Radio Transmission

Radio traffic stitched together the fabric of camp life and unit missions near the front, at the front, and in front of the front in Afghanistan. Various text-based systems now supplement the human voice, but the most important data still arcs via FM from antenna to antenna in a way that is both old school and vital.

At Camp Clark, I looked for radio operators–RTOs, in Army parlance–who were calm, articulate, and reassuring. RTOs needed to inspire confidence that all was well, or at least as well as it could be when everything seemed to be going to pieces. Everyone took heart from a familiar voice that conveyed competence. The lower pitched the voice the better; slow and husky was good, too, unless it suggested slowness of mind.

I’m reminded of all this by, of all things, the movie The King’s Speech. At the end of this great movie, the King of England, who suffers from a speech impediment, must deliver an important radio address that will steel the people of Great Britain for their upcoming battle against Nazi Germany. Afflicted by a stutter, the King has never yet completed such a daunting task.

As I watched the movie I was unprepared for the vividness with which the last scene would recoup memories of forgotten or suppressed Afghan events. In the movie, the King’s voice coach, a cool-headed and wise Aussie, himself a war vet, stands directly in front of the King, a foot away or even closer, stares him in the eye, grips him on the shoulder, and mouths the words of the speech along with the King. In so doing he fills the King with courage and refuses to let him fail.

I wasn’t the greatest soldier in the world in Afghanistan. There are things I regret and even berate myself for. But I identified with that scene because I have been in the position of the speech coach, guiding and cajoling new RTOs through their first attack, MEDEVAC request, or other moment of crisis.

Taking the microphone myself was always an option, in which case the challenge was to master my own voice.  But the better choice was always to coach nervous RTOs through their first trial by fire. It was important for everyone that they transmit reports and issue orders in crisp utterances that never wavered or stammered. Once experienced, the new radio operators were almost always all right afterward.

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2 Responses to “Radio Transmission”

  1. Martin Says:

    Just wanted to say what a well written and interesting article, Thanks

  2. petermolin Says:

    Thank you, Martin!

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