head at the center of the antenna is located at a fairly large tree. After the antenna is hoisted, we trace the flat gray painted coax down the tree trunk and lightly tack it at the top and bottom with painted fence staples. Next we cut a shallow slit in the ground with our e-tools from the base of the tree to the hide. The portion of the coax on the ground is then pushed into the slit, which is then closed as we go. Ground litter is then sprinkled over the slit.

Next we install the 292 receive antenna for the scanner. It is ran up into a cedar tree overhanging the hide where it disappears between the boughs. It’s thin coax is also stapled loosely to the tree trunk, then buried in a slit in the ground which runs into the hide. Both buried coaxes will be checked every morning, if one were to be dug up at night by animals, they could be seen and would lead to the hide location.

“Dan,” Al asks as we work, “Are we going to have to re-cut the antenna every day since the SOI stipulates a new frequency every day?”

“Yes” I reply. “Even though I said I don’t think these guys have the ability to DF us, if they have access to Jack’s radio room, they can listen in. I don’t want to make it easy for them.

“You’re probably right, It’s just that I thought it would be better if we stay out of sight as much as possible.” Al replies without looking up from his work, burying the coax.

“You say that now,” I say. “I think you might re-think that after you have been cooped up in that hole for a few days.”

Al stops working for a moment then replies, “Jim said the same thing earlier. I hadn’t thought about that. This will be a new experience for me.” He mulls it over for another moment, then goes back to his task.

After we push the end of the scanner coax into the hide, I call everyone together.

“OK, let’s go over our routine. This will be a little different than operating two sites like we normally do. First, clothing. Put on whatever clothing you are going to need. That includes cold weather gear. Since the sod doesn’t completely cover the hide, we’ll lose some heat. Also bring your load bearing gear, you’ll have it on at all times, to include when your in the sleeping bag. That goes for boots too, we sleep with our boots on. Once we cache the rucks, we won’t access them again until the mission is complete. You can take stuff off if you get too hot. I would suggest everyone have his woobie to wrap up in if it gets real cold. For sleeping, I had Jim put my fart sack in the hide. We will hot rack until we finish. If you want a change of socks or underwear, there is enough room for extra dry bags in the hide.”

Everybody nods understanding.

“Next, shifts. We will rotate on two hour shifts to each position. Sleep shift will be 6 hours, then rotate to observation first, then admin, last security. Then back to sleep. Observation follows sleep because it’s the only position you can sit up in. Less chance of falling back to sleep.”

I look into each man’s face. Still no questions.

“Duties will be per SOP. Admin will monitor the radios, scanners and their logs. Security will keep an eye on our six as well as emplace and monitor the solar panel as needed. We don’t know how long we’ll be here, so it’s whoever is on admin to monitor the batteries. Observation, we made the hole big enough to fit two, so if you feel like there’s too much going on to keep the log, call in the man on admin to help. If that happens, the radio will answer a call on its own, just take the scanner with you. Make sure you keep good logs, everything you see gets logged; structures, personalities, activities, supplies, vehicles, weapons, comms, anything you see day and night. Speaking of night, watch the nod batteries, keep the spares charged.”

“Eating will only take place in the admin area. No hot food, we don’t have enough butane canisters for the Jet Boil to heat food and if even if we did, the smell could give up our location. Also, no MRE heaters. Start one and the fumes will run us all out of the hide. The Whisper-lite stove is a no-go in the hide also. We don’t need a liquid fuel spill or fire in the hide. The man coming off of sleep detail can heat a cup of water for an instant coffee or whatever. Again, use the Jet Boil. The dry bag with the food will be in the admin area. I don’t have to tell you that we will be on short rations due to the situation we’re in. Originally we thought this would be a quick 4 day in-and-out. So we gotta stretch it as far as we can. Good thing is, we won’t be burning a lot of calories lying around in the hole.”

“Hygiene. Not much chance of bathing in the spring, it’s too small plus you’d contaminate the water supply. About all we have is the bottle of hand sanitizer Kathy gave us. She had squirreled it away in the medical supplies but felt like we would need it. Use it to keep your hands as clean as possible. We don’t need someone with the squirts while we are in this hole.”

“Too bad we can’t get wet-wipes anymore. I sure miss them.” sighs Andy.

“They were a crutch” replies Jim.

Andy rolls his eyes.

I ignore them and continue.

“Lights only in the admin area and try to hold it down to red-light if possible.”

“Hey Dan, can we get a flap that we can cover the aperture with so we can fill out the observation log at night?” asks Andy.

After thinking about it for a few seconds I reply, “No, I don’t want to take the chance of any light getting out through the only opening we have facing the target area. On a moonless night, even red light can be seen a long ways off. If you have to record anything in the log at night, pass it over to the man in the admin area and dictate to him.”

“I agree.” Jim replies.

“30 minutes before BMNT and EENT we will have stand-to. Everyone will be up with their gear on, weapons ready. 30 minute listening, then first light walk around to check camo by the man on security and re-cut the antenna and check the coax by the man on admin. Last light checks after EENT will be security’s job.”

“Water resupply.” Jim says.

“Oh yeah” I continue, “we got real lucky there. While we were out dumping the spoil earlier, Al spotted an old game trail which we followed back this way. It led to a small spring in a rocky area with lots of tree cover. So we don’t have to make the daily trip down the mountain. Whoever is cutting the antenna will take the man on security in the morning to refill canteens. Standard IFF per the daily SOI applies when returning. Remember, it changes daily so make sure you check it before you leave. Same goes for the man pulling security. Water detail gets compromised, we go into E&E plan back to the rally point over the mountain. Jim, I’m thinking iodine tabs instead of the filters.”

“I’m with you, lots faster, less time at the water source and less to carry. The morning Joe will taste a little funky though.” Jim replies wrinkling his forehead, then he adds, “I guess if we get bored we could filter the iodine out once we get back inside the hide. What about latrines?”

