Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Geospatial Specialists Put Troops on the Map

Pfc. Scott Brayan, a geospatial analyst assigned to the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, pulls a map off a plotter in his office at Contingency Operating Site Kalsu, Iraq, March 30. Since arriving to Iraq, Brayan and his section have produced 4,000 maps for the brigade.

Story by Spc. Ben Hutto

COS KALSU, Iraq -- The Soldiers of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, know exactly where they are in the world thanks to the hard work and dedication of the brigade's geospatial section.

The five-Soldier section works around-the-clock to keep up with Contingency Operating Site Kalsu's map needs.

"Our section provides real-time geospatial projects that allow the brigade to see anywhere on earth at any time," said Staff Sgt. Randall Williams, the non-commissioned officer in charge of the section. "More specifically, we provide terrain analysis to help enable reconstruction efforts in our area of operations."

Using overhead satellites, the group deciphers the cluttered topographical images and turns them into workable maps. Their job, however, is much more intricate than just producing images. They also interpret what they see on these images and pass that operational information on to the 3rd HBCT's leadership.

"We've put out about 4,000 maps and 200 special projects so far," said Williams, a native of Deer River, Minn. "The biggest accomplishment for our section was, within six weeks of arriving in country, finding four weapons caches. That's 3,500 rounds that were seized because we did our job."

To add to his challenge, Williams is also working on training three of his Soldiers, who recently graduated from Advanced Individual Training. Still, they are responding positively to the challenge of learning on the fly, according to Williams.

"They are learning very fast," Williams said. "The challenge for me is finding the proper balance of battlefield operations and training. It requires me to double-check the quality of all the maps we do, but they do a great job. They still have a lot to learn, but they are coming along nicely."

Pfc. Scott Brayan, one of the newer Soldiers, said the training they have received in country builds well on their previous training.

"The training we received at AIT was solid, but it didn't prepare us for our job out in the field," said Brayan, a native of Inglewood, Calif. "We learned the basics there, but what we do out here is on a different level. I've learned a lot just by watching Sergeant Williams work."

According to Brayan and Spc. Nick Palmer, a native of Rochester, N.Y., part of what makes their jobs so difficult is the complex nature of the tools they employ to read what is on the earth's surface and how it could affect the brigade.

"I learn new things every day," said Brayan. "This is not an easy job. We use lot of in-depth programs. Most days we barely tap into 10 percent of what our programs can do. They are so complex."

Keeping those systems running smoothly is just as important, said Palmer.

"There are so many intricate machines that we have to work with," said Spc. Nick Palmer, a native of Rochester, N.Y. "If a plotter doesn't work, we can't print maps. If the computer doesn't work, we can't make maps. We constantly have to maintain and service our equipment. The dust, the heat, puts wear and tear on them."

Despite the busy nature of their jobs and the lack of experience in the section, they have performed their jobs well.

During the March 7 Iraqi national elections, the section produced more than 300 maps in a two-week span without Williams there.

"I was on leave, but I'm very proud of how they stepped up and accomplished the mission," he said. "A lot of our Soldiers are still learning their jobs and to see them work at that high a level is encouraging."

"I work with a great team," Brayan said. "Everyone has a great personality. We are a tight-knit group."

Williams agrees with his Soldiers assessment, but has his own opinions on why they get along so well.

"The operation tempo doesn't allow us to murder one another," Williams said. "We are too busy."

As the 3rd HBCT's deployment prepares to finish its mission in Iraq, Williams knows that he and his Soldiers will have even more work to complete, but he is confident they will finish strong.

"The more they get trained, the easier the work will become," he said. "I'm very happy with the direction we are going in. We'll be OK."

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