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Hamming it up on the air

When 14-year-old Chase Adams was ready to start on his Eagle Scout project to achieve the highest rank attainable in Boy Scouts, he knew exactly what he wanted to do.

His entire family has become ham radio enthusiasts, and it seemed natural to take on a project that would involve the family's unique hobby.

"Many people think ham radio is a dying hobby, but it needs to stay alive," said Chase's mother Wendy, as she explained how her family became involved with ham radio.

After the 2004 tsunami, a member of Wendy's church, a ham radio operator, spoke to the congregation about what happens to communications during a disaster of such proportions. "Cell towers and phone lines become overloaded and crash," Wendy recalled. "Basically, there's no communication [when you need it most]."

Ham radio operators are able to provide instant communication and relay information immediately when modern forms of communication are unavailable.

Wendy wanted to be able to help in the event of a disaster, so she and her husband Mike, a senior program developer at Microsoft, took classes and got their ham radio licenses in February 2005. Chase followed suit, getting his license last May, and oldest daughter Bethany, 16, got her license in November. The Adams' youngest daughter Jessica, 12, is furiously studying to get hers, too.

The family is part of the recently created Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) team in North Bend. The team, spearheaded by Dee Williamson, includes about 20 registered team members who meet on a monthly basis to plan and train for emergency preparedness.

The ARES team hopes to be able to work with the city of North Bend and the North Bend fire department to provide emergency communication in the event it is needed. "If there's a massive earthquake here, I can totally help," Wendy stated confidently. "We have a plan of action."

Valley Camp in North Bend has served as the ARES team's meeting location, and it was there that Chase realized he had the perfect opportunity to complete an Eagle Scout project that could benefit the community.

The Lutheran camp and retreat center, nestled in the woods along the Middle Fork Road, had plenty of mobile radio equipment, but none of it was permanently stationed. When they wanted to use their antenna tower, it took two tractors and more than 10 men several hours to erect the 40-foot metal tower, which can hold up to nine antennas.

When the tower was erected, it was held in place by lead lines and ropes, but the system was not secure enough to remain permanently in place while withstanding the heavy winds the camp receives.

Chase's Eagle Scout project was to construct a permanent base for the antenna tower. The project took about five months to complete from start to finish and involved a total of 115 hours. Chase orchestrated all the details, from getting donations of cement to organizing a work party made up of fellow Scouts and family members to dig a huge hole for the base. The crew also had to place a rebar cage inside the hole for stability before the cement was poured.

When he was 12, Chase set a goal for himself to complete his Eagle Scout project by age 14. "The project was very difficult," Chase said, "but it was nice to get it done. I had a lot of help."

Chase received the official rank of Eagle Scout on April 18, 2006. Only about 2 percent of all Boy Scouts earn this achievement.

"It was great working with Chase," said Thom Proehl, Valley Camp director. "Chase is very focused and achievement-oriented for such a young man."

The tower will be put to use during Field Day at Valley Camp on June 24-25, an annual event celebrated worldwide throughout the ham radio community.

Field Day began in the 1930s during the golden age of radio. It's a contest, an emergency-preparedness exercise and a party all in one as ham radio operators simulate emergency conditions and make contact with each other around the world.

It's the weekend that ham radio buffs look forward to all year, said Proehl, who has been a ham radio operator for 44 years. "We'll have six to seven stations set up with about 15 ham radio operators going all the time. A lot of the activity will occur in the early evening [Saturday] when amateur bands open up around the world."

The atmosphere is festive and fun, with people staying up all night, lots of food, lots of coffee and lots of camaraderie, Proehl added. The community is invited to attend and can get on the air.

The Adams have been having a great time on the air. "The neat thing about ham radio is that you really get to know these people you are talking to," Wendy said. "It's really a wonderful community of people."

Field Day starts at noon on Saturday, June 24 and goes through 1 p.m. Sunday, June 25, at Valley Camp, located at 49515 S.E. Middle Fork Road in North Bend. For more information about Field Day, go to www.arrl.org. For more information on local amateur radio activities in North Bend, go to www.northbendares.org or e-mail Thom Proehl at k7fzo@arrl.net.

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