“Thanks, getting to that.” I reply. “Each of us should have a 2 quart collapsible canteen with a big “P” in black permanent marker on each side. That’s your personal urinal. Keep it with you, if it leaks we’ll be smelling your piss on everything. Don’t be that guy. Make sure you keep the caps tight. Enough said. It gets dumped in a hole and covered during the morning check by the guy re-cutting the antenna. When you have to take a dump, do it in one of the MRE outer bags, roll the top over and seal it with duct tape, then put it in a large zip lock bag. We’ll keep them stored in the admin area in one of the black garbage bags we used to haul the dirt out. When we pull out of here, we’ll bury them.”

“Looks like we’re gonna get to know each other real well over the next few days.” blurts out Andy.

Everyone laughs quietly.

“Yeah, now I wish I hadn’t ate that meatball marinara MRE yesterday.” Jim added.

“Us more so.” Al replied quietly, giving Jim a sideways look.

We all laughed again as Jim reaches out smiling and rubbed the top of Al’s head vigorously.

“Last area to cover is actions in the hide if we are compromised.” I said looking toward Jim. “Go over it for us Jim.”

“Sure thing. First, anyone can call a compromise but most likely it will be the guy on security who will know it first. When Dan makes the decision to pop smoke, whoever is the radio man sends the “compromised” message back to the retreat. It’s already loaded in the radio, right Al?”

Al nods, “Yes”.

Jim continues. “Good, then the radio man stores the comms equipment in the dry bag and pulls it out with him. The observer does the same with his equipment and logs. Security man exits, goes right and establishes a position facing the threat. His team member does the same. Other two go to the left of the hide and set up same facing the same direction. From that point Dan will decide which direction we move out. We run a standard break contact drill, bounding in pairs until we break contact with the threat. Then we go into standard formation and move out of the area. Just like we rehearsed at home. Any questions?”

“None? O.K., if we make contact while we’re in the hide, security calls contact front, right, left, whatever. When the break contact command is given, security man lays down a base of fire until he empties a mag, he reloads, exits to his right and lays down suppressive fire. The radio man assumes his old position at the exit and lays down the hate until his mag is empty. He does this based on what he sees or by command from the man that is outside the hide. He will reload, exit to the opposite side and begin suppressing the bad guys. The observer will follow suit to the right and the last man will go left. At that point we have two bad-ass fire teams that will then perform a flawless break contact drill, where we kill all the bad guys that haven’t shit their pants and ran, ’cause all they know is they’ve come up on a humongous ground hornet’s nest and a bunch of stone cold killers are pouring out of a hole in the ground. Then we scalp th’ dead as a lesson to the rest and un-ass this pop stand. Just like we drilled.”

“Thanks Jim, I think.” I replied.

“Welcome” Jim replies with a broad smile on his face.

“Just one thing guys, no scalping” I add as an afterthought.

“Party Poop” Jim interjects.

“Any questions?” I ask, ignoring Jim. I search the faces of the team. No response.

“I’ve got to say this” I continue, “you men have really accomplished something today. We’ve moved a fair distance over some fairly rough terrain, gathered a ton of information, got it back to the folks back home, then found and managed to build a pretty substantial hide site. I’m proud to be with you”

Looking at one another, they all nod in agreement.

“Then let’s get this show on the road. Looks like the sun’s going behind the ridge across the valley. Jim you got ob, Andy on radio, I got security, and Al, you get to sack out. Andy, do one more look around the site before you come in. I’ll turn on a red light inside”

“Got it.” replies Andy.

“Once everyone is inside, I’ll take security while you men take a few minutes to grab something to eat. Then one of you relieve me, I’ll eat. When I finish, we start the work plan.”

While waiting my turn to crawl into the hide, I notice the sky is clear, the wind has died down and it is getting colder. I walk along the left hand side of the hide, through the dense cedars, close to the edge of the cliff. The sun has descended below the mountains to the west highlighting their massive silhouettes. Looking down between the boughs into the darkening valley below, I can see the vague outline of a large house about 500 meters away along the paved road.

Several of the windows are lighted.


***Disclaimer: I am not a guru when it comes to this stuff. I am definitely a student, and this is just a record of what I have been using thus far. I don’t want to give the impression that this is the way. All of this is likely to change if I learn a better way.*** […]

via My portable, modular, antenna mast system — American Hoplite

The Patrol – Chapter 8

Posted: 03/16/2016 in The Patrol

The bitter north wind roars through the bare limbs of the trees along the ridge line above our position causing them to sway and creak. The ridge acts as a natural wind break for the side of the mountain we occupy and tiny snowflakes fall silently around us. We lie in the prone on the cold wet leaves of the forest floor, feeling uncomfortably exposed in the sparse underbrush, each of us intently watching down the mountainside toward our back trail.

I think to myself how once I gave the listening halt and the hasty ambush signals, an “L” shape with the thumb and index finger held in the form of an “L”, and the direction of the back trail, each man had quickly spread out in a hasty ambush formation. Jim, at the head of the patrol, immediately looked for good cover, and due to the lack of concealment in the area, stepped off of the line of movement and to the left about 20 paces. He then dropped in the prone behind a large rock, facing the direction I had indicated. I continued on azimuth until I passed in front of Jim, turned in his direction, walked to the right of his position and hooking behind him, turned back in the direction I had come from. After moving to a point that I could just make out his form behind me, I also took cover behind a large oak, facing prone in the same direction. Andy came up next to pass in front of Jim made the same hook and when he reached my location took about 10 steps to my rear and went prone facing in the opposite direction to provide rear security. Next to turn at Jim’s location and then pass between us was Al, who continued on until he was just within eyesight, when he also went prone to provide what was now our right flank security. We are far enough apart to allow hand and arm signals with the man on each side and able to mutually support one another with our small arms. When the listening halt was finished, we would still be in the original patrol formation and could move out in the same direction without re-arranging. Lots of practice.

