Military Folklore and Sore Backs

The PRC 77 brings back memories of military folklore and sore backs. I first encountered this heavy metal box during my early days of boot camp, in the 1980s. Although by that time the equipment already had a nearly 30-year military history with the American army, it was regarded as the last word in technology by the Israel Defense Forces' field units. It went into general service during the Yom Kippur War and was the most popular portable radio communications set for at least two decades. The PRC 77's reputation came from its performance, which can be considered satisfactory - even compared to more advanced devices - but especially because of its reliability and durability under harsh conditions. The device is so basic and simple, it can operate under any condition and in any situation. The soldiers who had to carry it, however, turned out to be much less durable.

The signaler who carried the 10-kilo set on his back was usually the exceptional soldier of the unit. He needed to be physically fit to the extent that he could remain close to the commander and hand over the receiver at any time. In addition, this soldier was required to remain attentive during all situations, had to have a basic understanding of military jargon, had to stay alert even when the other soldiers in the unit could catch a brief nap, and, especially, had to have the stamina to carry more than 10 kilos on his back all the time. Even when it wasn't being used, the PRC 77 needed devoted care that went beyond merely making certain it was in working order; this included guarding all of its parts and ensuring there was always an extra new battery pouch available - "a virgin."

The PRC 77 never reciprocated the feelings toward the signaler. It would hit him in the nape of the neck every time he had to drop to the ground, and its tattered carrier would chafe his shoulders during long marches. Its operation required complicated finger acrobatics or twisting of the back so that another soldier could assist the signaler. The PRC 77 never brought the same kind of heroic aura to the signaler carrying it as the various heavy shooting devices carried around by others, but it did cause a number of serious injuries and even deaths when its long antenna met with high tension wires.

It seems there are very few other military devices that had such long active service as the PRC 77. In the mid-1990s, when the advanced digital systems were introduced, it began to be phased out of regular service and it seems that the time has truly come now for it to part from this world.