The Amateur Amateur: Three (or Four) Words About ARES

By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
Contributing Editor
December 27, 2006

I just attended the monthly meeting of the St Louis County Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) group. We had a social get-together rather than a business meeting. It was a way to unwind, talk to people, meet some long-suffering spouses and eat some fattening food. For me, it was also an opportunity to reflect on how the group fared this year.

Frosty the Cake

Barry Mayer, KC0QYM, brought this cake to the ARES get-together.

Field stations

There was a dramatic increase in the number of field stations that we could deploy.

Steve Wooten, KC0QMU

Steve Wooten, KC0QMU -- our leader and our guide.

As it happens, it was a banner year for our ARES group. We increased not only our membership roster, but more important, the number of active people in the group. We dramatically expanded the number of people who can handle formal traffic. We saw a surge in the number of field stations that we can deploy. We conducted a record number of exercises, including our first-ever Simulated Emergency Test (SET). In addition, we started serious negotiations with a potential served agency.

Man, it was a lot of work. But it was a labor of love. And really, it has to be.

I was wondering, though, just how we got it right this year. Three words came to mind: Growth, Team, and Leadership.

ARES logo

Growth may seem obvious, but it's not. We went through a hard, dry spell when it seemed like we would never get another recruit. We thought of all sorts of promotional gimmicks. I, personally, must have stamped out a gazillion buttons. Every time I heard the crunchy sound of the button-making machine I would think, "One down, nine hundred ninety-nine to go."

In the end, though, I think it was more subtle things that brought people into the group. First, we were always there. The weekly net ran every Wednesday evening, even if there were storms, the power was out or it was Christmas Eve. Second, we were professional. I don't want you to think that we were rigid, but people listening in could tell that our nets and activities were not social events; they were serious. Third, there was no clique at the top of the group. It had no small "band of buddies" doing all the fun stuff and excluding everyone else. Everyone was encouraged to jump in and try most everything.

Growth also had a second meaning. It meant personal growth.

The initial members of the group had virtually no experience with ARES or emergency communications. At first this seemed to be a big detriment, but in many ways it has served us well. There was no one in the group who could say, "I know it all, I don't need to learn any more." All of us, including the Emergency Coordinator, freely admitted that we needed a lot of training. And once we conceded that point, we further realized that we could never stop training. There was always something else to be learned, some new certificate that had to be obtained, or some course we'd already taken had been updated and needed to be taken all over again.

Continually training and learning gave us better rapport with new recruits. It's difficult to have an air of superiority when we we're all students.

Team may also sound like an obvious concept, but I think people have different ideas about what it means. I have been involved with far too many organizations in which "We're a team" really meant, "I'm too important to do this, so you do it."

Often team effort was just a synonym for making the boss look good.

Our group's idea of team was actual cooperation. Group members played to their own strengths, but were always available to teach and help others. That's one reason that the number of functioning field stations burgeoned, and it's why we are currently seeing a sudden increase in the number of members who can handle digital modes/formats. We didn't have specialists so much as we had teachers of specialties.

And that leads me to the last word, Leadership.

To many people, leader just means commander. But if you think of a leader as one who leads, you soon grasp that a leader is also one who guides. So a leader doesn't just give commands, he/she gives guidance.

Is that too subtle? Think about it this way. A leader occasionally gives commands, but is continually giving guidance. He or she does this by setting the tone for the whole group. Is the leader aloof? If so, the upper echelon of the group will also be aloof, and the lower ranks will be very thin indeed. Finding new recruits for the group will be all but impossible. If, however, the leader is open and approachable, that attitude will permeate throughout the group.

The Emergency Coordinator for St. Louis County ARES is Steve Wooten, KC0QMU. We've been very fortunate, because Steve, in addition to being a strong leader, has also been a fantastic guide.

And here I will add one final word, which can only come from the top: Encouragement. It has made all the difference in the world.

So now, as we prepare to face new challenges, add more nets, create more difficult exercises, and take the group into the new year, I just have one thought.

Man, it's going to be a lot of work!

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 Web page. Readers are invited to contact the author via e-mail, [email protected].

© 2006 American Radio Relay League


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