Friday, March 15, 2013

Papa Lima Three One Black

    World War One (WWI), The War to End All Wars, ended in 1918. Less than 25 years later, World War Two (WWII) started. It was the war that people born during or shortly after WWI would fight. These people of The Greatest Generation were now adults and called upon to maintain our heroic tradition of fighting wars.

    World War Two ended in 1945. Less than 5 years later the Korean conflict began. (It wasn’t a war. War was not declared. Of course the bullets and the bombs knew nothing about the lack of formal agreement to begin hostilities. And dead was still dead!) The Korean conflict is often called The Forgotten War.

    About midway between WWII and Korea, the political tensions and the capability for mutual nuclear annihilation ushered in the extended era referred to as The Cold War. Because of our involvement in Korea and with experience from World War Two, our US Army Air Force reactivated a Civil Defense program called The Ground Observer Corps (GOC).

    The GOC encompassed more than a million civilian observers at 12,000 or more observation posts to monitor any possible military threats from the air. This was a period before the construction of the Distant Early Warning system of radars called the DEW line.

    The observation post I served in was on a hill on the edge of town and our call sign was Papa Lima 3-1 Black. I assumed the Papa was the phonetic P for Pennsylvania and the Lima the phonetic L for Lancaster county. The three one black I never knew the specifics of but it seemed sensible to think it was simply our small piece of the big picture maintained by the control center we phoned our results to.

    Our job (we were unpaid volunteers working 2 hour shifts) was to identify aircraft by sight and sound (and, at night, by marker lights or exhaust glow), make note of their approximate altitude and their direction of travel and call the control center immediately upon acquiring the specifics to the best of our ability.

    Sergeant Bray, USAF, was our official coordinator and he was the person responsible for supervising the several observing outposts in Lancaster county. He also served as liaison for a group of Civil Air Patrol members who were on the observing team. My Meritorious Service Certificate for 100 hours of “faithful service” was signed by no less than Air Force General E. E. Partridge.

    I suppose what reminded me of this PL 31 Black was listening to my scanner where phonetic alphabet is commonly used to help distinguish between like sounding letters if a name is being spelled. The pronouncing alphabet in use by many police agencies today is a variation of the military alphabet which was necessary to prevent confusion over targets or meeting points — Is it a “B” or a “D”; is it an “M” or an “N”.
Calling them Bravo or Delta minimizes confusion - hard to make a listening mistake that way. Mike (M) versus November (N). Or Foxtrot (F) versus Sierra (S).

    And then there are the 10 codes but that’s a whole other story. That’s a big 10-4 Good Buddy. (Truckers don’t actually say such things. Actors pretending to be truckers say such things.)
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