Talking to the world

Dan Kern stands in his antenna field in Bailey. Kern was exposed to a massive dose of radio frequency emissions while working on a Pershing II missile, damaging his eyes. (Photo by Kelly Kirkpatrick/The Flume)

Asking for assistance isn’t always easy, especially for resourceful, self-reliant types who are much more comfortable acting in the service of others.

Dan Kern, a 58-year-old U.S. Army veteran and resident of Bailey, meets the above description by any standards. His track record of determined self-reliance and his service to his country and community speaks for themselves.

Unfortunately, at this particular time, so does his need for assistance.

Kern has an enviable history of personal and professional accomplishments and experiences. Blessed with a virtual photographic memory and an insatiable appetite for learning, he has delved into, and excelled at, a wildly diverse but impressive range of careers, disciplines and academic endeavors.

“I guess I have done a lot of stuff,” Kern said with a chuckle. “But I’m not done yet.”

Kern grew up in California, graduated from high school at the age of 16, and was eager for an opportunity to see the world. It just so happened that the United States Army was eager to oblige.

The Army quickly recognized Kern’s technical savvy and willingness to shoulder responsibility, and from 1978-92 he indeed saw the world while successfully performing a number of high-level tasks, some details of which can be openly divulged, and some that cannot.

“I was stationed in South Carolina, Georgia, Oklahoma, Washington and New Jersey, and also spent eight years in Germany,” Kern said. “One of my most memorable times in the Army was in 1984 and 1985, when I was referred to as a countdown control operator and electronic material specialist. I was stationed on temporary duty at Patrick Air Force base near Cape Canaveral, Fla., learning the Pershing II Missile systems prior to being assigned to a combat alert site in Germany where I was in charge of 90 personnel, as well as three Pershing II nuclear missiles.

“I took orders directly from Washington, and when there was a threatening situation, we were charged with getting the missiles in a ready-to-fire position, and if requested, to launch the missiles at specific, designated locations. Over the Cold War period, we raised those missiles into position on almost a daily basis.”

Kern, who has roughly enough college credit to fulfil the requirements for a pair of doctoral degrees, also served as a communication specialist for the U.S. Army. Kern has studied extensively and received certifications pertaining to electronics, communication, master locksmith, master herbalist, holistic healthcare practitioner and certified clinical hypnotherapist. He also served as a special liaison for the United States Coast Guard from 1992-95.

Kern wrote more than 30 security-related articles, including cover stories and product reviews for the Locksmith Ledger. Kern worked for the state of California from 1995-2011, providing physical security, biometric access control and closed circuit television for three California Governors: Joseph Graham “Gray” Davis Jr., Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Kern, being a forensic locksmith, has served as a state and federal expert witness in cases pertaining to forensic locksmith work. He later started his own company as a private investigator for insurance companies in cases involving arson for profit, theft, homicide and vehicle computer forensics.

At some point, in his spare time, Kern earned a black belt in Taekwondo, and a masters in Sholin, Snake Fist self defense. He and his dad (also a black belt) on several occasions teamed up to offer self-defense lessons for senior citizens that focused on the use of canes for protection.

According to Kern, the defense training for seniors was extremely effective, and the seniors were liberated by, and appreciative for, their newly acquired self-defense capabilities.

“I have always had a curiosity for learning, and a willingness to learn on my own ... and not relying on others to get me there,” Kern said. “I have a strong desire for self-improvement, and being the best I can be at whatever I do.”

Kern fearlessly faced down every challenge and dutifully utilized his many skill sets to advance the goals and objectives of the U.S. Army. In that line of duty, however, and due to no fault of his own, Kern suffered a mishap in 1985 that has plagued him for 28 years and drastically impacts his quality of life today.

“The Pershing II missiles had a sensor that seeks out and processes information, and this device radiated large amounts of radio frequency radiation. On one occasion, during preparation for the Combat Alert Site, and during a pre-test, the RF piece was not functioning properly,” Kern explained. “I inspected the connections and returned to discover that someone had reactivated the system while I was working on it. As a result, I suffered radiation frequency exposure, or RFE. I began seeing spots the next day, which prompted me to visit an eye doctor.”

The doctor’s diagnosis was deflating, to say the least. The spots Kern saw were actually the result of pigmentation coming off of his eyes. The condition is lumped into a vague category referred to in medical circles as retinitis pigmentosa.

At the age of 32, as a direct result of the mishap at the Combat Alert Site in Germany, Kern had eyesight typical of an 80-year-old. The condition has long been viewed as irreversible, and the decline in Kern’s eyesight has slowly continued over time. He has been legally blind for the last five years, and is unable legally to operate a motor vehicle.

