Why GIS is a Valuable Asset to Army Training

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Throughout my career as an Army Engineer Officer, I have learned to appreciate the invaluable intelligence that geospatial data can provide towards completing a mission or construction project. From conducting route reconnaissance to providing high quality products for the creation of unit training plans, geospatial data is essential in executing a mission or job, regardless what kind of environment you are in. GIS are systems that allow a user to manipulate, capture, store, and analyze various data types to create high quality products for customers and organizations. GIS is accessible through multiple free platforms and websites. The version of GIS I have been training on is QGIS, which is a free GIS software program that can be downloaded on any available civilian computer. For this reason, this asset can be made available to just about anyone who has access to a computer. 

Prior to attending the Army’s Engineer Captains Career Course (ECCC) at Fort Leonard Wood Missouri and the Geological Engineering Master’s Program at Missouri University of Science and Technology, I had very little prior knowledge of what GIS was, or most importantly, what it can provide me in terms of data and spatial awareness. If I were aware of the GIS programs when I was a Platoon Leader, I could have benefitted greatly from the geospatial data that it would have provided me. GIS would have provided me an additional asset in the “toolbox” to plan, manage, and track the Platoons training. Luckily, I can now take the knowledge gained during my training on GIS and apply it to benefit my future unit’s training plan as an Engineer Captain staff officer and future Company Commander.

When it comes to the development and management of an Army unit’s training plan, GIS should be regarded as an essential asset. For instance, GIS can be used to develop high quality map products for use in training plan development and execution. As a Platoon Leader in an Engineer Construction Company, I could have used a GIS application such as QGIS to determine the proper training areas on the military installation that allow you to break ground with heavy construction equipment. The planner can request the proper dig site approvals for a given training area from Range Control and input the data into a GIS program. The resulting product is a digital and hard copy map you can provide to both your supervisors and subordinates. Due to environmental restrictions, not all locations within a training area are capable in supporting the use of heavy equipment dig assets such as dozers, graders, and scrapers. On a given training area, some areas may be approved for digging with certain equipment restrictions and some prohibit breaking ground at all. In this example, what GIS can bring to the table is the ability to determine the non-restricted land within the training area and superimpose it as layers on my training map on GIS. To go one step further, you can create layers that are colored coded which visualize what areas on a training ground allow digging with shovels, what areas allow tent stakes, what areas allow dozers to dig, and which areas are labeled with a “no-dig’ restriction. What I have now essentially created is a map product I can give to my subordinates on the ground that highlights the areas where they are authorized to break ground by location and equipment type. This product can also highlight grid coordinates of these locations for use with their GPS devices. Once dig requests are approved by Range Control, you can input them as digital files attached to the location on your GIS map. Additionally, a great feature is that you can share these layers with other Army leaders from other units. If those additional leaders want to do similar training in the same training area, they now have a map of the approved locations, and no longer must “reinvent the wheel”. 

The ability to share these layers with other organizations makes GIS an invaluable asset in training plan development. When managing training plans a Platoon Leader or a Company Commander can better enable their subordinate leaders to also create high quality products to use during construction projects and missions. Since GIS does not require a government computer, all leaders can download one of the programs and take advantage of what it has to offer. As an example, leaders at the Platoon, Company, and Battalion level can use the GIS program to make map products that can be handed down to subordinates during unit training. An additional impressive feature of the GIS program is how useful this program can be in tracking training as a training cycle progresses. Throughout a Units training cycle, they will use multiple training areas, live fire ranges, and training complexes throughout a post. What GIS can potentially bring to the planning table is allow a Battalion staff to track which training areas were used for what training at what time. The staff can insert additional images, notes, and other data to highlight the effectiveness of each individual training event. These training events can be separated as layers by training type. For instance, the staff can create a layer for live fire training events and another layer for non-live fire training events.  In addition, they can color code on the map which training areas or ranges were most and least effective in achieving the standard for training. 

Range Officers in Charge (OICs), project managers, and staff planners will also find GIS programs useful because they can insert pictures, images, and additional data sets into the GIS program to reference later. For instance, a Range OIC can fill out a range closure report by hand, snap a picture of it, and insert it into the data point on the map. Now anyone who has access to the layers on the GIS system can see the information for the range on that specific date. Leaders can input excel sheets as attribute data for the different training areas. In this case, the attribute data could be percent of firers who qualified by weapon system type. What this may enable units to do is create layers in the program that provide a visual representation of what training sites and rages were most effective. This data can be saved and shared with multiple people, allowing leaders to share the training information with fellow units and leaders. Overall, the wide range of data analysis and visual representations that these free GIS systems provide could be useful assets to an organizations management toolbox. 

About the Author

Michael Dunn is an Army Engineer Officer. He is currently stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri and is taking classes as part of the Army’s Professional Development Program (PDP). Dunn is currently enrolled in the Masters in Geological Engineering Program at Missouri University of Science and Technology.

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