The reality for a lot of groups out there is that they have the one designate guy for everything. The medical guy, the mechanic guy, the construction guy, the gunsmith guy, the computer/tech guy, the jack-of-all-trades kinda guy, etc. Its no different when it comes to communications for the bulk of the people I’ve worked with- even those who’ve come to me individually in the RTO course have done so because they are that ‘designated commo guy’ that the others in their group turn to. Its a natural thing. We appeal to our strengths and look for others that fill the gaps. The reality is that nobody can be a 100% know-all, be-all paragon of ability. A well rounded group or team is always made of people who bring a wide variety of skills to the table. You can’t have all trigger pullers just like you can’t have all bean planters and expect to do anything other than trigger pulling or bean planting. But that also doesn’t mean that because you’re not a savant in that skill that you don’t cross train to at least accomplish a baseline of knowledge. And that’s where the challenge of the designated guy begins- competently training your people to that baseline.
First things first, you can never, ever expect to get anywhere if you fly so far over people’s heads they ignore you. Members of your group have to see the relevance in what they are doing or else its a doomed effort from the get-go. With communications, the tendency is for new people to get quickly overwhelmed and all of them are explicitly not looking for a hobby, they just want their equipment to work. If they didn’t have interest in communications before, chances are very high there’s an end goal in mind and its not experimentation. They want validation that whatever this was they spent hard-earned money on based on your recommendations actually does what its supposed to do. What you told them it would do. And if they don’t see the results, you’ve got an albatross around your neck. Everything begins with the basics. As we used to be told over and over again, there is no such thing as super-duper secret techniques, just mastery of the basics. And I’ve found that to be true of nearly every task in life- what might seem rudimentary to one guy might be a tough task to another; the goal is to build everyone up.
#1. Create a Local Network
The first big hurdle to cross is to establish communications among your people. Not in the tactical sense, but in the practical sense. Realistically, your neighbors and people who live within about a 30 minute drive are what you have access to as far as people go- should the balloon go up tomorrow, they’re the ones who matter. Sure, the good guys you met that live three hours away have a plan to link up with you at some point in the future, but the people living on the other end of town you see at the local greasy spoon matter a lot more. For the people who’ve put in the time to work on building a Mutual Assistance Group (MAG), Prepper group or just a group of friends who train together, you’ve got to have a way of communicating independent of outside infrastructure.
Having the means to equip them later on down the road is a noble goal, but equipping them now and getting them up to speed before things go sideways is no doubt better. Its not that hard to find people for a local community net if you live close enough to them- just don’t be a weirdo and make it worth their time. Again, it doesn’t have to be tactical or even formal, as long as you’re regularly communicating off the grid, you’re good to go. Keep it fun- you’ll get a lot more participation than you would being overly serious or only talking about doomsday-stuff. But the important thing is doing it now.
#2. Create a Baseline of Proficiency
For your group, you’re the Subject Matter Expert. The responsibility assigned to that role will be maddening to the point of failure if you don’t create a base level of competency now. You don’t have the time or resources to show Bubba how to change a frequency every evening, he should be able to do that himself. People in your group may not need to know the decibel gain of a dipole, but they do need to know how long its supposed to be on a given frequency. They need to know how to change frequencies on the fly, how to competently exchange information over the air, the difference between VHF and UHF in practice, and how to repair antennas on their own when they get damaged. Ask yourself this- do they understand an SOI? How about a Brevity Matrix?
The best way to accomplish this is by including small exercises in your regular meetups. Create a training schedule starting from basic exercises and work your way up to more advanced skills. I’ll say it again- you’re teaching non-technical people technical skills, and they may not get it at first. Be patient with them and remember the simple things, once perfected, will put most far ahead of the curve. Keep a basic training progression and make it fun. One thing I like doing is writing a frequency and the antenna type on the white board and the rest of the team builds it. Do a range test. See what you can do and what you can’t. And if your kit is failing somewhere, now the team is thinking around how to close those holes. But they’ll all see in real time the relevance, which will in turn keep them interested.
#3. Have Plenty Of Spare Support Equipment
Just as the mechanic or carpenter never has enough tools, the ‘designated commo guy’ can never have enough wire, connectors, and adapters. We were always hitting up the commo section for more stuff overseas, simply because you go through a lot of gear if you’re running it in the field. One thing I do is order bulk connectors from Ebay. They’re cheap and I have buckets full of them. Here’s a list of the most common ones to have on hand:
- SMA-UHF Connector: these are worth their weight in gold for running external antennas from a hand held. You’ll need them for attaching the most common coax types.
- SMA-BNC Connector: Like the UHF connector, the BNC is also very common and slightly more practical for field antennas. You’ll find BNC connectors on scanners and hand held CB radios.
- Split Post BNC Adapter: All my RTO Course students know this one. Widely known in the Army as a Cobra Head (even called that in FM 7-92), these are ubiquitous to making wire antennas.
- BNC-UHF Adapter: These adapt the Cobra Head to standard SO-239/PL-259, also known as UHF connectors, to very common coax you can find in an truck stop CB shop.
Are they the best in the world? Heck no. But they work and they’re mostly expendable. Aside from these, have spools of wire and coax on hand. None of it has to be expensive or the best at anything. Whatever keeps folks running, keeps your local network up and running. In addition, I’d strongly suggest having a large stockpile of Anderson Power Pole connectors on hand. They make standardizing power cables quick and simple.
One other thing you might want to do is have a flash drive on hand with a set of programs you’ll commonly use. The top of that list should be Chirp, closely followed by FL Digi. Keep a set of instructions in a notepad file with the flashdrive and write it so that anyone in your group can understand for to install them. And on that note, you can compress a healthy library to go along with those other programs.
#4. Train Your Replacement
A big carryover from the Army for me is the need to train your own replacement. Is the guy behind me able to fill my shoes? Like it or not, you won’t be around forever. Chances are high that you’ll have at least one person who can take the reigns if something happens to you. It doesn’t have to be dramatic- people move, stuff happens, and folks lose interest. There’s no reason the specialized skill one guy brings to the table should be entirely lost if they go away for whatever reason. Since communications is the backbone of effective networking, no group can afford to lose that base of knowledge. Like everything, leave your ego at the door and realize there’s a larger goal than yourself.
If you follow this pattern in your training or even just implement a few pointers, most groups will end up further ahead of the power curve. None of it needs to be complicated. Don’t talk over people’s heads and speak in relevant terms and you’ll get far further in your training progression. And while these same pointers can be applied to every other role in the larger group, its especially important in the communications field due to the fact that people tend to get overwhelmed quickly. Keep it simple, keep it local, and it’ll work out. And while you’re at it, get formal training.