Legacy radio system retired from Army Guard
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ARLINGTON, Va., (Army News Service, Nov. 20, 2008) -- After more than 50 years in service, the venerable AN/VRC-12 series radio was retired from the Army National Guard in a ceremony Nov. 18 at the Army National Guard Readiness Center.

For many, the retirement is symbolic of many other changes that have taken place within the Guard over the past few years.

"This is really a symbol of us transforming to an operational force," said Maj. Tony Caldwell, the Army National Guard battle command team chief. His team oversaw the phasing out of the '12'-series radio systems.

First introduced in the 1950s, the 12 series radios were used extensively in Vietnam and retired from the active component in the late 1980s in favor of the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio, more commonly known as the SINCGARS, said Caldwell.

The 12 series radios were still common in the Guard and Reserve in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm. And for those called to active duty for that conflict, once on the ground in the Middle East, communications became a problem.

"It was difficult for those with the older radios to talk with those using the SINCGARS," said Caldwell.

Throughout the ensuing 17 years since the Gulf War, the SINCGARS radio was phased into the inventory of Guard and Reserve units, but it wasn't until recently that all remaining 12 series radios were replaced, said Caldwell.

The replacement of the radios also represents a change in the way units are supplied with equipment.

"There's been a real change in the last few years and if you hadn't been around before, you wouldn't appreciate it," said Col. Harold Greene, deputy director for material at the Department of the Army.

In the old system, there was a tiered readiness level with certain units getting newer equipment first, said Greene. "I can tell you absolutely, today, we don't do that in any of the components."

Now, said Greene, units are equipped based solely on their Modified Table of Organization and Equipment, the document that lists out what equipment and people and how many of each units should have, regardless if the unit is active or reserve component.

"Certainly, as we go through deployments in support of the Global War on Terrorism, we don't distinguish between components in how we use those troops (in those units)," said Greene.

The SINCGARS has many improvements over the 12 series radios such as a greater range, greater battery life and the ability to hop between frequencies, which results in greater security of radio transmissions.

But, for many, the 12 series will always occupy a certain place in their heart.

Brig. Gen. Leodis T. Jennings, special assistant to the director of the Army National Guard, said his greatest memory of the 12 series radio was using it while attending the Primary Leadership Development Course as an E-4 at Fort Lewis, Wash.

There, students used 12 series radios as they rotated through positions in a squad while on patrol.

"It (radio operator) got to be the position I hated the most," said Jennings. "Every time the patrol leader did something or went somewhere you came running with this radio on your back and you would hand it to him and it didn't work. And he would say, 'What have you done to the thing''

"And, I don't recall ever doing anything to it. More often than not it didn't work. You were carrying extra batteries and it was heavy. I don't know how long the batteries were supposed to last, I think we were told eight hours, but if you had one that lasted two hours you were doing good."

Short battery life and a penchant for overheating are things that stick in the minds of many who remember the radios, said Caldwell, who as part of an artillery unit used to have his Soldiers place wet sandbags on top of the radio units to help keep them cool.

Despite those obstacles, Guard members still met the mission. "Even though this was a capable piece of equipment, it was not the best radio, but we in the Guard made it work," said Jennings.

And for those currently serving and using outdated equipment, Greene says be patient.

"Hopefully, we've now set the system up so that it won't be these relics of the past, of my past as a young officer, that hang on out there in the farthest reaches of the National Guard. And that we've got everyone modernized ... across the entire force," said Greene.

(Staff Sgt. Jon Soucy writes for National Guard Bureau)