Geospatial is Vital: An Army Officer’s Perspective on the Value of GIS

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I joined the US Army in 2009, I have served in the capacity of Officer and Enlisted. I initially started my career as an enlisted combat engineer and through hard work and dedication, commissioned as an officer in 2013. As an engineer officer, I am expected to a understand how things work. From understanding the design of a building on a jobsite, how to properly install drainage on base camp, or how to effectively emplace obstacles in order to shape the battlefield.  In a sense we are the jack-of-all-trades, but masters of none, or as we are known to be called, the Army’s utility knife. I have served in various mission types around the world throughout my career. I have been a platoon leader on jobsites in Iraq and Kuwait, I have performed base camp rehabilitation and installed culverts to facilitate drainage on major roadways. I have observed soldiers in training and created multi-week training plans to ensure Soldiers are gainfully employed throughout the duration of an exercise. Stay with me…I promise I will get to my point.

I was recently promoted to Captain and was required to attend school, or what we call Professional Military Education (PME) at Fort Leonard Wood, MO. After graduation from the Captain’s Career Course, I opted to participate in a master’s program to pursue a degree in Geological Engineering. The reason for this article is because I am required to submit one article for publication during this program. Oh jeez. So, I sat and struggled to put words to paper for quite a while; how could I add any value to the discourse about a subject I really do not know anything about? This answer to this question eluded me for quite some time…weeks actually, and now I am here in a procrastination-induced panic trying to figure out what to write about. But I got it now, I can safely say it hit me as I am writing this article, so bear with me as I pull this one out. 

As I dig deep, I was able to connect all my years of military experience to one commonality. I have heavily relied on geospatial data and products in every mission I have conducted. I cannot imagine performing a mission without imagery of my objective or an analysis of the terrain I will be constructing structures on. As a leader, I also cannot imagine requiring my soldiers to perform a mission without this geospatial information or data either. It is an understatement to say that geospatial information and data has played a vital role in the success of the not only he United States military, but also impacting our civilian lives immensely, as well. The services we receive, such as parcel delivery or basic amenities, such as water distribution or waste disposal heavily rely on the information provided to them by geospatial data sources to align their efforts in time and space to ensure adequate delivery of services. And this only scratches the surface of what geospatial data provides us. Farmers can utilize geospatial data to improve the yields of their crops by understanding the composition of the land surrounding them, car dealerships use demographic data provided by geospatial data sources to understand their customer, tax collectors use data sources to provide city, state, and federal officials with tax information of its citizens. Any type of service provided in the United States, I believe, has more than likely been affected by geospatial information in some form.   

So, with that, I realized how under appreciated this field work seems to go. This information I so heavily rely on for in so many areas of our life, I think we take it for granted. Something I realize now, is that success of my missions has been attributed to the fact that I have always been able to find adequate geospatial data pertaining to what I needed to accomplish. I also realize that this information does not just exist or appear out of thin air when I demand it. It is the product of countless hours; I imagine hundreds of thousands of hours, if not millions by now, of work by dedicated individuals. With that being said, I will wrap this up and I promise to not to get too sentimental. I want to share a bit of gratitude and say thank you to the men and women who have provided this information and data. It has saved lives, it has completed missions, it has delivered goods, and provided services, none of it possible without your efforts. So, with that being said, thank you! 

About the Author

Nick Severtson is a Captain with the US Army. Severtson is currently enrolled in the Masters in Geological Engineering Program at Missouri University of Science and Technology.

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