Geographical Information Systems use on the MMR
by Dr. Tracy Hampton
Protecting turtles and optimizing military training may not seem to go hand
in hand. But officials at the Massachusetts Military Reservation -
known as the MMR - are trying to accomplish both. It's all part of
a digital mapping system that will soon be used at every base in the
Dave Cray looks out of place on the MMR - he doesn't sport
military fatigues and a rifle. Instead, he's in civilian clothes and
carrying a backpack, and jutting out of it is a long pole with a disc on top.
Cray's mission is to provide the most realistic training grounds for
National Guard soldiers while at the same time protecting the natural and
cultural resources found on the base's 15,000 acres of land.
Dave Cray: "This is a global positioning system, and it
talks to about twenty-eight satellites that orbit the globe. And we can
walk roads with it, and know those exact features on the face of the Earth.
On my back is a receiver, and an antenna is attached. That captures the
signal that goes down to my handheld unit. I'm going to take a point
Over the past few years, Cray's collected information and made
maps containing detailed information on the lay of the land at Camp
Edwards on the military base - information like where to find rare
turtles, sensitive wetlands, or ideal training grounds. He's now
moving on to oversee similar projects for every National Guard base in the
country. The goal is to use Geographical Information Systems - or
GIS - to create maps for troops while they train. Cray says it's
important these days because the military's under a lot of
environmental pressure to use their land properly.
Dave Cray: "There are many, many different laws and
regulations - you have natural resource goals, cultural things that
can't be used, wetlands that can't be used, and the GIS allows
you to pull every single one of those on an overlay and produce a map that
shows where training can go on and where training can't go
Those regulations are in place because bases house some of the best
wilderness in the country. Cray says the military often keeps land from
being over-developed, particularly in places like Cape Cod.
Dave Cray: "You have a base like Camp Edwards, and
slowly the population grows around it so you have people right on the
outside. So then you become a forested habitat vs. an urban habitat.
Some people say this is protecting forested area that would've
become strip malls or urban areas."
Environmentalists at The Nature Conservancy says GIS is a great tool for
conservation research, and they're glad the military is using it to
determine what areas should be off-limits to training. But do the
guidelines set down by Cray?s project to protect the environment get in
way of training? Lieutenant Jeremy Oliver is a training officer at the
base, and he says no, they actually benefit the troops.
Jeremy Oliver: "Because we can also tailor the training
more effectively for whatever task that organization is doing. If the infantry
want to go into thicker brush, with the GIS data, we're able to look at
that, contour it, pick areas that are more suitable for the types of missions
they want to conduct out here."
Lynda Wadsworth of the Environmental and Readiness Center at the
base says this project is an example of the military's attempts to take
care if its land.
Lynda Wadsworth: "Because the healthier the training
land, the more realistic the training. The more realistic the training, the
better these soldiers do in real world situations."
Lieutenant Oliver says GIS will also come in handy during those critical,
real world situations.
Lieutenant Oliver: "If you use it in a combat situation, you
could assign the particular data to a location on the map, like if
there's an unexploded ordinance or some sort of biological hazard,
you could put that in and bring that data up in real time so commanders in
the field can use that."
Environmental uses aside, the military primarily applies GIS towards
improving operations. On the battlefield, GIS helps troops decide where
to set up ambush sites and where to expect to find possible enemy
locations. GIS was used recently in both Bosnia and Afghanistan for just
Broadcast July 25,2003
Dr. Tracy Hampton reports for the Cape and Islands NPR stations.