In 1976 I was posted to the Rhodesian Armoured Car Regiment (RhACR) as their Regimental Signals Instructor (RSI) where I stayed until the end of 1977. For about half my stay with the regiment I was the Acting Regimental Signals Officer/Troop Commander.
One day my instructors were giving their signals course PRACTICE TIME on some VHF radios to get them used to the radio procedures, sending and receiving messages and generally getting used to just TALKING on a radio net (network).
They had been given a sheaf of small practice messages to use and a couple of scenarios to get VOICE TRAFFIC going on the practice net.
We had a monitor radio at the Troop HQ and were listening in to the traffic and realised that one of the call signs was not rotating the radio operators. Each detachment consisted of two or three trainees meaning we could reasonably expect to hear different voices at different times.
The course instructor and I decided to take a walk around and came up behind the two-man detachment that only seemed to have ONE voice. We stood and watched and this rather large young man was sitting back letting all the work be done by the other young trainee.
After checking the other detachments, we returned to the offending group. They were reminded that they needed to BOTH use the radio and get practice in. The one doing the operating seemed to squirm as he gave the big lad an apprehensive look.
We strolled off and monitored for another ten minutes then we went back. Asking why only one person was doing the work we got a mumbled thing about “…I like the operating…” from the one and “…he just wants to do all the talking…” or something like that from the other.
Realising that the more timid youngster was being bullied just a bit we told him to go back to the lecture room and stay there and then told the other fellow to start sending messages.
Big boy looked at us, now pale-faced and rather like a rabbit in the headlights, “Uh, me, Staff?” he quavered.
“Yes you, now get on with it.”
Picking up the hand microphone in his huge fist he seemed intent on squeezing it to death. Then he started to shake and stammer/gurgle and I think he had tears in his eyes. He was angry, embarrassed and scared among other things and I reckon he HATED us just then. He was totally mic-shy (this happens when people are literally so scared of talking on the radio that they freeze up with anxiety). Every member of an Armoured Fighting Vehicle HAD to be able to use the radios installed in the vehicles and this young man was no exception if he wanted to pass out as a crewman.
It took some tact and persuasion but we got him over his fright after a while. Within a day or two he was as blasé about using the radio as the rest of the men.
I think his peers knew or suspected what had happened but, he being a rather large, strong young man, I don’t think many people tried to tease him.
While on the subject…another stand-out mic-shy incident I remember happened when a reserve officer, at a brigade HQ in the bush, had to talk on the radio and he froze. He grabbed the hand mic in a DEATH GRIP and squeezed the press-to-talk (PTT) switch so that we thought it would disappear into the mic.
After saying his bit, he held the mic up to his ear without releasing the PTT, shaking all the while. My operator had to grab his hand and prise the mic out of it so that the reply could be heard on the loudspeaker –we only heard the last couple of words and had to ask the other party to say again.
By this time the officer was sweating and shaking and we had to help him by telling him what to say and intervening once or twice. His plight was not made the easier by the fact that he was talking to a particularly blunt (and unpopular) staff officer at base. Realising that the caller was a novice this officer made some derogatory comment about the radio not biting/stop being an idiot.
He was a well-liked, if inexperience officer and I remember squirming with embarrassment for him at the time. After a few days he loosened up although – in the same way some people will not talk to answering machines – he did not enjoy using the radio.
It was a very real thing that happened (happens?) to people and quite puzzling to us operators to whom it was second nature to talk on the radio.