Customer and partner spotlight | December 2009

Shaping tomorrow’s leaders: A legacy of geographic training at West Point

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., founded more than two centuries ago, has preserved its original mission to inspire cadets to become leaders with outstanding moral character.

Article featured in Geoworld magazine, October 2009, pages 24–27.

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., founded more than two centuries ago, has preserved its original mission — to inspire cadets to become leaders with outstanding moral character.

At West Point, an arts and sciences curriculum paired with real-world problem solving and ethics training is balanced by participation in team sports. Practical experience and an appreciation of the physical environment are considered equally important to intellectual growth.

West Point is located 50 miles north of New York City on a plateau high above the Hudson River. The campus is a natural training ground for students who elect to study GIS, which requires gathering, measuring and documenting features that characterize the physical environment as well as storing the information in databases for future reference.

Cartography, remote sensing, advanced remote sensing and GIS are taught in the junior year, followed by surveying, advanced GIS, military geospatial operations and photogrammetry in the senior year. Cadets use SOCET SET®, SOCET for ArcGIS® and ArcMap® products in the lab to learn photogrammetric workflows and geospatial processing as well as create maps, finished products and reports that are delivered to commanders in the field.

GIS and the Military

They gain firsthand experience on a variety of tasks, such as importing frame or satellite imagery into SOCET SET from numerous government and commercial sources, triangulation, terrain-model generation, orthorectification, and feature collection to meet precise standards. These software applications are used in the field to check for accuracy, create line-of-sight analyses to determine what a sniper can see, create terrain models to help navigate a local geography, and determine the direction a door swings — in or out — for greater situational awareness. Hands-on exercises, taught in the classroom, are invaluable.

GIS and the Military

Geospatial data have become an integral part of the operational landscape and establishing situational awareness. Military analysts engaged in disaster relief and recovery, humanitarian efforts, reconnaissance, battle-damage assessment, and surveillance missions require up-to-the-minute geospatial intelligence to be successful.

Increasingly, unanticipated events account for a growing number of military operations. Soldiers are called on to support a broad range of activities that require sharp mental and physical skills. In addition to conventional warfare, troops are asked to respond to natural disasters such as tsunamis, wildfires and hurricanes; assist in recovery efforts for hazardous accidents such as chemical leaks and petroleum spills; conduct border-surveillance activities; and patrol airports.

To prepare for a wide range of military maneuvers, observing and recording the operational environment are crucial in developing cadets into officers and leaders.

For more than 200 years, West Point has placed an emphasis on geographic studies. Core classes taught in the earliest days of the academy included landscape and mechanical drawing, topographic engineering, and surveying.

Today, similar studies provide the basic framework for building geospatial awareness. Read the complete article >>

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