Morse code training in the Air Force

 (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

(U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Pete Carron (W3DKV) who writes:

“Thought you might be interested in the following article from Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas, posted May 20, 2015. Apparently Morse Code still isn’t dead, not even in the military!”


Morse code training moving to Goodfellow

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — Morse code training at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, will transfer to the 316th Training Squadron at Goodfellow, allowing the Air Force to take the reins for future training.

The move stems from the Army’s redirection of training requirements, leaving the Air Force as the sole remaining branch attending the course taught at Fort Huachuca.

In the last 10 years, the Army renovated the course to cater as a secondary skill set and serve as a support function, rather than being a single source of intelligence gathering. As this happened, the Navy began teaching their own course at Pensacola, Florida.

The Goodfellow course will train 10 students annually starting July 1. Tech. Sgt. Ryan N. Kilcrease and Senior Airman James M. Gosnell, 316th Training Squadron Morse code instructors, will be the first to teach the course here.

“Morse will never fully go away as long as it remains the cheapest, most reliable way to communicate,” said Kilcrease. “Our adversaries will continue to use it, so we still need to be able to understand them if we want to be able to continue our mission successfully.”

Gosnell believes that the course still holds benefits for the Air Force.

The military recognized the benefits of Morse code for communication after Samuel F. B. Morse completed the first coded message in history by transmitting, “What hath God wrought?” from the U.S. Capitol to a railroad station in Baltimore, Maryland, May 24, 1844.

President Abraham Lincoln relied on it during the Civil War to gather intelligence and communicate directly with his generals.

The Department of Defense embedded it heavily into all armed forces as a communication device with the Army-lead training in Fort Devens, Massachusetts. In 1993, the training moved to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, where Operating Location B, 316th TRS, is located.


Thanks for sharing this article, Pete!

I like Tech. Sgt. Ryan N. Kilcrease’s quote:

“Morse will never fully go away as long as it remains the cheapest, most reliable way to communicate”

If you listen to the CW (a.k.a. Morse code) portions of the ham radio bands, you’ll hear that CW is still very much alive and well. It is an incredibly reliable and robust communications medium.  As we CW operators say: “CW always gets through!”

Spread the radio love

38 thoughts on “Morse code training in the Air Force

  1. "Wild Bill" Murray

    Larry, The USAFSS unit at Da Nang was the 6924th Security Squadron. It moved to Ramasun Station, Thaiand in April 1971. While at Da Nang, the unit came under rocket/mortar attack on many occasions, but only suffered one KIA; that being a newly assigned comm center airman who was killed during a 122mm rocket attack. He was not a ditty bopper.

    Reply
  2. Larry

    Hi Guys, Was an X1 at RAF Chicksands from 1964 to 1966. Chicksands was a three year tour of duty but was selected for 2T after my second year. Enlisted in the Air Force otherwise I would have been drafted as a ground pounder in the Army and sent to Viet Nam. I mention this because two of us were selected for 2T at the time. I went to Northeast Cape Air Station at St. Lawrence Island, which is located in the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia. The other airman selected, Airman Baker, was sent to Da Nang AFB Viet Nam. I really dodged a bullet. My understanding is that the operations center at Da Nang was shelled many times and a lot of the guys were wounded and some killed. I think about this a lot and often wonder about the fate of Airman Baker.

    Reply
  3. Jack Burd

    How was the printing different from today? This book sounds interesting! I was a dittybop from 67-71 in SS. 2.5 years in Griesheim by Darmstadt. I lived in a German home within a mile of our site.i can still “talk” Morse code at age 70 and can still copy code well over 20 wpm

    Reply
  4. Don

    Gentlemen:
    The long running comments to my original post are interesting and recall times past. However,
    my original post question was;

    Do any or you old timers have the training manual, or a reference to it, that the Air Force used in the 50’s
    to train how to print by pencil the alpha-numerics of the received code characters?
    Revival of this method of printing has become of great interest again as out schools are no longer teaching
    how to write in script. (This is a real disaster). If this is going to be the way of education in our land,
    the the best we can do is to teach the printing method used by the Air Force to our children.

    Kindly, Gents, may we stick to the question? Who of you has this once again critical skill reference?

    Tnx, W8GKD

    Reply
  5. Pingback: 5 ways Morse code is better than text messaging | We Are The Mighty

  6. Phil Smith

    i was at Keesler Air Force Base in 1970 and lerned Morse code surpassing 22 gpm. I was assigned to San Vito Ar Station, followed by RAF Chicksands. Woderful assgnments!.
    Morse intercept is done by a matter of spontaneous reaction to patterns of “dits and dahs”. Morse sending as was taught at the Army Fort Huachucha (and now Goodfellow AFB) is entirely different. Operating a speed-key using thumb and forefinger to send a message is on another level of consentration. I remember copying morse and carrying on a conversation at the same time! I’m sure that would not happen while sending.

    Reply
  7. jim boon

    Ditty bop at Kessler in 1962 and sent to the Rock” Shemya Alaska for 62 & 63. I had orders for Germany but was canceled and sent to Shemya. Long time ago.

