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For Rob Hoyt, president of the Charles County Amateur Radio Club, his interest in amateur radio started when he was a kid. But he credits his hobby for leading to a successful career.

Growing up in upstate New York, ham radio operators provided Hoyt with entertainment when there was not much else to do. After graduating from high school, Hoyt entered the Air Force and worked in electronics because, he said, he already knew how to take apart and put together machines. In the Air Force, he became more active with amateur radio, earned his operator’s license and has enjoyed the experience for more than 25 years.

“I’m passionate about it because of the impact it has had in my life,” Hoyt said. “I owe my career to my interest in radio.”

Hoyt moved to Charles County when he was stationed at then-Andrews Air Force Base. There, he joined the amateur radio club and has served as president for nine of the 17 years he’s been a member. Hoyt recently relocated to Hollywood, in St. Mary’s County, to be a project manager work for BAE Systems in Lexington Park. Hoyt said he felt prepared for the promotion because of his experience with balancing budgets and schedules, and running meetings as president of the radio club.

Despite the 45-minute commute, Hoyt remains active with the Charles County club and does not let the distance interfere with his allegiance to his friends and fellow amateur radio club members.

Hoyt also has been an active member in the St. Mary’s County Amateur Radio Association, in part because of its proximity, but also because he said he believes all three counties’ clubs should work together.

Paul Tackish, vice president and one of the founders of the Charles County group in 1997, agrees that communication among the counties is crucial.

“All of our clubs communicate on a regular basis,” Tackish said. “It is absolutely important because a call-out for a disaster or emergency could affect a large area, so it is about planning and having those relationships up front.”

As an emergency communication technician for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Tackish also credited his amateur radio pastime with career success. Tackish works at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, also providing emergency communications for Washington Dulles International Airport.

“It keeps me involved because I’m in the amateur radio and the professional side of emergency communications,” Tackish said. “It keeps you interested and up on the current technology and equipment.”

Ready for anything

Tackish also serves as the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services officer for Charles County and works directly with the county’s emergency operations center.

Since 2004, National Preparedness Month has been observed every September and is funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s website. The purpose of the month is to educate the public about how to prepare for emergencies, including natural disasters, mass casualties, biological and chemical threats, radiation emergencies and terrorist attacks, the website states. Part of this awareness includes RACES, a FEMA and Auxiliary Communications Service function.

According to the organization, RACES is a public service provided by volunteers, like Tackish, who are called upon during times of extraordinary need. FEMA provides planning guidance and technical assistance for establishing RACES organizations at state and local government levels. The Federal Communications Commission is responsible for the regulation of RACES operations.

“There are so many different storms we’re called out on,” Tackish said. “The director of emergency services will request the amateur radio support to maintain communications with one of the local shelters, or in case his professional commercial leg were to go down.”

Traditional RACES operations involve emergency message handling on amateur radio service frequencies, explained Bill Hackett, the RACES officer for Calvert County and a member of the Calvert Amateur Radio Association.

Officers will communicate with hospitals, the Red Cross, emergency shelters, police and fire departments, roads and maintenance, and other locations where communication is needed.

“We may have 20 events in a year and never have to send a message, but the idea is if you need them, they’re there, and our role is to facilitate their ability,” said J.R. “Bobby” Fenwick, division chief of emergency management and safety at the Calvert department of public safety.

Richard Bozovich, a member in St. Mary’s, talked about his experience during some recent emergencies, including the 5.8-magnitude earthquake in August 2011 that shook parts of the East Coast, including Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

“I worked at [Patuxent River Naval Air Station], and everyone was trying to use their phone but nobody could reach anyone,” Bozovich said. “I had a ham radio in my truck and was immediately able to talk to other ham radio users, and we could establish that it was an earthquake.”

“We then got in touch with firefighters and asked if they needed our services,” Bozovich added. “It helped my coworkers to know what was going on, and I could talk to someone who was in the area and they could make calls to their loved ones.”

Another program associated primarily with amateur radio and the National Weather Service is Skywarn, Hackett said. Trained Skywarners will look at storm warnings and report back to the NWS. The purpose of that is to correlate what is being shown on radar with what is actually happening on the ground, Hackett said.

Dave Weaver, president of the Calvert ham group, used his amateur radio skills when he worked for law enforcement on 9/11. Cellphone service went down in the District and New York. Weaver drove a communications vehicle to New York City and provided communication for the U.S. Secret Service, customs and the treasury. The antennas previously used were on top of the World Trade Center and were destroyed.

“It was literally chaos up there,” Weaver said. “All cellphones were down — you couldn’t call anyone.”

Weaver said that his ham radio was used by operators who were matching people up with lost family members. “When all else fails, ham radio works,” Weaver said. “I did what I had to do, and I was very proud to be there.”

‘We’re all geeks’

The St. Mary’s ham radio group hosts monthly meetings at the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum in Lexington Park. Laughter erupts as Bozovich makes a crack about a proposed monthly project. Enough acronyms and technical jargon gets thrown out that in the midst of a naval air museum, you can forget you’re not at a meeting about Air Force One.

“This is how we get the girls,” Bozovich laughed. “We’re all geeks.”

Hoyt explained that many amateur radio operators get involved with ham radio because of their leanings toward a technical field. Many enjoy the electronic and building aspect of the pastime. Each club boasts members from engineering fields, the military, law enforcement, technicians, car mechanics and more.

Giving back

The three ham radio groups are involved with local events, such as marathons, bike races and nonprofits. Recently, the Calvert group worked with the Drum Point Lighthouse and the Calvert Marine Museum for an international event that promoted lighthouses and lightships that need to be repaired and require funding.

The groups also are involved with Scouting. Hoyt explained that a lot of the kids are interested in technology and public service. Many even become licensed amateur radio operators from working with the clubs and can receive college scholarships from organizations specifically for licensed ham operators.

“We get them on the air, perform demonstrations and promote an interest in radio can lead to a good career,” Hoyt said. “We try to infect kids with our love of radio.”

Dan Metcalf, a senior software developer for J.F. Taylor Inc. and president of the St. Mary’s radio club, said that the relationship among the counties’ associations is very important.

“When disaster strikes, having the relationship there will help us work together and know each other’s strengths,” Metcalf said. “It’s great to do cross demonstrations and share our knowledge.”

“You can’t do anything unless you have good people,” Weaver explained. “Everyone is dedicated and motivated to support our association and support emergency communication in the county.”

snewman@somdnews.com