Crusty old Joe's

Kodiak Alaska Military History

Mark Braunstein WA4KFZ (ETN1, USCG)

I was stationed at COMMSTA Kodiak from 1977-1979 and worked at the Holiday Beach receiver site R1. I was also TDY on the Storis for two and a half weeks and went to Attu Island/Shemya AFB for an equipment installation job.

FRT-39 Transmitter

TT2 Jim Renne on the Transmitter Deck. We stopped by the Transmitter Bldg. to say goodbye on our way to the airport to leave Kodiak.

FRT-89 Transmitter

Tubes inside the FRT-39 transmitter

Holiday Beach Receiver Site

Kadiak Times Articles

25 ET1 Rodney Fleurdelis (“Frenchy”) (spelling) making pancakes for us in the ET shop. The shop was in the basement of the receiver site building. Frenchy was my supervisor.

26 RMC Gertz at the Supervisors Console. The middle of the console contained a series of pushbutton switches so that the supervisor could operate (in parallel) with an operator inside one of the various operating positions. In the back corner were relay racks that contained remnants of the previous microwave relay multiplexer. The replacement microwave relay equipment (Collins Radio, if I remember correctly) was located across the hallway in an adjacent room. The back corner racks also contained a fuse panel; I think this was for either the phone system or the teletype system. The panel used “grasshopper” fuses that were designed to protect low-current circuits. A Model 28 teletype is at the right side of the desk.

27 A view of most of the operator positions on the OPS Deck. There were two rows of teletype machines in the vicinity of the three calendars handing on the edge of the relay rack (one row where the operator is standing and the other row just behind him). Behind the orange partition (where the operator is standing) were the KW-7 and KW-26 crypto systems and safes to store the crypto key cards.

28 A view of the equipment racks behind the supervisor’s console. At the far left was the Magnasync multi-channel recorder system used to maintain a log of all communications. From the left:
1. Rack containing the audio switch matrix used to assign channel inputs to the Magnasync recorder.
2. Audio patch panel with patch cords.
3. I believe the top contained RTTY demodulators. The 8 yellow boxes were time-delay relays, with the delay set by adjusting the black knob on top. If I remember correctly, the delay was used to allow the transmitters (at the transmitter site) sufficient time to key up when the operator was CW or voice traffic.
4. A rack of test equipment used for signal analysis and troubleshooting. A Collins receiver 651S1 is the second piece of equipment from the top. If I remember correctly, one of the bottom two pieces of equipment was a Frederick Electronics Morse Code RTTY to CW converter. The converter was used to send CW bulletins.
5. I believe these were additional RTTY converters. The two white pieces of equipment were power supplies. I do not remember what the equipment was below the power supplies. The two pieces of equipment just above the airflow vent were panel fuses.
6. Cross-connect MDF block racks.
7. Cross-connect MDF block racks.
8. Cross-connect MDF block racks.
9. Cross-connect MDF block racks.
10. If I remember correctly, these were receiver multi-couplers. The operator would go out to the associated multi-coupler, inject a noise source signal, and “tune” the coupler to the frequency that the receiver (in the operator position) was set. These couplers were essentially variable bandpass filters used to tune out any potential interfering signals.
11. Receiver multi-couplers.
12. If I remember correctly, this was a coaxial patch panel used to route the multi-couplers to other operator positions and for diagnostics.

29 Internal view of the cross-connect MDF block racks. Black/White twisted pair connections were used at each of the blocks.

30 The AMVER operator booth. AMVER stands for Automated Mutual Assistance Vessel Rescue. Each operator booth was similar in configuration. The operator controlled four receivers simultaneously. The Collins 651S1 receivers were in the racks. The white panels on top were Motorola speakers with individual volume controls. The center of the console were pushbutton switches that allowed the operator to switch between one of the four receivers and mute the audio from the others. If I remember correctly, the bottom switches (above the tabletop) were for switching the transmit path. Typically, the operators used straight keys for Morse Code. The more “seasoned” operators, such as the long-time radio chiefs, would use Vibroplex “bugs” for sending code. Messages were copied on a “mill” or manual typewriter. To the extreme right (behind the sliding glass door) was a Model 28 teletype. If I remember correctly, the white piece of equipment in the right-most rack was an audio record/playback system for voice announcements. The sticker on the door says AMVER 8MHz.

