AMARS
Carl Swisher writes:
I see there was a place in the site about projects with short fuses. I worked on several green tag jobs with short fuses but the one with the shortest fuse was the AMARS project. Here is a brief History of AMARS.

The AMARS Project. (Automatic Multiple Address Routing System)

USA STRATCOM operated several torn tape relay stations around the world handling messages in teletype paper tape format. The relay station was a collection of messages coming into the station from tape punches producing paper tape messages from outposts and sending paper tape messages to other connected outposts on tape readers. (This was in the days before computers.)

When a paper tape message came into the relay station it was walked across the room and loaded into the paper tape reader that the message was routed too. The reader then read the message and it was punched out at the remote receiving outpost. It was a very simple process except when the incoming paper tape contained multiple routing instructions. (For two or more outposts.) The operator at the tape relay then had to make multiple copies of the message with each copy contained only the routing instructions for each outpost. Because of the high volume of multiple address messages being processed at the torn tape relay stations in Vietnam the relay stations were severely backlogged and critical messages were not being retransmitted.

The STRATCOM Engineering office contracted with some company in the DC area to build a MAPU, a Multiple Address Processing Unit. This company was not able to deliver a working unit and the contract was canceled. Somehow our intrepid B & B marketeer Mel Skinner found out about this situation and assured STRATCOM that Rad Inc could perform. STRATCOM agreed to award a sole source contract to Rad Inc if they would agree to a 45 day delivery with heavy penalties for non-performance. Al Johnson and Julian Scott asked me to review the SOW and asked me if there was any possible way to deliver in 45 days. In the meantime Mel had suggested hiring Stan Gombos, who had worked on the failed MAPU project and who at least understood the problem. After discussing it with Stan and making a trip to Seattle to talk to Tally Corporation (a supplier of high speed paper tape readers and punches) I stuck my neck out and told Al that there were two chances we could deliver on time and make it work. The two chances were slim and none with the slim chance being if the project were giving top priority by management, which they agreed to.

Thus was created the AMARS project. Dan Mestayer, Stan Gombos, myself, technicians Cecil Martin and Billy Joe Sutphin and several wire girls started on a 45 day, around the clock work schedule. We only went home to take a quick nap and change clothes. Our wives brought food to us and left it at the gate.
There were no weekends, 45 straight working days. Several planners, including Jim Pickett, Jim Maxner and Harry Goode begged, borrowed and stole logic modules, trays, racks, etc. The shops worked overtime creating the special modules we needed to program the routing instructions. Jeannette Fanus wired wrapped the trays for the routing instructions with zero errors and was given a award for her performance. Tally Corporation delivered the high speed tape punches (30 each) and readers (2 each) on time.

We started checkout with only hours left before our scheduled acceptance test with the customer. When we fired up our scope and pushed the start button and put the scope probe on the first modules nothing worked as designed. Indicator lights started flashing, punches started punching when they were not supposed to, it looked like the beginning of a disaster. A quick review of the design on paper did not show any design errors so what was going on? It turned out that a simple rule had been forgotten, “never leave an unused input floating.” Cecil picked up his wire wrap tool and stated tying down the unused inputs and things started clicking. Hours later checkout was complete and we all went home to sleep and wait for the customer the next morning.


Acceptance Test with the customer the next morning was completed before noon on the 45th day and the 13 racks of equipment was packed up by Bob Eisinbenger and taken to Patrick to be air shipped to Saigon. Now came the big question. Who was going to get on an airplane and head to Saigon to install the equipment and put it in operation? Since the Marines always go in first, guess who was elected?

I was on an Airplane to Saigon two days later and it took 45 days to get the equipment installed, programmed and checked out. The Strategic facility was outside of Saigon near the village of Phu Lam. The year was 1966. The CO of the facility was Lt Col SS Ashton Jr, a West Point graduate. We became close friends and have visited and maintained this friendship ever since. In May of 2011 my wife and I made a trip to West Palm Beach to visit Col. Ashton and his wife. He will be at the 60th reunion of his West Point class in June 2011.

The Phu Lam Amars was the first in a series. Other Amars were installed later at the Air Force Com Center at Ton San Nhut air base in Saigon, and Stratcom facilities in Okinawa, Nha Trang and Da Nang, VN, Bangkok and Korat, Thailand and a Stratcom facility in Germany.

I was at a party in Cape Canaveral just a few short years ago and was talking to a fellow who said he was a retired Army S/sgt. I asked him where he served and what he did. He told me that I would not know where it was that he served or what he did if he told me but I said, go ahead and tell me. He said he was an AMARS technician at Phu Lam. Small world isn't it?
Carl