    Reply
    1. Lanty Wylie

      Regarding CW communications and Electro Magnetic Pulse weapons:
      During the Castle Tests our CW net was down about 20 minutes after Bravo shot due to all the free electrons in the air (static). The other shots were smaller and did not affect our operations.
      Point being: Keep CW alive as a ultra reliable communications system. Our vacuum tube equipment was not affected in any way.

      Reply
  8. Don Gillespie

    Does anyone have a published or net available copy of the training text used in the 1950’s for
    speed printing? The manual, or the chapter of the manual, was not thick as there is only so
    much that can be said about topic. Still, it is a asset to understand this technique if one is to
    print at more then a few wpm.

    Reply
  9. Gary Wallace

    I went through Keesler Morse school Dec. ’71 to Apr ’72. Requirements were more stringent than the Army’s. To pass 18.6 GPM (minimum speed to graduate) out of 500 characters you were allowed only three errors, none in the number section, and formatting had to be perfect. My second go-round in Misawa, we had to give remedial training to the troops coming out of the Army school. Their requirement was on;y 96% accuracy, no formatting.
    Training only ten per year? We were graduated almost monthly by the dozens. Talk about a really specialized AFSC.

    Reply
  10. Lanty Wylie

    Radio School in Keesler in 1952, Korea K14, Project Castle, then to
    finish up my 4 years at Carswell AFB, Texas. CW all way and every day.

    Try warming up that ole key with sending “BENS BEST BET” —
    The Russians “RFL” sent with a machine. T’s for Zeros, and N’s for Nines.
    And, it was cold in Korea.

    Reply
    1. Donald Baechler

      I, too, was at Kessler in 1952, then Okinawa for 18, then at the MARS station in the Pentagon. After a couple of hours in the early morning hours (0200 hours) of talking with civilian MARS members who were required to spend a certain amount of time on line, I would say, “Okay, let’s go to CW.” If there were 6 people on the radio, 5 would come up with an excuse and drop off. The remainder would laugh and start with CW.

      My bug is rusty but still works. After 60 years of not using it, I am thinking of just practicing a little bit.

      Donald

      Reply
  11. Bill

    I received my ham license in 1955 at the age of 13. Since then, I’ve used CW all the way up to yesterday. I was a Navy CT, trained in Pensacola, and spent 20 years using it and teaching it. At sea, there was no better source of world news than copying KPH broadcasts out of San Francisco. I copy around 40wpm in my head and write it down later if it’s important. CW will always be there.

    Reply
  12. Ben

    JR Cash was stationed at Landsberg, 6912 RSM, I think He left there in 1954. His band while there was known as the landsberg barbarians.

    Reply
  13. Mike

    I believe I read some time ago, that country music legend Johnny Cash was a USAF Morse Intercept Operator, during the 1950s. He definitely would have had the ear for it.

    Reply
    1. Keith (Clem) Davis

      He was. He was stationed in Germany at a town whose name I am not familiar with. Stationed as a ditty bop in Darmstadt 67-70 I only knew of a couple other places where the USAFSS had sites. Wiesbaden and Berlin. I am pretty sure there were others though. The 6910th (Darmstadt) moved to Augsburg a short time after I left. I went through morse intercept school at Fort Devens (ARMY) in late 1957 and early 1958. We started with over 100 in our class and ended up with 32. I believe 18 wpm was passing speed. Upon graduation we had our pick of stations we would like to be assigned too. 23 to Germany, 3 to Asmara, 3 to Okinawa 3 to Chitose (on the island of Hokkaido in northern Japan. Two places in the states. By the time they got to me (as I was about in the middle of the class) I took Chitose which turned out to be the best tour I ever had. In 61 I went into the Air Force and had tours in Crete (Greece),Darmstadt (Germany), Misawa (Japan), Da Nang (Vietnam) and Osan (Korea). In between overseas assignments I spent time in the states. I loved being a ditty-bop!

      Reply
      1. mark

        I was stationed in Bremerhaven – 1967-1969. USMC working with NAVSECGRU. CTR Brancher – very large operation there in Bremerhaven

        Reply
  14. Dick

    Ground radio op from Keesler in 1958. Then 1st AACS at Johnson AFB. You passed your code tests or went to another form of duty for your enlistment. Could have been permanent KP? Motivation does work when facing that possibility.

    Reply
  15. Hans

    As a Continental Code lover for almost 30 years using only bugs and straight keys, I can say that I am glad the military is still teaching it. No matter how fast an operator can read the code it is just as important to learn proper procedure! I mention this because so many CW ops either haven’t been taught or they just don’t care to follow it. The ARRL certainly doesn’t teach it anymore as far as I can tell so it is left in limbo. It drives me nuts to hear laughing on CW sent as hi when it is supposed to be hee ! I have this on good authority by the way. I am the only CW op I have heard in years using the correct hee and not hi ! When hi hi is used on phone it is even more silly and it is so ingrained everyone is doing it. Also, since when is an r supposed to be sent like et ? I hear this all the time! If I have stated anything here which is incorrect than I welcome anyone to correct me. Old timers who should know better are guilty of all these things and then the newbies are taught this so it just perpetuates itself. CW is A1 and the music of the air! VY 73s es Gud DX de WA1UFO-Hans

    Reply
      1. Pete Carron

        Hello Hans,

        Your statement that HEE should be used instead of HI for telegraphic laughter is interesting. I admit that it does sound logical, but I’ve never heard that before. I have been licensed for 62 years and I am the author of ?Morse Code: The Essential Language,? a book published by the ARRL that was in print for over 20 years, from 1986 to 2006. In that book I stated that HI was used for telegraphic laughter, and despite the fact that the publication eventually sold over 25,000 copies, no one ever attempted to correct me. Can you tell me what authoritative publication your information comes from? Thanks.