During this listening halt, we are also taking stock of the surroundings in order to get our bearings. We are situated in a wide, steep draw on the eastern facing, reverse slope of the spur we intend to use for our observation of the valley below. The spur above us, at over 4200 feet elevation, is about 1000 feet above and to our rear. The forest in the immediate area generally consists of large poplar and oak with very little understory growth.

I glance at the sky trying to determine the time and note the occasional patch of pale blue now peeking through the slate colored clouds. My guess is around 1300. Turning the underside of my left wrist up and pulling the top of my glove down, my watch confirms my estimate. We’ve been on the move for seven hours.

After an uneventful listening halt, I move to Jim’s location where I find him calmly studying the terrain.

As I lower myself next to him, he motions with his support hand as he speaks, “Dan, I don’t like the look of this place. Too open.” He nods downhill. “I can see all the way down to the branch and to the ridge line across the holler. There’s no proper place to set up the MSS” (Mission Support Site).

“You’re right,” I reply, looking around. “This won’t work. It doesn’t look anything like the aerials.

“Let’s have a look at the map,” I say as I open the outer pouch on my ruck and retrieve the case. Opening it, I lay it on the ground in front of us and orient it.

I brush the small snowflakes away. “We’re about here.” I pick up a dead leaf, strip the stem, and point out the spot on the map. “The aerial shows a dark area on the northeast side of the mountain about here,” I add as I trace the stem along the map.

“Yep,” Jim agrees, as he looks over my shoulder in the general direction of our planned movement. “That’s the spot we picked for our alternate MSS during mission planning, right?”

“Uh huh.” I reply back. “Usually the best high Rhododendron thickets grow near the crowns on the north side and that might just fill the bill. I say let’s just keep going and look it over. The slope looks pretty steep below it. Look how close the contour lines are there.” I add as I tap the location on the map.

“That’s mighty ugly.” Jim says. “And it’s only a-couple-a-hundred meters or so to the ridge top, maybe all Rhododendron, so there’s no way to j-hook and clear the area below the site first. Looks like an occupation by force.”

“Four of us, not much of a force.” I reply, frowning at the map. “But I don’t see a better way, besides, if we can’t traverse that steep area, chances are no one else is going to be down there either. Anybody trying to make an approach from that direction would play hell and will make a lot of noise. I hate to do it twice in two days, but we’ll just have to ease into the thicket. Okay then, that’s the plan. What’s your water situation? I checked with Al earlier, he’s good-to-go.”

“I’m good and I’ll check with Andy.” Jim replied.

“Just checking before we move further up the mountain. Looks like our closest source is back down there,” I add, nodding down the mountain. “I’ll let Al know the plan, you fill Andy in, give me the thumbs up when you’re ready and we’ll move out. Same movement order.” I pull the loop of 550 cord that is tied to my map case over my head and around my neck, then tuck the case behind my plate carrier and stand, slinging my ruck on my back.

Soon we are circling around the mountain summit toward the north. As we crest the spur running down the mountain, we leave its protection and catch the harsh brunt of the winter wind in our faces. The sudden cold blast tears at my boonie and causes me to turn my head to catch my breath. My eyes water up behind my shooting glasses. The wind in the trees drowns out all other sound. As we slowly work our way down the opposite side of the spur the Rhododendron thickens. As the thicket closes in around us we begin to feel less exposed. Soon, my pace count says we have arrived and I signal Jim to the location where I’ve taken a knee.

Jim joins me and whispers “We in the right place?” Looking his way, I notice his beard and mustache are covered with frost.

“This is it,” I reply looking around. “I think this ‘ll do.”

“Yep,” Jim agrees, “It’s pretty thick. No normal person would want to be here, but then, I never claimed to be normal.” He adds. “Or the fellers I hang with.”

“Thanks” I reply.

Jim continues. “Good overhead and lateral concealment. It’s got everything but water, and like you said, we can get that down the mountain. Large rocks for cover, just hope there’s no timber rattlers around. You know how they like the rocks.”

“Too cold for them to be out, but hey, rattlesnake is good eating you know?” I reply grinning, knowing from past experience he doesn’t care for snakes or spiders.

Jim doesn’t look my way but replies dryly, “You can have my share.”

We move toward the center of the thicket and establish a small four man patrol base with another listening halt. Al and I are laying side-by-side, foot-to-foot with Jim and Andy who are also laying side-by-side facing the opposite direction.

After we finish the listening halt we go to 50% security. Fortunately, the thick Rhododendron slows the wind somewhat and provides excellent concealment. We spend the next few minutes taking turns layering up by putting on our poly-pro long underwear and changing into dry socks. I notice we are all wearing our snookies under our boonies to hold in the large amount of body heat usually lost through the head. Another reason to have oversized boonies for winter operations.

Al retrieves a small plastic bag filled with Miss Lucy’s home-made pemmican bars from his ruck and we pass them around. Not the most tasty item on the menu, but packed full of energy. One team member changes and eats while his team mate pulls security. Instead of laying on the ground like the night before, we’re now sitting in pairs, back-back in order to get us off of the ground and help retain body heat. Due to the thickness of the surrounding vegetation and time of day, our thermal signature is minimal.

After we’ve all eaten and changed, I sit down next to Jim.

“Jim, looks like we’ve got about 5 hours of light left. We need to have a look at the primary hide and if we have time, the alternate hide. If we can, I’d like to get the hide built and occupied while this crappy weather lasts. I want to leave you and Al here with the rucks, Andy and I will poke around.”

Jim looks my way and says, “You sure you want to take Andy with you? You’ll be breaking up the fire teams.”

“Yes,” I reply, “I want Al to set up comms and get the next SITREP out. Any questions?”

I watch him mull the situation over in his mind for a few minutes knowing that he wants to be in on the recon of the hides.

“You say you want to get the hide up today. What if it takes most of the night? You up for that?” He asks.

“Don’t know about you Jim, but I’m smoked.” I replied. “But… by the looks of those clouds, this weather’s going to clear out by tomorrow, so we need to go to ground before then.”

Jim looks up through the spaces in the overhead cover at the clouds for a few seconds then replies in typical Jim fashion, “Let’s do it.” Short and sweet.

