The Army Engineer Officer and GIS

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 Kyle Merritt discusses the application and importance of GIS to U.S. Army engineer officers in this article.

The Disciplines of the Army Engineer Officer

U.S.Army Engineer officers fall under one military occupational specialty code (MOS code). This means that engineer officers do not specialize within the regiment, and must be prepared to lead any organization within the Army Engineer discipline spectrum. This spectrum includes 20 MOS codes.

 Combat engineering focuses on getting friendly forces through obstacles (e.g. breaching a minefield), constructing battlefield obstacles (e.g. emplacing a minefield), and building survivability positions (e.g. dig a fighting position). General engineering tasks are similar to the tasks associated with civilian construction projects.

 Geospatial engineering is the third and only Army engineering discipline that the other two disciplines fall completely inside of in the figure. Similar to planning any event or project outside of the Army there is a need for GIS in all facets of disciplines. That being said it may sound counterintuitive that engineer officers, who are supposed to be masters of the terrain, do not receive a lot of specialized training in the utilization of GIS. Within the engineer regiment, there are only two MOS codes that are dedicated to the geospatial discipline, 125D (geospatial warrant officer), and 12Y (enlisted geospatial engineer). 

Figure 1. The image is taken from FM 3-34 Engineer Operations. The interdependent disciplines of the U.S. Army Engineer Regiment.
Figure 1. The image is taken from FM 3-34 Engineer Operations. The interdependent disciplines of the U.S. Army Engineer Regiment.

The Disciplines of the Army Engineer Officer

            The art of war is painted on a canvas of geospatial products. Imagine moving thousands of Soldiers and equipment across hundreds of miles of diverse terrain against an enemy without geospatial products to guide the way. The task would be insurmountable. 

            The figure below provides the enabling capabilities of the Engineer Regiment related to the five war-fighting functions. Of the five capabilities listed, only one is represented as having a functional relationship to all five war-fighting functions. 

Figure 2. The image is taken from FM 3-34 Engineer Operations. This image represents how Army Engineer Capabilities support the five war-fighting functions that drive all combat operations.
Figure 2. The image is taken from FM 3-34 Engineer Operations. This image represents how Army Engineer Capabilities support the five war-fighting functions that drive all combat operations.

 When in any type of unit the job of an engineer officer will vary, but should always be counted on to analyze terrain based on all the war-fighting functions, generate/obtain useful maps, and disseminate the products to those who need it. Without the engineer officer taking an active role in GIS, a vacuum within shared understanding will collapse the operation.  


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Background as an Army Engineer Using GIS 

I currently have four years of experience as an Army Engineer Officer and have completed both the Engineer Basic Officer Leadership Course (EBOLC) and Engineer Captains Career Course (ECCC). These are the Engineer Branch qualification courses for new Lieutenants and Captains, respectively. I may have just sunk my teeth into my career as far as experience, but I have completed the only two engineer officer branch primary military education programs. 

My first assignment was spent conducting training with a combat engineering unit focused unit where I executed little to none of the other two Army engineer disciplines. My first training event I was picked to plan as a new Second Lieutenant was a rifle qualification range. Important for planning any event is the geospatial representation of the event. Below you can see my first operational attempt at producing a map.

Figure 3. Map of a small arms range on Fort Hood, Texas; Prepared by 2LT Merritt to brief the range plan to higher-ranking commanders. The base map is from the Fort Hood Range Catalog (A pamphlet that lists the ranges and their capabilities).
Figure 3. Map of a small arms range on Fort Hood, Texas; Prepared by 2LT Merritt to brief the range plan to higher-ranking commanders. The base map is from the Fort Hood Range Catalog (A pamphlet that lists the ranges and their capabilities).

            As you can see I may not have had the most competence in any GIS platform as I should have. I know today that the map lacks some basic components. There is no scale allowing the viewer to know how long the range is. The only georeferencing is the Military Grid Reference System (MGRS) coordinates for the helicopter landing zone (HLZ), and it is only accurate to 100 meters. It even lacks a title. The base map had all these things I foolishly cropped out those parts. 

 There were no negative repercussions as this was just an attachment to a lengthy and descriptive operations order I published. Although, this can serve as a good example of how much training and self-development had been allocated to my geospatial competency. With all the things Army Engineers have to learn there is just not much time or money in the budget to train engineer officers on GIS.  

This is not a criticism of the training I had received; it is simply an understanding that GIS (at the unclassified level) is something that can be easily self-taught. We all use GIS daily. If you are an Army officer or any form of project manager/staffer there is no excuse not to learn GIS. The amount of open-source/free instruction, programs, and data are out there. Get going.

References

ATP 3-34.80 GEOSPATIAL ENGINEERING. Washington, DC. Headquarters, Department of the Army. February 22, 2017.

FM 3-34 ENGINEER OPERATIONS. Washington, DC. Headquarters, Department of the Army. April 2, 2014.

Fort Hood Range Catalog. Fort Hood, Texas. May 1, 2012

U.S. Army Recruiting Command Website. https://recruiting.army.mil/

About the Author

Kyle Merritt is a graduate student enrolled in the Geological Engineering Master’s program at Missouri University of Science and¬†Technology. His undergraduate degree is a B.S. of Physics from Henderson State University. Captain Merritt is an Engineer Captain in the U.S. Army. He has 4 years’ time in service and is currently stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.¬†


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