Predictably, Kern continually researches his condition, and potential cures for his condition, and has done so since receiving his doctor’s dismal prognosis in 1985. But for almost three decades, his diligent research led to nothing but dead ends and disappointment. Kern even applied to be a test patient for a number of experimental procedures, but was not selected.

Most recently, however, thanks to the marvels of modern science, Kern discovered that there might finally be an approved procedure with the potential to improve his failing vision.

“Very recently, the Federal Drug Administration approved stem cell treatment for my condition,” Kern said. “The only doctor I know of who performs the surgery I need is in Connecticut. The surgery is in fact available, but it is a little expensive at $19,600.”

Kern has posted a GoFundMe account and has received about $1,200 thus far, for which he says he is extremely grateful.

“I had to bite my lip a little to ask for help,” Kern admitted. “But I do need vision, or at least correctable vision. Maybe twenty thousand people could give a dollar apiece.

“That would be a great way to get it done.”

Anyone who wishes to contribute toward Kern’s surgery can do so at www.gofundme.com/ct7mv-restore-my-vision.

Interestingly, all Park County residents stand to potentially benefit from Kern’s improved visual health, as he is also president of the Park County Radio Club and Amateur Radio Emergency Services coordinator for Park County.

Kern is on a short list when it comes to his knowledge of ham radios, and he would be in charge of communications via ham radio if traditional forms of communications failed throughout the county for any reason.

People trained in ham radio etiquette and proper radio laws and procedures can use ham radios to talk across town, around the globe, or even into space. Kern not only possesses a keen understanding of how best to utilize ham radios, but also harbors a childlike fascination for radio signals and how they function.

Evidence of that can be found in his at-home office, where he displays a fascinating collection of radio communication devices that tell the story of how radios have evolved over time. Some are antiques, some are more modern, and most all of them are fully functional.

“One time I called out on my radio when conditions were perfect and the signal went around earth and back to me in about four seconds,” Kern said. “I was like, what the heck is happening here. That can happen when conditions are ideal.

Outside his home at more than 9,000 feet above sea level, Kern has erected a maze of five antennas. One reaches 40 feet skyward, while another expands horizontally over a considerable portion of the rocky landscape. Each antenna is carefully placed and meticulously tailored to promote the best possible reception for his radio devices.

“Each antenna serves a different purpose,” Kern said. “This wider one is for international communications. For obvious reasons, this is a really effective location for antenas like these,” Kern said.

Kern passionately enjoys sharing knowledge with others, and that passion has a contagious quality. When he became president of the Park County Radio Club, for example, it was comprised of 19 members. Five years later the club boasts 56 members.

In April, Kern’s desire to share his knowledge paved the way for a memorable event at which students throughout Park County got the opportunity to speak to astronauts in space via ham radios. The event, which filled the South Park High School gymnasium, allowed students to ask questions to astronaut Tyler N. Hague as he and five international crewmembers traveled around the earth at 17,500 miles per hour aboard the International Space Station.

Smiling from ear to ear, as he often does, Kern skillfully made and maintained radio contact with Astronaut Hague during about a 12-minute window before the spacecraft raced out of reach to the other side of the earth.

Students eagerly waited with their prepared questions in hand, and each of them got through the line at least once during the allotted time. While maintaining radio signal, managing the line of kids and their questions, and keeping a crowded gym full of spectators thoroughly engaged, Kern moderated the conversation between Hague and the star-struck students.

Some school administrators, immediately following the April event, told Kern they had never seen the students so excited about learning. Some Park County high school students were even compelled to change career paths after being inspired by the event.

Kern also recently co-taught a science, technology, engineering, arts and math class, where more than 200 students took part in radio and space learning adventures.

“The space station event was a great time,” Kern said. “It’s always fun to share the experience and excitement of learning and discovery with people both young and old, and they were incredibly knowledgeable and engaged. Those kids walked me to the car with questions after it was over. I loved it. I tell them that learning about ham radio and spacecraft is not a one-time experience, but that it is a lifetime experience. There is always more to learn.”

Kern expounded on his own experiences, and how his quest to regain his vision has actually impacted him in positive ways.

“From my background as a soldier, security specialist, and a forensic investigator, I have always been cautious, and trusted very few,” Kern said. “Now, being visually impaired and serving the community in a volunteer capacity, I have found that there are actually many nice folks out there who have gone out of their way to assist me. That has sort of restored my faith in people.”

Kern added that he works alongside many great fellow ham operators, as well as emergency services personnel, and he thanks them for allowing him to contribute and be a part of such great organizations.

“After all, it is teamwork and a collaborative spirit that makes great things happen,” Kern said.

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