        73,

        Pete, W3DKV

        Reply
        1. Frank

          Hi = …. ..

          He = …. .

          Not much difference except the the code for He ( …. .) could be mistaken for the number 5 ( …..) if you do not detect the slight pause in the code between H and E

          Reply
  16. Fred

    MM was still alive and well when I retired in 2009. Best part was with today’s technology it can be remoted just about anywhere!!

    Reply
  17. Ted Turk

    While stationed at Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Ms., one evening, while out for a walk, I heard an extremely faint modulated Morse code signal. With the many building surrounding me, it was difficult to determine where that signal was coming from.
    After 20 or so minutes of walking around the Triangle area, I tracked it to be coming from a Ditty-Bobbers room in an adjacent building where by he was practicing the code with the help of his friends.
    Then, in 1968 while stationed in the Panama Canal Zone, I obtained my Amateur radio license and have been having a lot of fun since. Well, ok, unless the Hf bands were crummy!!!

    Reply
  18. Bart Pickens (N5TWB)

    My Army unit included a radio-teletype (RATT) rig with an operator as part of the commo section. The individual operator held an MOS of 05C and Morse was considered a secondary career skill. You can’t imagine the whining that went on when CW training was on the schedule for all the RATT operators in the battalion. This was in the late 70s and early 80s so the use of satellites had not reached the field level and info still had to get through to support the mission. It’s interesting that the need is down to 10 operators per year.

    Reply
  19. rtc

    Guess I will always be an old cw op at heart (since ’62).

    It’s great that more guys are taking it up,and now
    the USAF.

    Listen in my head at every chance to keep the brain
    neurons firing…two things some of the new guys really
    need to work on are:

    1. don’t run the characters together (likespeakinglikethis)

    and

    2. don’t come back to a guy at a faster speed-this was and
    is considered poor etiquette.

    CW is an art form more than anything,have a go sometime!

    (These days there are tons of places on the web to get started on.)

    Reply
  20. Mario Filippi

    This is amazing, the military is still training in CW, that is great! Am glad that the military still values the first digital mode invented. Thanks for sharing.

    If you want to hear some challenging Morse Code, check out 4XZ,the Israeli Navy’s Morse code on HF, usually heard here on the East Coast at night around 6.605 Megs. There are other frequencies you’ll hear them on.

    Reply
  21. Ken Hansen n2vip

    I have noticed an interesting increase in interest in learning Morse Code among licensed Amateurs since the code requirement was dropped years ago.

    Personally I struggled with the code requirement for years, and once it went away I quickly earned my Technician license, then later my General and Extra earlier this year. Now, come January, I’ve enrolled in a two month online CW training class offered by CWOPS that involves independent study, online Skype conferences, and maybe some on-air activities. I have been told this is ‘the best way to learn morse code’ – it relies on recognizing sounds of the letters, not memorizing dit and dah patterns… We’ll see.

    Reply
  22. Gary Donnelly

    While in the Air Force in the early 60s, the training for Morse Intercept Operators was given at Keesler AFB in Biloxi, MS. I was in training as a navaids technician and my roommate was there for MIO, or as we called him, a “ditty bopper”.

    Reply
        1. Jared "Jed" Handspicker

          Fred – The Ft. Devens school was the Joint Services school for Morse, after having served just the Army for many years. The function moved to Ft. Huachuca in the mid-1990s, actually. I was an instructor at Devens, as the move to Huachuca started. Many of my fellow instructors moved with the school, but I left Devens in 1993, shortly before the move took place.

          Reply
    1. Pete Carron

      Interesting to hear all the places it was taught in the military. For me, in early 1961 with the U.S. Army Security Agency, it was Fort Devens MA.

      Reply
    2. Bill Scott

      In 1967, I almost went into morse intercept school at Keesler, but was reassigned to aircraft radio communications school at the last minute. A lot of my dorm mates were “ditty bops.” We used to kid them about being stuck hunched over a keyer for the rest of their enlistments. In retrospect, they were probably better off than I was after two tours in Vietnam. I’m trying to learn morse code now, and, at my age, it’s a bit of a job. Old ears, you know. LOL.

      Reply
      1. Renay Morris

        I went through Morse Code training at Fort Devens. The military had decided to move all the branches there to have us all learn together. So I missed Keesler in 1987. Needless to say it didn’t work out. That post shut down and is now a federal prison

        Reply

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