By Emily Tower, West Point Pointer ViewMarch 6, 2009
A crackle of static and a few squeaky moans from a radio's speakers left students at West Point Middle School wondering if they were in the middle of a science-fiction movie.
The students pondered Feb. 25 contacting outer space or someone in "Star Wars" as the cadet-in-charge of the U.S. Military Academy Cadet Amateur Radio Club adjusted some dials and flipped some switches.
The static broke into an unfamiliar language. Jaws dropped as Yearling Tom Dean explained the language was German.
"We called all the way to Italy last night when we were testing this," Dean told the class as students quickly quizzed each other on their German speaking skills.
After demonstrating the radio's ability to pick up chatter from around the world, cadets explained how amateur radios are used during emergencies, such as after natural disasters have wiped out telephone lines and cell phone towers. They told the students about the far-away places they've radioed-Antarctica, Australia, outer space.
If they could talk to astronauts on this thing, the students were eager to try it.
"This is whiskey two kilo golf yankee requesting CQ, CQ, CQ," fifth-grader Katrina Nnadozie said into the radio's microphone as if she'd done it a thousand times before.
Katrina used the club's call sign with the universal code for "I want to talk," which is CQ, to see who was listening. Because the cadets in the club are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to operate amateur radios, they could allow the students to attempt to contact others around the world with their guidance.
Katrina repeated the call sign and code several times and waited for someone to answer. She hoped someone special in Washington would hear her.
And if anybody responded, she hoped it would be "President Barack Obama," she said matter-of-factly, so she could ask him "if he likes being the president."
Lindsey Shannon, a fifth-grader, would have enjoyed talking with her friends in Germany. Her friend, Michelle Wigger, thought chatting with someone in Egypt would have been great.
"I've watched a lot of shows about Egypt and think it would be cool to talk to someone there," Michelle, also a fifth-grader, said. "I would ask them what is their favorite food, and what do they like to do."
Penelope Combs, also a fifth-grader, thought getting in touch with her Greek roots would have been a highlight.
The girls have made some long-distance phone calls to talk to Family as far away as Mexico and have chatted with deployed parents over the Internet. But, their first opportunity to talk to someone over a radio came with the cadets' presentation.
Unfortunately, nobody ever answered Katrina's requests. Dean thought the sun's energy might be interfering with the radio's signal, which was almost as cool to the children as hearing someone in Germany speak in their classroom.
Dean and Plebe Michael Johnston encouraged the children to visit the Boy Scout Jamboree in early May to try the radios again. The club will be supporting the Jamboree and frequently helps Boy and Girl Scouts with merit badges and other projects.
The club maintains antennae on top of Bartlett Hall and keeps in practice in case their skills are needed during an emergency.
The cadets admit they also chat on the radios just for fun. They keep a collection of cards documenting whom cadets have called. Dean and Johnston have found cards dating back to the 1930s and evidence of calls to East Germany and to the Challenger, the space shuttle that exploded in 1986, during one of its earlier missions.
The West Point Schools students got to hear about the amateur radios through an enrichment program that offers a choice between a presentation or study hall.
Past programs have included presentations from the West Point Band's Hellcats, astronaut and USMA alumnus Lt. Col. Shane Kimbrough, USMA Arabic instructor Col. David DiMeo and Olympic and USMA swimming coach Mickey Wender.