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

8 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 qsl.net 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?
    73,
    Carl
    NQ3U

    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

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