31 A photo of the guys in the electronics shop. From left to right: TT2 Jim Renne (back), ETN2 Mark Braunstein (front), ETN3 Moe Hughes (back), ET1 Rodney Fleurdelis “Frenchy”(front), ETN2 Steve Mauget.

32 Receiver site sign at the entrance. I took this picture at 2200 (10:00PM) local time in June to show how light it was in Alaska.

10079 Holiday Beach Receiver Site, Building R1. The microwave link equipment (two dishes) located on the top of the building and were linked back to Tech Control. Steve Mauget and I once had to go on the roof in the wintertime and, using a rope and a broom, sweep snow off the dish radome covers. The entrance was on the left side (near the utility pole). The white truck was an International Harvester pickup that we nicknamed “Moby Dick, The White Whale” due to its color and size.

0017 View of Heitman Mountain from the antenna field. I believe the antenna shown was a rhombic antenna. Note the multiple insulators on each of the guy lines. The guy lines were broken up into shorter sections so as not to create wire lengths that would be resonant at the radio frequencies used.

0011 Marsh Johnson, one of the radiomen who worked at Holiday Beach. This photo was taken outside the Tech Control facility.

0009 A typical commute to Holiday Beach in the morning. ETN2 Moe Hughes (left) sleeping. TT2 Jim Renne playing ‘pirate’ with a broken sunglass lens.

0010 A typical commute to Holiday Beach in the morning. ETN3 Steve Mauget trying to catch a few winks before arriving at Holiday Beach.

0012 A typical commute to Holiday Beach in the morning. I think this was SN Doug Umbenhour (spelling).

0018 The pegboard over the desk at the electronics shop at Holiday Beach. The Interface magazine covers were from a computer magazine I subscribed to at the time. At the right was a piece of artwork (I think drawn by ETN2 Steve Mauget) titled “DC to Light.” NOJ was the callsign for the communication station. Our motto was “The Full Spectrum COMMSTA.”

0019 ET1 Rodney Fleurdelis (“Frenchy”) giving one of us (either ETN2 Moe Hughes or ETN3 Steve Mauget) a hard time. It was probably another case of “the day after the night before…”

0013 A view from on the way to Holiday Beach.

0014 A view from on the way to Holiday Beach.

0006 A view of the ocean from the antenna field. I think the pole shown just to the right may have been part of the rhombic antenna.

0028A “You know you’ve been in Kodiak too long when…” One of the radiomen asked me if I wanted an old ham radio transceiver. Since the transceiver didn’t have a case or a power supply, I didn’t see much need for it, even though I’m a licensed ham. On the way back from Holiday Beach one day, we tied the transceiver to the back of the truck and dragged it along the road all the way back to the main base. It was fun to watch the transceiver bounce up and down on the gravel road.

0031A The transceiver after we got back to the main base. Our timing was impeccable. Just as we pulled into the parking lot, we ran into one of the radiomen; I seem to recall his first name was Fred. He had a ‘recent arrival’ (new RM) along with him and was showing him around the base. I yelled out: “Hey Fred, do you want to see how we fix radios out at the Beach?” I then picked up the radio and threw it straight up in the air, letting it crash onto the parking lot. I then said, “Let me show you how we perform the fine tuning.” I then threw the radio up in the air again and back into the bed of the truck. The look on face of the new RM was priceless; he really thought we were absolutely insane!

0010B ETN2 Steve Mauget taking a break during lunchtime.

0026C Near the entrance of the Holiday Beach Receiver Site Building. Cleaning up a few things outside the building.