“We should be ready in 15 minutes, I say as I get up from the ground.

Jim glances at his wrist watch and nods to the affirmative, his head still on a constant swivel, always alert, looking around the area.

Andy and I cache our rucks under some leaves next to a large poplar, growing up through the thicket. “Andy, we’re going to travel light”, I say looking him toward him. “Fighting loads, one DTR each and a set of binos. Also, let’s top off our water. If we have to E&E, we live off of our survival kits. You have yours on you right?” I ask.

“Right here as always.” Andy says as he taps his right cargo pocket. “Dan” he adds, “Let’s leave the binos and just take my monocular. It’ll fit in my shirt pocket and it’s pretty light.”

“Good idea Andy, anything else?”

“Yeah, I’d like to take my veil. It’s kinda open terrain out there with the leaves down and all. We’ll be exposed to the valley.”

“If you think they will help, I’m all for it, but you know, movement’s what the eye is attracted to first and the veils won’t cover up carelessness.”

Andy nods and says “I know, I just want every edge I can get. You know, “stack the odds in our favor” as you always say.”

Before we cover the rucks, we remove Andy’s monocular, two HTs and sniper veils. The veils are simple affairs. Each consists of a couple of square feet of light nylon webbing, coyote colored to match the dominant browns present during the winter months in our mountains. Tie on a little jute and burlap then add some local vegetation for texture on the portion that extends over the head and shoulders. In this case, some large brown leaves and tufts of brown grass, leaving the portion of netting that covers the face without garnishment. Each veil is stuffed in a cargo pocket.

The Vortex monocular goes into the zippered pouch mounted under the mag pouches on the front of Andy’s chest rig. The radios are tucked into radio pouches on the front of the plate carriers after checking the freqs against the current SOI and making a quick radio check. We both top-off our camel backs from the collapsible 2 quart canteens stored inside of our rucks. It’s time to issue the 5 point contingency plan.

I look in Jim’s direction and say, ‘You take security, I’ll brief.”

Jim nods and I call the other two over to our position.

Once they have settled in, I lay my map on the ground. Using a small twig as a pointer, I give them the standard five-point contingency plan: GOTWA, where I’m Going and what I’m doing, the Others going with me, the Time we will be gone, What to do if we don’t return on time and Actions to take if either element makes threat contact. *(As found on page 5-13 of SH 21-75, the Ranger Handbook, dated July 1992. In my opinion, the last good Ranger Handbook for dismounted patrolling.)

“Fellas,” I begin, while pointing out the various areas on the map, “This area we had planned on using for the MSS was too exposed, but it looks like this spot will work, so Andy and I are going to recon further west around the peak behind us and take a look at the tentative primary and alternate hide sites, here and here, that we selected during mission planning back at the retreat. Afterward, we will return and start the next phase. If we make any changes you need to know about, we’ll call on the HT. We’ll also give you a heads-up on the radios when we are on our way back.”

“Al, what’s the far recognition signal?” I ask.

“Orange VS-17 challenge, Magenta acknowledge.” he replies, “the running password is “Yosemite Sam” and the number combo is “12”, he adds.

“Good answer. Jim’s the senior man here. We should be gone for no more than 2 hours. If we don’t return by then, move all the sensitive items into your rucks, move unnecessary items to ours. Leave our rucks in the cache, and move to this planned emergency rendezvous point.” I indicate the RV point on the map while adding, “The RV is 100 meters, at 130 degrees azimuth, below the next large mountain peak in the ridge line to the northeast. If either of our elements makes contact with anyone, bad or good, we break contact, pop smoke, and meet at that RV. Any questions?”

No one replies so I add, “Then, per our SOP, wait there 12 hours. If the other team doesn’t show, pull the plug and head home”.

“So we just head on home?” Andy asks, a slight tinge of doubt in his voice.

“You know the deal” Jim replies, looking at him intently. “We activate the E & E plan per the OPORD, we find our way home, you find yours.”

“O.K.” Andy says as he nods in the affirmative. “Just checking.”

“That’s it then, did I miss anything?” I question.

Al speaks up, “I need to cack up several messages for the retreat. The next window will open in about an hour.”

I agree. “Yep, Martin’s probably having a cow about now. He hasn’t heard from us since this morning.”

“Don’t forget ol’ Joe” Jim adds. “He can be a real granny when he’s baby sittin’ those radios of his.”

“You know that’s right.” I reply. “Al, start ginning up the traffic and I’ll look it over before we leave. If you have time while we’re gone, get your comms set up, and when we get back from the recon, you can send it.”

They both nod. Jim stays on security while Al retrieves his notebook to work up the messages.

Andy and I check our camo, weapons and gear.

About the same time we finish, Al hands me the message sheet. It reads:

061355RMAR21 02

C. 26549010
E. 060844RMAR21

C. 26389008

C. 26339007

C. 26439011
D. 061013RMAR21 3-5 DAYS AGO

C. 26409013
D. 061057RMAR21 1-2 DAYS AGO

C. 26279002
D. 061305RMAR21 UNK DATE

A. 060835RMAR21
B. 060835RMAR21
C. 462.5625
F. 1-S7, 2-S1

A. 061225RMAR21
B. 061225RMAR21
C. 462.5625
F. 1-S8, 2-S2

A. 1&4 MSS, 2&3 RECON
C. RECON 061430RMAR21
D. MSS VIC 26268997

I carefully look the messages over for accuracy and brevity, compare them to Al’s message format sheet to check for omissions, then hand the sheet back to Al.

“Al, that’s a lot of traffic. How are you going to send it?”

“Four separate messages” he replies softly while glancing down at the sheets. “The first will be the SITREP to get a feel for how much power I need to get through. The lower I can keep the power, the longer my batteries will last. Once I’ve determined that, then I’ll break up the INTREPs, COMINTS and EVTREPs into the last 3 messages.”

“Good job” I reply.

Al smiles at the compliment with a nod and replies, “I had a good teacher.”

