Tactical Wisdom: Being Honest About WROL Comms

Joe Dolio at Tactical Wisdom has written an article titled Being Honest About WROL Comms (h/t American Partisan) which talks a little about amateur radio experts versus regular joes. Another way of putting that might be high tech hardware versus whatever gets the job done. And yet another way to describe the article is to tell ham radio people to stop intimidating new radio users with an overwhelming discussion of encryption, overspec’d radios, radio spectrum, etc., and just recommend they get a Baofeng.

Being an amateur radio licensee myself as well as having once been someone who knew nothing about radio, I know how easy it is to be overwhelmed. The LVA has a good number of ham radio operators, but mostly because we have taught the license classes ourselves and encouraged everyone who can to get at least a Technician license. That said we’ve only asked people to arm themselves with a Baofeng radio, unless they really want to take the step to higher end radios or long distance communication. With most people in your mutual assistance group using the same radio, you can easily maintain a configuration containing your local repeaters and call frequencies to load on each person’s handheld, further reducing the “know how” each person needs. The Baofengs are also inexpensive enough to buy in bulk, then you can load the configs and give/sell them to your people.

Being Honest About WROL Comms excerpt:

Radios

Let’s get a little housekeeping out of the way…my dear amateur radio friends, please refrain from the hysterical screeching about how wrong I am until the end; I think you’ll admit that what I say here has merit. Also, if you feel the need to discuss the FCC in the comment section, please understand that we are talking about true WROL communications, so understand that I don’t care about the FCC then. Sorry, but if we are TRULY talking about WROL comms, the FCC is not an issue. Agreed? Cool.

Some advice from the Ultimate Tactical Handbook:

Fools find no pleasure in understanding
but delight in airing their own opinions.

Proverbs 18:2

The cold hard truth about WROL comms, which I take a lot of heat for, is that not everyone on your team needs to be a top-tier amateur radio guy and not every single person needs to have a $500-$600 handheld and a $1500 vehicle mount/base station radio. Sorry, amateur radio friends, but it’s true. Let me explain before you argue.

The VAST majority of your communication needs will honestly be INTRA-team communications. In other words, short range UHF-VHF comms among members of your team, relatively close to each other. The day-to-day communications will be everyone going about their business with their handheld radio in case they need to call for help or spread the alarm.

For example, the guys at your watch posts will have radios. A couple of people you send down to the local stream for water will need radios. Hunting parties…. radios. An OP 700 meters out, radios. None of these radios need to be a top of the line ultra-cool-guy frequency-hopping radio.

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I know, encryption sounds cool. It makes you feel high speed. The truth is, I can achieve the same thing with my own brevity codes and code names for locations (I know, amateur guys – FCC says no codes – see above). Some of the push back I get on this is “but the government” or “them Russkies”; I assure you that you can’t buy any radio as a civilian that a nation-state can’t crack if they want to. The truth is, you aren’t that important and if a nation-state has localized you to the point that they are listening to your short-range comms, you’re done anyway. They’re already within a couple of miles of you and it’s only a matter of time.

I don’t say this to discourage, but to ENCOURAGE you all. Every time I get asked about radios for people just getting started and I recommend something like a Baofeng for new people, a bunch of very helpful, but highly discouraging Hams pile on, overwhelming that new person with a list of every $500 to $800 handset that is the BARE MINIMUM they need, and people get frustrated.

Here’s another tip:

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

Romans 14:19

Now, having said that (listen up ham guys), you definitely need a licensed and skilled amateur radio operator as your communications chief. This person can make sure that your team has a set of radios that they can use to make long range contacts and gather information from outside sources, scan for others, and coordinate with other like-minded groups, but NOT EVERY PERSON needs this capability. Find a solid radio hobbyist and make them your comms chief. My good friend NC Scout holds a series of great courses on WROL comms (we have one coming up in Michigan), check out his classes at http://www.brushbeater.org.

Yes, Hams, I get it. You are very enthusiastic about your hobby and very helpful. Sometimes, though, in your zeal you intimidate and discourage new people.

So then, what does the average team member need? Some type of handheld VHF/UHF radio for local comms. I personally have had no issues with the Baofeng, and to be fair, those who do are trying to use it for more than what it’s intended for. For basic, point-to-point communications in a local radius, it’s sufficient. No, it won’t go 20 miles, but no handheld will by itself. Any handheld that can accept VHF/UHF programming with 4-8 watts is all you need for each member…(continues)