Navy Radioman School – 50 Years Ago

It’s hard to believe, but a half-century has gone by since I graduated from Navy Radioman School. The Navy decided that the 18-year-old kid was ready to do this radio stuff for real. 

U.S. Navy Radioman Patch

Following three months of boot camp, the Navy transferred me to the U.S. Navy Training Center in Bainbridge, Maryland. USNTC Bainbridge was not the most glamorous place. The barracks were run-down, World War II-vintage wooden structures with a cockroach problem. 

I still remember my first day in Radioman school. The instructor gave us a sheet of paper and told us to memorize it. It was the Morse alphabet with the sound of each character. (A = DID-DAH, B = DAH-DI-DI-DIT, and so on). I also took a typing test. Fortunately, I had a typing course in high school and was able to test out of the typing training. The non-typers had to attend an after-hours crash course in touch typing.

Early on, our training focused on CW. As I recall, the requirement back then was 10 WPM, sending and receiving. The CW training also covered messaging handling, logging, and net procedures. Looking back, I think focusing on CW 8 hours a day for a few weeks was a great way to learn it. Plus, I was getting paid to do it!

We did all of our CW copying on a mill. A mill was a manual typewriter will all caps. After I got out of the Navy, I had to re-train myself to copy with a pencil since I had never done that before.

Over time, we moved on to a variety of other topics. We learned about the radio equipment we would likely be using. Radio-teletype was the primary communications mode for the fleet back then, so we also had to learn that equipment.

My diploma from Navy Radioman A School in March of 1971.
My diploma from Navy Radioman A School in March of 1971.

We spent the last week of school standing radio watches in a simulated shipboard radio room. This part of the course was called the PRAC-DECK. We set up radio circuits and sent and received message traffic. To make things interesting, the instructor would inject some equipment issues for us to troubleshoot. 

On my first mid-watch (night shift), the instructor said I had to learn the most important skill I would need out in the fleet. That skill turned out to be making coffee in one in one of those 25-cup percolators. I ran into that instructor a few years later. He laughed when I reminded him about that lesson. I told him he was right about a pot of coffee being necessary for communications. 

All in all, it was an interesting four months. Fifty years later, I’m still using the CW I learned back then. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

27 thoughts on “Navy Radioman School – 50 Years Ago”

  1. Thanks for your interesting experience stories. I learn something from every one of them. I am now at about 10wpm and appreciate the encouragement.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Craig,
    Thank You for your service!
    1971…I was six in October of ’71! 🙂
    I enjoy your posts and have leaned a good deal from them and your site. I learned Morse Code in the Boy Scouts, but I learned it “visually” and when I got into HAM radio I had to re-learn it aurally. So I sort of understand what you mean by your “re-train” comment. With today’s tablets and keyboards, maybe you could go back to the mill, albeit with a modern twist?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. We may have been in RM school at the same time. Same Requirements. I was there 68-69 and was part of the group that marched at Nixon inauguration parade. 10 WPM seems so slow now! LOL . RMC(AC) USN, Retired

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Craig; I graduated from Bainbridge in 1958. I became a ham in Norfolk in 1960. My last ship was an AKA that re-supplied the Antarctic naval bases at McMurdo and Hallet. I visited the amateur stations at both bases. My ship, USS Arneb had a Heath ham shack (built by Heath) The ships call was KC4USR which I used below the Antarctic circle and I used my call K8YTW/MM above
    the circle.

    73s. Jim


  5. Takes me back to 1955 when RMA school was 6 months long. After graduation was on the USS Locator a radar picket ship call sign NRZW for the remainder of my career. Lots of time at sea and I became a grandmaster at Pinochle. Five from my class went aboard and they have all passed on now. I really and truly loved being a radioman.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I am a former RM, now a Retired RMCS(SW)…I was in Bainbridge in 01/1971 attending a 10 week High speed CW training course (goals 22 WPM receive and 18 WPM send) before our normal “A” Scol began. There were 10 of us and I was the 3rd and last student to pass the course on the last day!!! I wish I could remember the names of classmates, but I can’t. I do remember that I only used CW 2 or 3 times in my 22 year career, not counting exercises, of course!!! RMCS(SW)USNRetired

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I went to high speed CW training after RM A school. AT that time late 1969 early 1970 it was in Newport R.I.. From there I was stationed on a Destroyer where we never used CW. I have hearing loss and tinitus from that.


      1. I only used CW for exercises…Funny I didn’t know “A” scol had been in Newport, my first duty station in ’71-’73


  7. I believe that my father may have been one of you instructors. I think he was based at NTC Bainbridge then, teaching at RM-A school. My sister was born in Dec of 71 at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, because the dispensary on the base at the time wasn’t equipped to handle labor & delivery. He would’ve been a W-2 or W-3 then (I can’t remember exactly).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Doug:

      I might have encountered your father while I was there, but I don’t remember him. I had an RMC and and RM1 for instructors. I remember make a trip down to the Proving Grounds. It was a much larger base than Bainbridge, as I recall.

      Craig WB3GCK


  8. Craig
    your post brings back memories for me. I graduated Rm A school in Jan of 1971
    Most of the guys in my class got orders to Harold E. Holt, Guam, or Gtmo.
    I got Gtmo for year.
    thanks for your post

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I was there in 1964. class 14-64. My morse code instructor was Chief Mauser and my basic electricity instructor was RM1 Hendricks. I was then sent to Naval Radion station Panama. I passed radioman 2nd class but needed to extend a year and then serve 1 year with marines in Vietnam. I would like make contact with fellow classmates.


  10. i am trying to reach randy sherman, thomas coburn, tony mazzella i was in radio a man between 1984-1986. i desperately need your help. please help me to find these young men, it is very important paul d turner from maine


  11. I came across your post after doing a random search of Bainbridge, MD. I went through Radioman A school as well there in early 1970. I have some good memories of friends I made there, but my recollection of the actual school part is rather fuzzy, although I do remember the CW training. After finishing duty at Harold E. Holt, a com station on the NW Cape of Australia, I was sent for more Morse Code training in San Diego before spending the balance of my time on an aircraft carrier. Quick side note, my battle station on the carrier was at a Morse Code key. Last guy down with the ship?

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I finished in Bainbridge in early 1959. My best friend there was dude from ND, I’m a life long Floridian. After RM A school I was transferred to classified delivery desk WASHDC where I lost my CW skills and had to relearn them after being stationed aboard the USS New in Norfolk. The New took me to lots of places including 6 months touring Africa! Quite a few places in Africa use CW to handle arrivals and departures plus in port communications. CW was actually necessary and to this day (age 82) I can still think in Morse code.
    Joe Walsh said, “life’s been good to me, so far.”
    Jim Cook, Gainesville, Florida


  13. Jim Cook again.
    My best friend after Bainbridge, at NAVCOMSTA in Washington DC , was Fred Cox from Ohio. I’ve tried for years to find him! If ANYONE knows him or his whereabouts please please let me know. I communicate frequently with several guys we served with. All “sparkies”
    Mucho thanks


  14. Hi, I am trying to reach anyone who was in the A class, 1957 in Bainbridge.
    I believe my Uncle, Robert Hope was an instructor at that time? I have a picture of the graduation class but there are no names listed.


  15. I was at Bainbridge Radioman “A” School starting in March 0f 1970. I was held over for one week because of poor Morse Code proficiency (Z Burgers). I visited Bainbridge just a few years ago only to see a lonely gate with nothing familiar behind it. But I remember a friend who went there for Wave Boot Camp.
    C. A. Kelly was her name. and I would like to say “Hi”, should she see this message.


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