The Amateur Amateur: So Long and Thanks for All the Cookies
By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
and ham radio go together
November 29, 2006
almost as well as Girl Scouts and
Plan C was to work out of Bob's car.
The troop was working to earn the Girl Scout Silver Award.
A couple of boxes of Girl Scout cookies was the reward for my radio efforts.
Bob is a friend of mine from the local Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES)
group. He told me that his daughter's Girl Scout troop was studying
emergency preparedness. He said that he had cooked up a little
exercise for the girls and wondered if I would be willing to help.
Well, I don't
have children myself, but I guess the urge to teach the young is in
our genes. I immediately said that I'd be happy to help. Soon after,
though, I began to wonder if I'd made the right decision. Although
the exercise Bob described was very simple in nature, I was actually
getting butterflies in my stomach thinking about it. It seems the
urge to teach the young was quickly followed by the fear of messing
The exercise was
set to take place on a Friday afternoon, right after the Girl Scout
troop toured an emergency management facility. Bob would follow up
with a short talk about Amateur Radio, then call me on a local
repeater. He would have each girl get on the air and give me her name
phonetically. I would respond by asking about what her troop was
doing, or something equally innocuous. For ARES exercises I had found
it wise to have a script ready, but frankly, I didn't know what to
say to sixth and seventh-grade girls. So, I decided to just wing it.
When the day of
the exercise arrived, things did not quite
go as planned. If
these Girl Scouts were supposed to learn about preparing for
emergencies, they started getting lessons right away. The room they
were going to use for the radio exercise suddenly became unavailable.
Bob switched to
Plan B, which was to use his portable transceiver and hold the
exercise outside on the lawn of the facility. Since the weather was
mild, that should
have worked. Bob had reached the repeater
from that same location, using the same handheld radio many times in
the past. There is, however, an unwritten law that says that your
efforts will not work in the presence of an expectant audience. Bob
could not reliably hit the repeater.
As a member of
both ARES and of a local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT),
Bob fully understands that even backups fail, so he had a Plan C. He
had removed the mobile radio from his car to show the girls at the
end of their tour. Now he remounted the mobile in his car, verified
that he could hit the repeater and talk to me, then lined up the
girls to take the "communications seat." It seemed that we
were finally in business.
Okay, it was a
rocky start. Neither the girls nor I knew quite what to say to each
other. Lauren, who, I presume, was the bravest because she was the
first, said hello and I said hello back. She had spelled her name
phonetically for me, so I did the same for her. The conversation died
right there. Well, I'm supposed to be some kind of expert
communicator, I thought to myself, so I'd better do a lot better that
next. Bob had fed me a little information about her in advance, so I
knew that she had a dog. I said hello to her and mentioned that FEMA
had a whole Web page about emergency preparedness for pets. I asked
Suzanne about the Silver Award
toward which her troop was
working, and she explained it to me. Neerja seemed surprised that I
could pronounce her name correctly and said that her troop had worked
50 hours with the Humane Society. Tori told me what her troop had
done for Hurricane Katrina victims. And Amy filled me in on how the
Before I knew it
the exercise was over. I was a bit disappointed because I felt that
the girls and I were finally getting in sync. Troop Leader Kathy came
on the air and thanked me. Kathy is, incidentally, Bob's wife. You
didn't think Bob had managed it all alone, did you?
Bob later told
me, "There was a lot of excitement, confusion, giggling, and
microphone fright going on."
here," I responded.
Reflecting on the
exercise, the first thing that struck me was that the girls had
sounded downright professional. Every one of them came through firmly
and clearly, and they had snapped out their names phonetically with
no hesitation at all. I'm sure that Bob had either rehearsed them or
written down the phonetics for them, but I've heard some veteran ham
radio operators do a lot worse. The second thing that I noticed was
that they adapted quickly. Yes, there was a significant pause after I
asked some unexpected question, but once the reply came, it was
succinct and informative. There were times when I
certainly got a charge out of the experience. I hope the girls felt
good about it as well. And just to make sure they got something,
I made out a QSL card for each of them. I received a couple of boxes
of Girl Scout cookies in return.
Bob, Kathy, any
time you want to do this again, I'm your man.
Editor's note: ARRL member Gary Hoffman, KB0H, lives in Florissant,
Missouri. He's been a ham since 1995. Hoffman says his column's name
-- "The Amateur Amateur" -- suggests the explorations of a
rank amateur, not those of an experienced or knowledgeable ham. His
wife, Nancy, is N0NJ. Hoffman has a ham-related
Readers are invited to contact the author via e-mail,
© 2006 American Radio Relay League