By Mrs. Martha Yoshida (Leonard Wood)October 8, 2015
If you knew someone in grade school who could identify all the states and their capitals on a map, and discuss the reason for their location, it's possible, they might currently be working or training as a geospatial engineer for the Army.
Since relocating plotters, workstations and personnel from Fort Belvoir, Virginia, to Fort Leonard Wood in 2012, the U.S. Army Engineer School has continued to train geospatial engineers.
"We came to Fort Leonard Wood to better integrate with the lieutenants in training and the people who make the decision of what the training should be," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Matt Goble, Technical Engineer Division, officer in charge. "Our primary mission is to instruct the Soldier. Secondary is to integrate with the rest of the engineer force."
Advanced Individual Training, where more than 200 geospatial engineer Soldiers, annually learn the technology used to do their craft, is conducted in an 18-week course.
"AIT Soldiers learn enough to get them back to the operational units to be effective. It's intense -- the more you know, the more you realize you don't know in this field. It's very software, very technology heavy. It's always evolving.
It is not a very static MOS (military occupational specialty)," Goble, a Texarkana, Texas, native, said.
The 15-week Advanced Leader Course, which enrolls up to 48 noncommissioned officers annually, takes a closer look at analyzing the terrain and what geospatial engineers need to look for, according to Staff Sgt. Thomas Clinger, ALC instructor.
"We work to ensure students know how to determine what information the commander needs to know about the terrain for a given mission," the Defiance, Ohio, native said.
They learn how to brief the commander with an analysis of everything from what to expect the first time in country, to identifying lakes and valleys, to mission-specific information, such as whether a team can see the enemy from the top of a hill, Clinger added.
"As a geospatial engineer, our bread and butter is being the experts of that analysis and that foundation," he said.
Staff Sgt. Nicolas Martines, of Marysville, California, who is currently attending Clinger's ALC class, agreed.
"This field is all about answering questions. You get posed a question and you essentially ask the question to the data, and the data comes back and you get the answer. Sometimes it's not the answer people want, but either way, it's problem solving, and that's what I en- joy about it the most."
Martines plans to submit his packet for Warrant Officer Candidate School, and upon successful completion, go on to complete geospatial engineer technician intermediate level education at Fort Leonard Wood.
Sgt. Andrew Jolman, AIT instructor/writer, said, "We're one of the very few MOSs that a junior Soldier absolutely has influence over what an en- tire unit does -- how they accomplish their mission and whether it's successful or unsuccessful. We can help save lives. But if we make mistakes, we have to be aware that we could be the reason. Our mistakes can be magnified."
Jolman, a Muskegon, Michigan, native, said that people who are unfamiliar with the field often gravitate to an analogy of geospatial engineers as map makers, though geospatial engineers are responsible for much more than just generating maps.
"We've learned that if a map is the first picture, then yes, I will give you a map," Jolman explained. "However, we're going to make maps that are going to blow your mind. We're going to have so much analysis and information that you never thought you could pull from a picture."
Clinger added, "Geography is the study of how things are related to one another, near or far. Everything is tied in somehow. We take all the factors and analyze it and see if we can make the connection."
Those interested in exploring geo- spatial engineering can join the Army or reclassify as a geospatial engineer, and in either case will need a security clearance and a general technical score of 110 or higher. After that, the person should possess certain skill sets.
"You have to really be on the cut- ting edge," said Master Sgt. Brian Burgan, Geospatial Engineer Course chief. "You've got to be passionate about it. It sometimes is a thankless job, because you might be hidden away somewhere, but really, you are only limited to your imagination."
"I've been on five brigade combat teams, four of them deployed, and each one is different," Burgan, a Lily, Kentucky, native, said. "I've been fortunate to where I haven't had to work outside of my MOS much, be- cause I fought to make sure we stayed relevant."
Goble said, "We don't do this in a vacuum. We integrate with the rest of the military intelligence community, the rest of the staff. It's not just us. We take knowledge from the other analysts to create these products."
In addition to interaction with peers and command units, Goble, who joined the Army as a combat engineer in 1998 and reclassified to geospatial engineering, said a degree, such as a geography degree, is not required, but it helps.
Anyone interested in this field must demonstrate attention to detail, Goble added.
Because of the diversity of the field, training does not begin and end at Fort Leonard Wood, and the future outlook for geospatial engineers is good, to include the civilian sector.
"Every city, county and municipality is starting to have some geospatial intelligence, or information, that they use to do everything from their utilities to their zoning, to their transportation, to disaster relief," Jolman said. "Even insurance agencies do flood analysis using geospatial information. It's really taken off."
"I want to explore the geospatial world out there, because there is so much and so many different uses," Jolman said.