“Do you need help with the encryption?”

“No thanks, by the time you return, I should have them done.”

Turning back to Andy I say, “Okay, let’s go have a look at the primary hide.” I point up the slope “We’ll move a little higher up out of this thicket and then follow the contour around to the north side. You lead.”

“Roger that.” Andy replies, looking up through the thick foliage.

He leads the way up until the thicket thins out and we are again exposed to the cold wind. We then turn back to the right and follow the contour to the northwest. The chill in the wind and snow slashes at our faces. Andy stops just inside the edge of the ivy thicket, kneels and pulls the veil from his cargo pocket. The veils would have snagged in the tangle while we moved through the thicket.

Taking off his boonie, Andy ties the veil to the loops above the brim of his boonie, dons the hat draping the garnished portion of the veil over his head and shoulders while the garnish free portion falls over his face. This allows his view to be unobstructed while still shading and concealing the shape of his face. The familiar shape of his head and shoulders now blend into a brown indistinguishable blob. When he finishes I follow suit.

As I exit the thicket behind Andy, I glance over my right shoulder. Through the bare trees, the open expanse of the western valley below comes into view and I get the uneasy feeling we are being watched. We move slowly and cautiously from one position of concealment to another with frequent looking/listening halts while avoiding areas that will silhouette us along the sky line along the ridge above us. After about 200 meters Andy halts, signals me forward, then drops prone. As I crawl through the leaves next to him he points ahead and up the slope slightly.

“There’s our hide site.” he states confidently. He hands me the Vortex monocular he had been scanning the location with.

I lock both elbows into the ground to stabilize the monocular at my right eye and slowly adjust the focus until the view sharpens. Scanning below the ridge above us I see the large red scar that has been carved out of the steep mountainside. In the years before the collapse, flat landers would build vacation homes, exclusively for the view, on lots high on the mountainsides. Builders had been more than happy to carve a large vertical slice down into the mountain, then scrape out a horizontal ledge to perch a house upon; the locals had no practical use for the steep property.

The lot we were looking at had never been built on. Small pine trees, thick briars and bushes have grown up to choke the flat bottom section of the lot as well as the badly rutted, clay switchback road leading up to it from the valley below. The vertical red clay cliff at the rear of the lot was about 45 feet high at the center apex and sloped down to meet the mountain on both sides about 300 feet across.

The thickly wooded area above the cliff was the spot we were interested in. It would provide great fields-of-view and would be inaccessible to foot traffic from the front unless using climbing gear. Access from each side would be exposed, slow and difficult. Concealment would be adequate but could be enhanced. We could access it from the northern slope via the Rhododendron thicket just below it.

Using the monocular, I study the slope and clay road below the red gash. “No vehicles will be coming up that road” I whispered to Andy. “By the looks of those briars, I wouldn’t want to walk up it either. I can’t make out exactly where the road begins down the mountain. The slope up is pretty steep on this side. I’d like to see the far side. Let’s move back to the top of the thicket, take it up and behind the site, then over to the southwestern side. From there we can look that area over and then move back to the MSS.”

I hand the monocular back to Andy. He slowly lifts the front of his veil and quickly scans the valley below us.

“Don’t see any movement” he says quietly. “Snow’s screwing up the view.”

I follow his gaze. The blowing snow comes toward us in waves across the valley and reduces everything to vague shapes. The low clouds hide the mountain peaks above the valley floor. I can faintly discern the hulking mass of the mountain base to our west.

“Well, I see patches of blue sky, so this snow’s gonna let up soon. But I’d say when it clears out tonight, it’ll get colder than balls,” Andy adds flatly.

“The sooner we get in place the better,” I reply.

Andy pauses scanning for a moment, hands me the mono and points a gloved finger down the mountain, “House…. about 300 meters below the cutout.”

“Good eyes, I missed that one. Looks empty, probably no access to water without electricity, I’d say. What do you think?” I hand the mono back to him.

“That’s what I thought, no danger to us.” he replies as he stows the mono into his pouch, “The dirt road up to it is in pretty rutted.”

We back our way out and find our way back to the top of the thicket, turn right and follow the back side of the spur up to the rear of the area we observed earlier. The location consists of a fairly wide cedar grove. Andy provides security as I crawl closer toward the grove. Looking around I notice the trunk of a large downed poplar tree. The enormous root ball is mostly exposed and has heaved up a large area of earth.

“Andy, let me borrow your glass again.” I whisper.

Rising slowly into a crouch I glass the root-ball area with the mono.

Dropping back to the forest floor I hand the mono back to Andy and say, “All of us can fit in that hole. And from the far side, we should be able to see the target area. If the other side of the mountain checks out clear, this is where I want to set up.”

“All of us? Andy asks.

“Yeah, we’ll close down the MSS and just roll it into the hide. It’s not a problem as long as we are this far from the target. Cuts down on the chances of someone stumbling upon us. Also, from what I’ve seen so far, there’s not much chance of being DF’d by a bunch of jokers using FRS HTs for comms.”

We then move to and visually clear the far side of the mountain, opposite the MSS.

Soon, after alerting Al on our DTR, Andy and I return to the MSS using the same path we exited from earlier.

“Green, Blue, over.”
“Green, over”
“We’re inbound your location, over.”
“Roger, out”

NC_Wayah Bald_165034_1957_24000_geo-001-001 Story part 8

A reader recently requested I elaborate on the comms equipment battery charging system I carry in my Ruck.

First let me say that the setup I use is not what I would prefer but it works. I would prefer an ultra light weight system that I could attach directly to my Elecraft KX3 and charge the batteries using its built-in battery charger. The radios built in charger requires 13.8 volts dc but I haven’t found a pack-able panel that supplies that voltage. Most backpack/camping panels supply 5 vdc. That would require 3 sets of panels connected in series to get the necessary voltage. So, what I’ve had to resort to is removing the batteries from whatever radio I’m using, and charging the batteries in a charger that’s connected to the solar panels.

