The messages from U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf come in sporadically, passed along by one specially trained radio operator to another, eventually reaching family members in Orange County hungry for word from their loved ones.
The messages, 25 words or less, are usually reassuring, said Dennis Clark, who belongs to a network of radio hobbyists connected to the Military Affiliate Radio System.
"I'm doing fine," "My morale is good," and "Wish you were here," are some of the messages he said he has received through his station set up in a spare bedroom of his home in Wildomar, near Lake Elsinore.
The MARS network of radio hobbyists uses military frequencies outside the amateur radio bands to relay messages from military service members in Persian Gulf stations or aboard ships to their families back home.
But because of the war, operators are not allowed to send return messages from families.
"It's like sending a postcard," said Jim Rafferty, national sales manager for Ham Radio Outlet in Anaheim. "Nothing is coming back."
Since the outbreak of war a week ago, Clark said the MARS network has been handling about 600 calls a day from service members wishing to send word to their families in Southern California. Service members can get messages to their families by the next day.
U.S. troops are allowed to give their messages, when time permits, to military radio operators using temporary stations. At designated times, volunteer radio amateurs who have been trained on the MARS system are alerted to expect the transmissions.
Working this week as the "control operator" for Southern California, Clark had the job of routing the messages from the ham operators who received them, to the next level of operators who would be delivering them to the families.
"About 37 pieces of traffic will normally get transmitted in about 15 minutes," Clark said, because of the use of Teletype and computers.
Sometimes, they have to remind family members that they are only messengers.
He said a Riverside County woman "questioned as to why he (her husband) took so long to write her. All I know is that this message originated yesterday."