The CGCWOA

The Coast Guard CW Operators Association (CGCWOA) is a membership organization comprised primarily of former members of the United States Coast Guard who held the enlisted rating of Radioman (RM) or Telecommunications Specialist (TC), and who employed International Morse Code (CW) in their routine communications duties on Coast Guard cutters and at shore stations. Also, "Associate Membership" is offered to other professional and military CW operators who possess similar qualifications.

CGCWOA was formed shortly after the Coast Guard discontinued the routine use of CW at its cutters and radio stations. Its formation wasn't meant as a protest of any kind. After all, it was the Coast Guard Radiomen who implemented and perfected the technological advancements in communications that eventually made their art of CW obsolete. (And, as usual, they did their job well.)

Rather, the Association was formed to institutionalize the camaraderie and fellowship that had grown out of being a relatively small group of sailors with a special skill, a skill which in many ways set them apart from everyone else in the Coast Guard. To be sure, radiomen were an integral part of the crew and worked closely with other crew members in delivering Coast Guard services, but somehow they were different. They were a close knit group of people who spoke an unusual language, the language of Morse. To many of their shipmates the Radio Shack was an almost mystical place, a place where they could not only get the best cup of coffee on the mid watch, but also a place providing their only link to the rest of the world a link that was essentially uncontrollable by the rest of them, officers and enlisted personnel alike.

And, unlike members of other rates, radiomen throughout the Coast Guard kept in close touch with one another. It was, for example, the Radio Gang that began and maintained a tradition of exchanging Christmas Cards with all other units having radioman billets, thus establishing an informal system of keeping track of where former shipmates were stationed.

The men and women of the Coast Guard who wore the "Sparks" on the left sleeve of their uniforms, either as RMs or early TCs, are bonded together for life. The official end of the line finally came in 2003 when the Coast Guard merged the rates of Telecommunications Specialist (TC) and Radarman (RD) into the new rate of Operations Specialist (OS), and assigned the old RD insignia to the rating badge. The people in the new rate will surely make their own history, but they will never match the degree of fellowship shared by Coast Guard CW operators who earned the "Sparks".

ZUT

ZUT was the forerunner of the CGCWOA, and the organization upon which it was built.

ZUT (formally, "Zeta Upsilon Tau") was subtitled the Fraternal Order of Coast Guard CW Operators

It was founded in 1962 by Radioman Bill Gulledge (ZUT1) and a small group of his fellow radiomen at the long since closed Coast Guard Radio Washington (NMH), geographically located in Alexandria, Virginia. They adopted an unused military Z-signal for its primary name, and in reaction to the increasing use of radio teletype (RATT) over CW, assigned it the meaning of "CW FOREVER."

Over the sines of radiomen George Datz, Bill Gulledge, George Neitz and Ron Harburg, an organizing letter was sent to all Coast Guard ships and stations having RM billets. In under a year the organization grew to over 700 radiomen who requested ZUT membership cards, and were assigned a ZUT number. Original ZUT Card -- ZUT2

ZUT was disestablished in late 1963, but arose again in 1964, continuing to mail out sporadic copies of its official "ZUT-REP" newsletter. But even after the demise of the newsletter in 1967, the tradition of ZUT at least lingered on. Many of the 1100 or so RMs who were issued a numbered "ZUT Card" hung on to them through the years. One member kept his in his wallet (and still does) just so he would have a way to explain to people why he had a ZUT tattoo on his left arm.

BACK TO THE PRESENT

Finally, the organization experienced a second reincarnation as Coast Guard CW Operator Association.

The "code" may be gone and now even the Sparks but the tradition moves forward.

RETIREMENT OF THE SPARKS

Its been several years since the U. S. Coast Guard and the rest of the maritime services phased out the use of CW as the primary means of wireless telecommunications, with the Coast Guard changing the Radioman (RM) rate to Telecommunications Technician (TC) along the way. But the year 2003 marked the end of the symbol people usually identified with Coast Guard personnel proficient in communicating via Morse Code that is, the "Sparks" on the rating badge worn by Radiomen and early TCs. Veteran CW operators who had practiced the craft were sad to see the last vestige of a special skill be replaced with the old Radarman symbol when the two rates were merged into the new Operations Specialist rate.

Some might argue that the Coast Guard's retirement of the Sparks was appropriate because the people holding the new rate will no longer be using CW to communicate with CG ships and stations and with other units in the maritime service and the Sparks will forever and rightfully be associated with only those who did.

The Coast Guard did not let the retirement of the Sparks occur without some memorable ceremonies. This included a special celebration for the last Telecommunications Technician "A School" class to graduate from Coast Guard Training Center at Petaluma, and commemorating their distinction of being the last TCs to be awarded the "Sparks."

And on July 1, 2003, the date all TCs were changed to the new OS rate, the Coast Guard's CAMSPAC (Communication Area Master Station Pacific), at the site of the old Primary Radio Station, NMC, configured its CW transmitters to broadcast a final message saluting "all those who have worn the Sparks.