My current setup consists of the XTAR VC4 Charger and the Renogy Solar 14 watt E-Flex Solar Power Panel with dual USB ports.

I chose the XTAR based on its light weight and size, its ability to recognize and charge 4 different batteries at once and charge a wide range of Li-ion, Ni-MH and Ni-Cd batteries, plus pretty good Amazon reviews. So far its performance has been good. On the downside, it’s not waterproof,  but then I haven’t found one in its class that is. And while it’s not fragile, it’s not private-proof and should be packed in  your ruck accordingly. Last but not least, you have to use the XTAR provided USB to charger cable. Why they didn’t design it to accept a common double sided USB cable or micro to USB cable is beyond me. So until I can find a spare or make my own, I have 1 cable and no spare. That makes it a critical failure point. The old “2 is 1 and 1 is none….”.

I chose the Renogy 14 watt E-Flex solar panel due to the fact that the solar panels I installed with my home system were also purchased from Renogy and I have been pleased with them. They offered the E-Flex as a camping solar system and I thought for the low price, I’d give it a try.

The E-Flex weighs in at 1.3 lbs, folds up small, has dual USB charging ports and a pretty nifty charge indicator that glows brighter as the suns intensity increases. One downside is the flimsy attaching loops arranged around the perimeter of the assembly. Other manufactures offer heavy duty grommets that can be used for attaching points. Another is the small storage pocket does not seal completely, so be cautious what you store in it.

Charging time for 4 – Panasonic 2500 mAh Eneloop Pros runs about 6 hours depending on the available sunlight and angle.  Charging time for 4 – 2000 mAh Eneloop standards is about 4 hours.

Now you have to ask yourself, which is lighter and takes up less room in the ruck?  Lots of spare batteries or a few spares and the recharging system?  I would say that’s METT-TC dependent.

What is the Mission? Is it short enough that I can just take some extra batteries? Or is it a long term affair where the weight of the recharge gear will be less than the weight of the batteries. Will we be using vehicles instead of walking? Then we just use our cigarette lighter plug-in inverter and charger.

Terrain: If it is a long term affair, what will the weather be like? Cloudy weather would preclude using the solar panel. Will I have the opportunity to lay out a panel for a few hours during the day or will we be constantly on the move? Is the terrain heavily forested?

Troops: Am I or someone on my team in good enough physical shape to hump the extra weight over rough terrain? Do I have the space in my ruck?

Civilians: Are they on our side? Will we be operating in a non-permissive environment where laying out a panel might draw the interest of a civilian who then compromise our location?

I know, I left out Enemy and Time. You get the gist.



Yeasu 817ND

Posted: 02/02/2016 in Communications

A reader recently asked if I would recommend the Yeasu 817 as an alternate for the Elecraft KX3, in the tactical HF radio role. In my opinion, if the KX3 wasn’t available, the 817 would be my rucksack radio of choice. After all, the original 817 (now the 817ND) is a time tested radio that has been around for nearly 20 years and is just about bullet proof.

The price point for the 817 is seductive, averaging about half the price for a maxed out KX3. That being said, there are a few differences. The KX3 is an SDR (Software Designed Radio) that has a ton of options available and so many functions that it can be overwhelming to a new radio operator, while the 817 is pretty straight forward.

My list of requirements for a rucksack HF radio primarily focuses on a few items.

First is weight; my motto being ounces is pounds. The KX3 comes in at 1.5 lbs while the 817 comes in at 2.6 lb.

My second requirement involves power issues. Power out: KX3 – 10 watts, 817 – 5 watts. Not a big deal if you are fairly experienced with QRP. If you are new to ham radio, you might be a little frustrated initially with the limitations of either of these low power radios.

Power consumption is major concern when in the field with no resupply. I don’t want to charge batteries after every contact and I don’t want to pack around large batteries. I charge the 8 Eneloop AA batteries for my KX-3 using a small Renogy solar panel and XTAR battery charger while in the field. The normal rx power consumption for the KX3 is 150 ma versus 300 ma with the 817. The 817 is well known as a power hog but the problem can be partially mitigated if you get rid of the 1400 mah nicad battery pack that comes with the radio and go with the W4RT 2700 mah battery pack built especially for the 817. Look here:  http://www.w4rt.com/FT-817-Accessories/One-Plug-Power-FT-817.htm How you would charge the battery in the field would take some thought. I would probably change out the crappy stock battery access door with the W4RT door at the same time. Here is a pretty good link regarding the power issues with the 817: http://www.ka7oei.com/ft817_pwr.html

Third issue:  using CW and digital vice voice comms. Voice comms is pretty much out, this is a QRP rig after all. Both radios have internal keyers for CW and will support digital modes.

Fourth, is the radio rugged and waterproof. Neither is water proof or even remotely water resistant. Keep your radio in a dry bag. I would say the 817 is a little more rugged than the KX3 but you can rugged-ize the KX3 somewhat if you drop the extra bucks and buy the gemsproducts SIDE KX cover and side panels.

My fifth requirement is an internal antenna tuner. In a tactical situation, you shouldn’t use the same freq. twice. Unless you want to cut the antenna to proper length for each different freq. used, you need a tuner. You have that option with the KX3, but not with the 817. That problem can be solved by purchasing the Emtech ZM-2 ATU (Antenna Tuning Unit).  Find it here:    http://emtech.steadynet.com/zm2.shtml

The 817 has more band coverage than the KX3, which tops out at the optional 2 meter band. The 817 also includes the 6, 2 and 70 cm bands. In certain situations, I would caution the use of a radio in those VHF/UHF bands.

Just my thoughts. Whatever radio you go with, get out there and get on the air.


Dan Morgan










I recently had a reader email regarding his low power (QRP) field antenna utilizing the NVIS mode. He commented on his systems lack of performance.

He is using a dipole with 65’4″ legs for both the 40 and the 80 meter band. He is using a bnc-to-binding-post adapter as his “cobra head” with WD-1 field phone wire for antenna wire. His radio system consists of a Yaesu 857 and an AT-100 Pro Auto Tuner. He is trying to use NVIS to fill in the skip zone gaps in his AO.

