Ground radio course marks end of era

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Ashley Campbell
  • 338th Training Squadron
Feb. 4, the 338th Training Squadron marked the end of an era with the final graduation of the ground radio communications apprentice maintenance course after 48 years.

A realigned course launched Jan. 5 combined ground radio with satellite/wideband/telemetry, visual imagery and intrusion detection, radio operators and network integration communications and information Air Force Specialty Codes.

Since the early 1900s, the ground radio career field has been a leader in the communications spectrum.

The first such long-haul radio communication was the Washington-Alaska military cable and telegraph system introducing the first wireless telegraph in the western hemisphere.

A major role in its construction was played by Signal Corps Capt. Billy Mitchell, who later achieved fame as an advocate of military aviation. Today, the communications community honors Gen. Billy Mitchell as the namesake of the Communications and Information Excellence Award.

During World War II, radio operators monitoring the bomb group's frequencies for changes to the flight plan enabled the pilot to broadcast to other planes in the formation. The radio operator also logged all radio events, noting which planes went down, when, where and the number of parachutes seen bailing from the plane.

The radio operator was also responsible for tending to the wounded crewmembers and signaling when there were wounded on board. The radio operator was also responsible for overall maintenance and repair of the radio systems upon return to the base.

Two ground radio personnel have earned the Medal of Honor. In 1943, Tech. Sgt. Forrest Vosler became the first Airman to receive the Medal of Honor. In 1945, Staff Sgt. Henry Irwin earned the Army Air Forces' final Medal of Honor.

In early 1949, the radio operations school moved to Keesler from Scott Air Force Base, Ill. As the Army Air Corps transitioned to the Army Air Force and later to the Air Force, the Department of Defense moved from World War II to Southeast Asia.

During the Vietnam Conflict, the ROMAD, or radio/operator/maintainer/driver was born. In the mid-1980s, the enlisted terminal attack controller took a more controlling and advanced aspect than the ROMADs, relieving this duty from the officer.

In 1962, ground radio maintainers were brought to Jones Hall, dividing the operation and maintenance into two separate Air Force specialties. Through nearly four decades, the field embraced all types of ground-to-air radio systems, from air traffic control to front-line tactical radios, including many joint-service radio systems.

In the early '60s, the course lasted nearly a year as Airmen learned how to maintain radios that literally had a door to access the interior parts. Over time, the course became shorter and the equipment much smaller and more mobile.

The end of the course also brings an end to the mascot of the career field. For decades, ground radio Airmen have prided themselves on being called "Ground Rats."

Where does the ground rat actually originate from? Some would say that because a rat gets into everything, it was a fitting mascot for the career field that worked on anything that plugged into a wall. However, RAT is actually an acronym that stands for receivers and transmitters.