FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. (April 27, 2015) -- It is the end of an era on Fort Huachuca. The last manual Morse code class began here, April 27. In the future, the course will be taught by the Air Force on Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas.
National Morse Code Day is celebrated on what would have been its founder's 224th birthday. Samuel F. B. Morse dispatched the first telegraph message in Morse code, May 24, 1844. The message, "What Hath God Wrought?" was dispatched from the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., to Alfred Vail at a railroad station in Baltimore.
The military first used Morse code during the Crimean War. Both the Union and Confederate armies heavily relied on Morse code during the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln utilized it to receive military intelligence, as well as command and control his generals in the field.
Even in the increasingly high-tech world, there is still a need for this old-school mode of communication, said David Germain, chief of Morse code training and sole remaining civilian Morse code instructor at the 304th Military Intelligence Battalion.
"We train [for] Morse code because the adversary still uses Morse code," said Germain, who, along with another course instructor, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joshua Henrichs, are training two airmen to serve as Morse code instructors in Texas.
Air Force Tech Sgt. Ryan Kilcrease agrees there is a continued need for Morse code training. "It remains the cheapest and most reliable means of communication."
Senior Airman James Gosnell, also training to become a new instructor, learned Morse code on Fort Huachuca and upon completion of his training was assigned to Osan Air Force Base, South Korea, for two years. He said the assignment was challenging. "It took me nearly two months to get up to speed learning to keep up with some of the fastest transmitters in the world," he said.
In a memo signed April 5, 1985, the Army became the executive agency for conducting the Morse code course on Fort Devens, Massachusetts. A few years later, Fort Devens consolidated Morse code training into a joint learning environment by providing training to Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force.
In 1993, the Morse code course moved to Fort Huachuca, where it continued to be trained in a joint environment. The Army celebrated 30 years of being the executive agency to conduct Morse code training, April 5.
Throughout the years, the Navy and Marines reversed the training pipeline and started to send their students to Pensacola, Florida, and then to Fort Huachuca to attend Morse code training. In 2006, the Air Force followed suit.
In late 2004, early 2005, the Department of Defense sent out a message stating there was no longer a need or requirement for operators trained in only Morse code. Based on that message, the Navy no longer sent their students to Fort Huachuca to be trained - deciding instead to conduct its training in Pensacola. By 2007, the Marines also stopped attending Morse code training on Fort Huachuca.
That same year, the training consolidated two separate courses - the basic Morse code training course and the advanced Morse code training course from 22 weeks to 16 weeks. The cut in training time for the Army was due to the course not being considered as a primary military occupation specialty, but as a secondary training for three Army specialties. In 1991, the course trained an average 1,600 students annually for all the military services.
The current Morse code course is self-paced and requires 81 days for completion. However, a student successfully completed it in a record 27 days.
Master Sgt. Adella Creque, superintendent, 316th Training Squadron, said the course is hard because a student has to master one segment before moving on to the next and may fail several times before advancing.
In 2012, the Army stopped enrolling students in the Morse code course since it no longer has a requirement to train Soldiers. A cooperative agreement between the Air Force and Army allowed the training to continue on Fort Huachuca until now.
"I think [Morse code] will always be out there," Germain said. "It's cheap, easy, effective and reliable to use. There will always be a need for it."