Here are the problems that I see:

1. Trying to use one home made dipole for 2 bands.

Using the formula 234/f Mhz (for quarter wave length) and assuming the middle of the 80 meter band is 3.75 Mhz, that gives us a length of 62.5′ for each element.  So the antenna is now a half-wave dipole and is good-to-go for 80 meters.

For 40 meters that same formula results in a quarter wave length of 32.7 or 33′. He is now trying to use what amounts to a full-wave antenna for the 40 meter band. A full wave antenna is a bear to work with due to the very high impedance at the center feed point which makes them very difficult to match.  Nearly impossible to use with any coax.

2. Lack of a matching device at the antenna feed point.  Here is a picture of his feed device or “Cobra Head”. (Don’t worry dude, I removed all geo-location data from the pic). By the way, I definitely would not have any loops tied in insulated antenna wire for strain relief. You’ve built in RF chokes. Non-insulated wire – no problem.


When you are working with NVIS, the input impedance changes with the height of the antenna above ground. From as low as 15 ohms near the ground to as high as 120 ohms when the antenna is raised. Depending on the coax such as RG-58 (5O ohms) or RG-8 (75 ohms), you will have mismatches. If you are using this system with regular long-haul comms and the antenna suspended at least 1/4 wave above the ground, it will work just fine.

The tranceiver tuner will take up a lot of the slack, but it will not reduce the losses, it just hides them from the transceiver. When working QRP you need every watt to radiate from the antenna.

Here’s how I would fix the problem.

1. Order solid or braided, non-insulated wire from thewireman.com, measure out the required maximum length for 2, 1/4 wave sections on the longest band you will use and spool each up. Hint:  There are very, very, very few resources available for 160 meter DF. Remember, you can always go shorter, but it’s hard to go longer if you don’t have enough wire in your ruck and you’re 100 miles from no-where. Cut (not a physical cut but a measure to length of wire rolled out, the rest still secured on the spool) your antenna length for the freq you will be on, using the above formula. Then spool it back up when you are done.

2. If running in NVIS mode, install a 1:1 current balun like this:


You can find it here: http://www.balundesigns.com/qrp-model-1110-1-1-isolation-choke-balun-1-54-mhz/

While it won’t fix all your problems, but it will clean up your signal.

3.  Add a 30′ max length of RG-58.

4.  2 – 50′ sections of 550 paracord with a large bullet type bank fishing sinker tied to one end of each.

5.  Measure out the antenna wire from the spools and secure the remainder. Attach each free running end of the wire, as well as the coax, to the balun. Attach a section of 550 cord to the end of each spool, throw the sinkers over a tree limb and host each end up to the height desired and tie the weighted ends off. Move the antenna up and down until you hit the sweet spot with the guy on the other end.

Bottom line: If your going to drop a grand on a high end QRP rig and tuner, you really need to spend some time on the most important part of your comms system, the antenna.

About as good an article re: NVIS as I’ve seen. Great pics.


I’ve brought this up enough times already; let’s de-mystify this beast. Communications fall into one of two categories: Line of Sight(LOS) and Beyond Line of Sight.


If you can see it, in theory at least, you should be able to communicate with it. Low-band VHF(10M/11M/CB) and above(UHF, Microwave) works in this manner. VHF can have some characteristics of HF; but that’s beyond the scope of this article. Squad level communications work in this manner. This would be your mobile rigs and HTs. Keeping it simple, if there’s something big in between you and the person your talking to(like a mountain or a bunch of buildings) or long distance, you need a repeater to compensate. Line of Sight(plus repeater) looks like this:


Beyond Line of Sight

So what if you’re outside the range of repeaters? Eventually the energy from your radio or repeater will fizzle out. At some point…

View original post 732 more words

HF Transmission Lines

Posted: 10/07/2015 in Communications

Several good mentions have been made in the comments section by readers regarding the transmission line (T/L). Since this is the next logical item in the system to discuss, what follows is my take. Most of the information provided is pretty basic for low power (less than 100 watt) stations. You could spend a lifetime studying T/L and antenna theory, but I have better things to do, as I’m sure you do. So well keep it simple. If most of this information is old hat and you are curious about my setup, go to the bottom of the article.

The transmission line is the link from the output/input connections of the transceiver to the antenna. Actually, everything from the output of the power amplifier (PA) section of the radio, and the input to the RF amplifier section, to include a tuner if one is used, to the feed point of the antenna is part of the T/L. So, no, the T/L is not just a piece of cable. To complicate things a bit further, the antenna and it’s associated T/L are known collectively as the antenna system.

The perfect T/L would move all of the power transmitted from your radio to the antenna as efficiently as possible, which means no loss of power. If I am sending a radio message to one of my folks and my radio is set at 25 watts, I want all of that 25 watts to radiate from the antenna.

That same TL needs to move received signals from the antenna system back to the radio with no distortion or loss of signal strength. If my antenna picks up a transmission at 100 milliwatts, I want all 100 milliwatts to be present at my receiver section.

The ultimate T/L would be inexpensive, durable, easy to install and remove, and require very little maintenance. An added bonus would make it nearly invisible to prying eyes.

An important item to remember: most transceivers require a 50 ohm impedance at the output in order to be perfectly “matched” to an antenna. Any deviation in either direction, more or less impedance, causes loss of efficiency and in extreme cases can damage your radio, T/L and antenna.

There are several different transmission line setups available but the two most common are:  ladder line and coaxial cable.

Ladder line (also called twin lead or open-wire) consists of two parallel  conductors separated by an insulator.  ( http://www.universal-radio.com/catalog/cable/3028.html ). The insulator is usually plastic or air. “Twin lead” was once commonly used with TV antennas and is identified easily as it has a continuous plastic strip separating the two conductors.  “Window ladder” is used with amateur radio and is identified by the rectangular air gaps spaced at regular intervals in the plastic that separates the conductors. The characteristic impedance of twin lead is 300 ohms and window ladder is 450 ohms. Ladder line uses the air between the two parallel conductors as it’s dielectric and if installed correctly has very little loss.

