Yes, We Still Teach Morse Code

FT. HUACHUCA, Arizona -- One of the most frequent reactions I get about my job at Ft Huachuca is: "The Air Force still teaches Morse code?" Most people ask this question with an incredulous tone, since the Air Force typically concentrates on cutting edge technology and concerns itself with futuristic equipment. You can read in the newspaper daily about the sheer awesomeness of the F-35 or the Air Force involvement with cyber operations. However, Morse code is neither futuristic, nor cutting edge. As the current course director likes to say, "We use a Civil War invention, combined with World War I transmission technology, primarily targeted against Cold War adversaries, in support of today's decision making needs."

However, just because Morse code is not high-tech does not mean it's useless. Many times, older forms of communication are more reliable than newer ones. Morse code might seem archaic, but it works and does not require much investment in expensive technologies. Also, many adversaries will revert to methods that are tried and true when modern communications are denied.

Currently, the Army runs the Morse code school at Ft Huachuca. However, the Air Force makes up the bulk of the students. The course has an official length of 81 training days, but it is self-paced so students can graduate as fast as they can grasp Morse code proficiency. The fastest student in the past 4 years only needed 27 training days to graduate.

But do not think Morse code is easy. Students must get a 96 percent on each and every lesson in order to progress. On some lessons they have to do it twice within one hour to ensure the first time was not a fluke. They eventually have to copy 20 words (100 characters) per minute to graduate. Do you think you could do that?

One of my favorite anecdotes about the difficulty of Morse code comes from the show 'The Amazing Race'. In one episode, contestants were in France and had to choose to either low-crawl under barbed wire while enduring mock explosions or decode a Morse code message. Guess which option each team picked? That's right, they all chose to low-crawl through mud rather than decipher Morse code. One team was forced to do both options, but they were unable to complete the Morse code message and were eliminated from the chance to win $1 million.

Our current Morse code students will not be winning a million dollars when they graduate the school house at Ft Huachuca, but they will be fulfilling an important niche role in the Air Force. They will have mastered a skill that very few others can claim to know. Morse code might not stretch the boundaries of technological innovation, but it is something we still do and do well.