“Eat, Igor” – The story of Igor, the Document Destruction Shredder

At Holiday Beach, we had a few pieces of cryptographic equipment; a few KW-7 units and one or two KW-26 units. Most of our classified information fit within one or two standard GSA safes. The Coast Guard’s cryptographic requirements were far less than what the Navy would have required at the peak of their operation. As you drove into the parking lot at R1, there was a “burn shack” to the right of the building. This outbuilding was constructed by the Navy as part of the receiver facility. To destroy classified information, operators would take the used crypto key cards, teletype messages, etc. to the building and burn the documents as needed. The military repair and maintenance manuals for the crypto gear had a unique system to allow you to remove the “sensitive” pages while retaining any unclassified pages. All pages were three-hole punched. The manuals were held together by three screw-type binding posts. The edges of the sensitive pages were cut, however, so as only to use two of the three post holes. To quickly sort through the manual, the technician would unscrew two of the three posts, gently shake the manual, and have the sensitive pages fall out. These limited number of pages would then be given priority for destruction. The LCDR for the COMMSTA, however, thought that the site should have “instant” document destruction capabilities rather than take the classified material outside to the burn shack. The time required to sort through a crypto manual was one of the justifications for hastening the destruction timeline. To meet the “instant” document destruction timeline, a solution was devised: install an industrial-scale grinder in the basement of the receiver site. Documents could be whisked down the stairs to the grinder, and everything could be thrown in all at once. There would be no need to disassemble the crypto manuals. Technicians from the main base came out to the receiver site one day to install the grinder. From what I remember, the grinder was an industrial size woodchipper that operated on an electric motor. After connecting the grinder to the building’s electrical system, the “magic moment” came for the technicians to test out the unit. As soon as they turned on the unit, several circuit breakers tripped, and an entire row of teletype machines stopped operating. All the crypto devices lost synchronization and needed to be “re-keyed.” Since the grinder could not operate with the power supplied to the building, the main base technicians were tasked with finding a solution. At one point, there was a discussion of running a separate power line from the main base all the way to the receiver site, just to power the grinder. As you might imagine, the cost of running such a dedicated power line would have been astronomical, given that the receiver site was about a 15-mile drive from the main base. After further research, a specialized motor start system was installed. This brought the motor up to speed in stages, avoiding the huge power surge that previously knocked everything offline. The speed controller solved the power surge problem. When operating, the grinder was LOUD. You had to wear ear protection and the entire basement floor vibrated when the unit was running at full speed. You knew you were dealing with something that was dangerous! One of the technicians at the COMMSTA (ET1 Nick Marks) saw and heard the grinder in action and, when it was time to test the unit out, he jokingly said: “Eat, Igor” as he threw a stack of papers into the machine. From then on, we referred to the grinder as Igor. The grinder’s waste product was ducted outside the building and discharged into a dumpster. The outside metal ductwork transitioned to a thick canvas chute that was placed over the top of the dumpster. The dumpster lid was modified by cutting a hole on top and installing a hinged flap that could cover the hole if necessary. In theory, the canvas chute was supposed to stay routed through the hole and stay inside the dumpster. In operation, the waste material was supposed to fall directly into the dumpster. Kodiak is known for prolonged periods of wind and rain. Also, working in a building with no windows, there was no way to know if it was windy or raining at the time Igor was running. This became apparent one day when ETN2 Steve Mauget and I were asked to shred a large stack of expired engineering and change notice bulletins. The bulletins were printed on orange paper or white paper, depending on the type of bulletin. Steve and I donned our hearing protection, fired up the grinder, and gave the call to action. “Eat, Igor” we said, while gleefully feeding the paper into the machine. I think we spent over an hour feeding documents into the machine that day. At lunchtime, we decided to take a walk in the antenna field and enjoy some sunshine. To our horror, we discovered that the canvas chute had been blown out of the dumpster hole and was flapping around in the breeze. All the documents we shredded were reduced to orange and white “snow” that blanketed the antenna field! I’m not sure if Igor was used after I left in 1979. I would tell this story to coworkers as a reminder that, sometimes, the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) is generally the best course of action.

I bought two of these drink glasses as souvenirs before leaving Kodiak. Notice the misspelling of “Alaska.” My supervisor, ET1 Rodney Fleurdelis (“Frenchy”) (spelling) told me that his wife worked on the base and noticed the misspelling. Someone in management wanted to change from the two-letter state abbreviation to the full name.

Main index This page created 2021 March 6