The primary advantages of ladder line with respect to coax are:

1.  Lower loss.

2.  Can drive a balanced antenna (eg: dipole) without a balun.

3.  Cost.


1. Usually requires periodic mounting standoffs

2. Must be kept away from metal objects.

3. Can lose its low loss features when wet or icy.

4. Requires a tuner when used with unbalanced antennas.

Coaxial cable or “coax” also has two conductors, however one in located in the center of the cable while the other surrounds the center conductor for the full length of the cable. The conductors are separated, in most cases, by a plastic or foam insulating material and the outer conductor is protected by an insulating cover. The center conductor is normally a single copper wire while the outer conductor is a braided wire which is usually, but not always, made from copper. Depending on the coax, it’s characteristic impedance is 50 or 75 ohms. Much closer to the radio output requirements. Use a good quality 50 Ohm coaxial cable with appropriate power rating such as: RG58, RG8X, RG8, RG213, Belden 9913F7, Davis RF Bury-Flex. A coax with a dense (or double) braid is worth the money. Simple installation; ideally the coax will go directly from the antenna feed point to your transceiver.

The primary advantages of coax with respect to ladder line are:

1. Most transceivers are equipped with coax connectors. If using ladder line, a balun or tuner is required.

2.  Coax is not effected by nearby metal objects.

3.  The impedance of coax doesn’t change when it rains or snows.

4.  Ease of setup and tear down.


My setup:

I’m a coax guy. Just keep-it-simple-stupid. Rolls up tight and unrolls right, every time.

The transmission line (T/L) for my semi-permanent base station consists of a 30′ section of RG-8 coax with soldered Amphenol 83-1SP silver plated PL-259 connectors. The tuner is an ICOM AT-100. (LDG AT-100 Pro as a backup). The antenna is the Buckmaster 300 watt 7 band (offset center fed) OCF dipole. My backup antenna is a Carolina Windom 300 watt 8 band OCF dipole.

Why 30′ of coax? That’s the distance from my transceiver to the antenna feed point with a few extra feet of coax for slack. Don’t make it any longer than necessary. Why use coax instead of ladder line? I have found that coax is far more durable in the environment that I operate in. In addition, I can attach it directly under the metal roof of the building my radio room is in and make “fairly” sharp twists and turns that I can’t make with ladder line. The entire system can be pulled down, coax rolled up and thrown into a Pelican case and be ready for transport in about 5 minutes. If you don’t move your station on a regular basis, then something like ladder line might work better for you. Last but not least, the area I live in has an environment that is nearly considered rain-forest. Ladder line does not behave well in wet and icy conditions.

Why RG-8? My loses are pretty negligible with only 30′ of coax, especially since I keep my power out well below 100 watts, and only operate this system on the lower ham bands. It is a cost vs. performance issue. I chose to forego the extra expense needed to mitigate the small losses that I would probably encounter by not using a more expensive coax.

Why not use crimp together fittings instead of soldered? Less power lost due to heating and potential arcing in a loose fitting. If you don’t know how to properly solder and seal your fittings, then you could buy cable made to length with fittings installed. Best answer, stash another arrow in your quiver and learn how to solder and build your own cables (as well as other stuff). Go here and learn how to do it correctly: http://www.k3lr.com/engineering/pl259/ . The Amphenol silver plated fittings are just about bullet proof.

Why do I use a tuner when this antenna works without one? Since the Buckmaster is a OCF and is almost an exact copy of the Fritzel antenna, it’s characteristic impedance of 300 ohms is matched by the balun (6:1) at the antenna feedpoint to that of the coax (50 ohms). Buckmaster has tested and recommends running the center of the antenna at 30′ and the ends at 10′ to avoid high SWR. However, I run my antenna about 15′ above the ground in the NVIS mode, and this will lower the input impedance of the antenna to somewhere in the 100 to 75 ohm area. So, being the cautious guy I am with my equipment, I run a tuner to protect the transceiver. And even though my SWR is good at the output of the tuner, I should probably perform an antenna analysis and change out the balun. Something for the future.

With my field radio system everything needs to fit into a small molle bag attached to my ruck.

I use RG-8X in the field because of it’s small diameter and weight. It also handles the frequencies up to and including 10 meters, loss wise, much better than regular RG-58. Since the KX-3 runs only about 12 watts max, that’s important. I keep two 25′ sections with a connector to join the two together if I need 50′ of coax.

The tuner is integral to my Elecraft KX-3.

I use “FLEXWEAVE” 14 AWG 168 bare copper wire or “Hot Rope” 0.133″ on a spool, purchased from TheWireMan.com. I determine what frequency I am going to use and “cut” each 1/4 wave dipole antenna to length. Using un-insulated antenna wire rolled up on small spools allows me to unroll it to the length needed without actually cutting the wire. Any wire left unused and rolled up on the spool is electrically shorted together and only adds the width of the spool to the antenna length. If one were to use insulated wire on a spool it would act as a balun. Care must be taken not to short out the wire against objects including yourself.

No balun is used, I just connect a bnc-to-binderpost adapter ( http://www.amazon.com/Parts-Express-Binding-Posts-Adapter/dp/B000LFWQH4 )  to the antenna wire and to the coax. A dipole at 10′ usually has a characteristic impedance of between 75 and 50 ohms, just what the radio is looking for. The tuner does the rest.

Provided by Jeff Alan, a reader and frequent comment provider. I am blessed to have many that have a vast knowledge of  radio experience and don’t mind sharing it.


The article is lengthy, but has a ton of good basic information.

In light of the recent discussions over at Western Rifles regarding, “Get your ham license so you can get some experience under your belt” versus “Who does the government think they are telling us we need a license”, the introduction to the article pretty much explains why the bands are regulated.


Posted: 09/25/2015 in Uncategorized