For Jim Fortney, who has been a licensed amateur or "ham" operator for 33 years, the military action in the Persian Gulf is more than just news reports.
Each morning before he goes to work at Litton Systems as a technical analyst, or each evening before he retires, Fortney sits at his computer in his residence in the Santa Rosa Valley near Camarillo and transfers messages from Southland families to troops in Operation Desert Storm.
"If I could characterize the type of messages sent to the troops," Fortney said, "it's an indication of support for what they are doing and an expression of concern that they keep themselves safe."
While most people envision the ham operator with microphone in hand, Fortney's high-tech operation is computer to computer.
Fortney, 48, is a licensed member of the Military Affiliate Radio System. From his house he operates a MARS station that allows him to transmit messages gathered from an area stretching from Las Vegas to Santa Barbara and San Diego to Bakersfield. He sends the messages to a U.S. Army base at Ft. Lewis, Wash.
One day last week, Fortney sat at his computer transferring messages sent to him from the Sheriff's Department ham radio station in Malibu and the Disaster Communications Service in Canyon Country, which also has a ham radio system.
This process involves putting his call-sign or license number on a message that has been given to the Sheriff's Department by a soldier's family or friends. He then moves that message through his computer to the military system.
When the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department in Malibu recently announced that its ham radio station would take messages for Army personnel, Fortney said he spent close to 22 hours a day for three days transferring the messages to Ft. Lewis, which relays them to New York. The messages then go to the troops in the Middle East.
One message from Valencia to an army sergeant said, "Keep your spirits high and head low." Another indicated that there had been an argument before the serviceman had left home. That message said to call home "on your knees."
Replies to messages have been seen by Fortney in as little as 38 hours.
"That really makes me feel good," Fortney said. "Some of the messages are from people in real trouble, people who were not prepared financially for this, wives having problems with children."
Fortney cautioned that messages can only be sent for people with an Army Post Office address or for Army personnel. The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps are not supplying MARS messages in the combat zone, he said.
Those wishing to send messages can contact the Malibu sheriff's station at 213-317-6815; the Veterans Hospital in West Los Angeles at 213-824-6991 or Will Schroeder at 805-484-4461.