Military Life

7 little ways to be an effective radio operator

(Photo by Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace)

Every combat arms unit needs a radio operator. Whether they enlisted as one or they were "voluntold" to be one, someone's gotta do it. There's a steep learning curve between being a guy with a radio pack and being the go-to radio operator. If you can manage to be the best, your unit will cherish you.

To be the best, you need to master your equipment. Learning the ins and outs of the radio takes years of hands-on training that you won't find in any schoolhouse — you can only find it by volunteering during every field op.

That being said, there are some tips and tricks that anyone can pick up to make as a radio operator a whole lot easier.


7. Never place the blame on the distant end for comm problems

Want to know the fastest and easiest way to lose all credibility as a radio operator? Blame the distant end.

It might actually be the other radio operator's fault — too bad your squad won't look at it that way. Instead, just say that you've done everything you can and continue to try and make it right.

The radio operator in the TOC may be better at their job than you...

(Photo by Ensign Rixon Fletcher)

6. The problem with the radio is probably the time

The way that frequency hop works, broken down Barney style, is that a radio is given a sequence of radio frequencies to hop around to depending on the time of day. If you've loaded the COMSEC fill into a radio and you're not able to talk to anyone, the time is probably wrong.

All COMSEC uses Greenwich Mean Time, so it might be easier to just set your watch to London time, regardless of where you are in the world.

And if basic math is too hard for you, just get a second watch.

(Photo by Sgt. Matthew Callahan)

5. Drop tests totally work

Don't question why or how it works, it just does.

Realistically, if you pick up any piece of electronics and drop it from about a foot off the ground, it could shatter or break. A SINCGARS and some of the older radio systems, however, can handle the abuse.

Just don't get violent with it — or toss it around the room.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Nathan Rivard)

4. Carry an eraser or chapstick

W4 cables are used to transmit audio and fill between a radio and whatever. Getting these damn cables to attach properly will be the bane of your existence.

Some people recommend licking the end to get it to work, but that's just nasty. You can get the same result by just cleaning the prongs and removing gunk with an eraser. You can also use chapstick to lube it up. Sure, that might damage the cable, but since W4 cables are a dime a dozen, it doesn't really matter.

Just stop licking the damn cable. That's f*cking nasty.

(Photo by Cpl. Bernadette Wildes)

3. Extra batteries are worth the weight

Every good radio operator has a bug-out bag filled with extra crap. This bag includes the radio system itself, maybe cheat-sheets for the nine-line and everyone's call signs, an extra hand mic, and a few spare W4s. I know they get heavy after a while, but bring some extra batteries, too.

Toss the bug-out bag in the vehicle — or just anywhere close by, really.

(Photo by Spc. Jesse Gross)

2. SatCom antenneas work best on the roof of a vehicle

Unlike most line-of-sight antennas, a SatCom antennae works by, as the name implies, communicating to satellites. Just because you've pointed the antennae toward the other hill doesn't mean you'll be able to talk.

Giant metal vehicles disrupt the relatively weak signal, so placing it on the ground next to an MRAP is a terrible idea — but don't be afraid to climb on top and place it up there if you're not planning on moving soon. Oh, and point the antennae towards the Equator. That's around where the satellite is supposed to be.

Just remember to pack it back up before driving off.

(Photo by Tech. Sgt. Lesley Waters)

1. OE-254s still work if the antenna is a bit wonky

I can't tell you how many times I've seen new radio operators and uptight NCOs waste plenty of time trying to get their OE-254 antenna to stand up perfectly straight. The actual pole doesn't matter. As long as the head of the antenna isn't broken and is connected, it'll work just fine.

Now, don't misinterpret that. This is just meant to say that it'll be operational. Hell, you could duct-tape it to the top of a tree and it'll still work (trust me, I know). This doesn't mean you should half-ass setting up an OE-254 just because you think it'll be fine. You better be damn sure that it's secure.

Another pro-tip: Tennis balls with holes cut in them work far better than the standard-issue tips.

(U.S. Army)