From as far away as Australia, Western Samoa and Canada, 370 Church members and others interested in sharing a common interest in amateur (ham) radio and public service gathered recently at the Bountiful Utah Val Verda Stake center for the third Mercury Amateur Radio Association (MARA) world convention.
About two-thirds of the participants came from outside Utah. Some drove from states and provinces throughout the United States and Canada; others flew in from other far-away places.Many had become "voice friends" having only spoken via ham radio. They finally got a chance to put a face to a name, and a name to radio call signs. Ham radio operators know each other primarily by their call signs.
When Ian Hunt of the Para Ward, Modbury Australia Stake, for example, wanted to find his radio friend Val Hanney of the Kaysville 3rd Ward, Kaysville Utah Crestwood Stake, he did not ask, "Has anyone seen Val?" Instead, he went over to a group of people standing in the meetinghouse foyer and asked, "Do you know where I might find WA7UZU?"
Everyone in the group knew WA7UZU; they most likely would not have recognized him by name.
Those attending the MARA convention came to learn how to use their hobby to better serve in times of disaster or emergency.
MARA has its roots in the collapse of Idaho's Teton Dam in 1976. After the Idaho disaster, several amateur radio operators formed an organization to provide a community and Church communication link during emergencies. MARA today boasts more than 3,500 members worldwide, according to Preben Nielsen (K7KMZ), the association's president. The goal of MARA is to provide a worldwide emergency communications system for Church, priesthood and community leaders.
Weekly, MARA members gather on various radio frequencies to trade radio ideas, participate in training exercises and ensure their radio equipment is ready should disaster strike.
One message prevalent throughout the sessions was service and preparedness.