This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri October 25th 2017. If you would like to see the current articles as they are published, you may subscribe to The Belle Banner by calling 573-859-3328, or email, or mail to The Belle Banner, PO Box 711, Belle, MO 65013. Subscription rates are; Maries, Osage, and Gasconade County = $23.55 per year, elsewhere in Missouri = $26.77, outside Missouri = $27.00, and foreign countries = $40.00.
With this Army job, you can take off the uniform one day and go to work the next, doing the same thing at an excellent salary. Army Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) 12Y Geospatial Engineers are trained at Fort Leonard Wood.
Geospatial technologies is a term used to describe the range of modern tools used in geographic mapping and analysis of the Earth and its population. In the Army, Geospatial Engineers are trained and become experts in GIS (geographic information systems). One of the primary tools is a computer program called ArcGIS, through which geographic information is collected from satellite imagery, drones, the National Geospatial Agency, the Army Geospatial Center, photos and videos from troops in the field, and many other sources to produce very detailed 2D and 3D geographic maps to help commanders visualize the battlefield. They also support civilian operations for disaster relief and Homeland Security.
Other Government Agencies that use people with that skill are the FBI, CIA, NSA, USGS, Department of Agriculture, Department of Transportation, the Bureau of Land Management, and state and larger city governments. Civilian jobs are in engineering companies, many dedicated to GIS engineering, oil and gas companies, utility companies, defense contractors, plus many others.
The Army Geospatial Center, at Army Headquarters in Washington, DC is a subordinate command to the US Army Corps of Engineers. In 2012 the Army moved geospatial training from Fort Belvoir, Virginia (Washington, DC) to Fort Leonard Wood. The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency is located in St Louis, and is presently purchasing and clearing 99 acres in North St Louis for a new 1.75 billion dollar facility. USGS in Rolla is one of two National Centers for Geospatial Information Science, and it is the National Geospatial Technical Operations Center.
The 18 week Advanced Individual Training (AIT) for MOS 12Y at Fort Leonard Wood doesn’t give you a degree in Geospatial Engineering, but it does give you the knowledge. High tech army schools, like this one, do not teach history, sociology, and all the other electives that are included in a college education. They teach the subject, pure, simple, and hardcore. The cadre of the Geospatial School says that entry-level students leave the AIT course with the same level of education and training that most two-year college students receive. They say that it is really at their permanent duty station where they surpass their civilian counterparts due to the extensive on-the-job training, especially if they are in a combat area.
The lowest paying job a person with this training and experience, but no degree, may qualify for is Mapping Technician, which starts at about $40,000 a year. They would be more likely to land a job as a GIS Specialist, which usually starts around $50,000. With a bachelor’s degree in geospatial engineering, the salaries about double. Historically colleges have taught GIS as part of Geology or Petroleum Engineering degrees, however there are now several universities offering pure Geospatial Engineering degrees, and several offer good online programs. Geospatial Engineers also get a course on how to present briefings, because part of their job is to relay what they learn to the commanders.
The Instructor Development Chief for the 12Y course said; “It’s like Google Earth on steroids. For instance, when we moved from Kuwait to Ramadi, one of the jobs of a geospatial analyst was to brief the commanding general on where they should and shouldn’t go, lines-of-sight, best routes, and different things that could affect the movement of that element. Our main job is to allow the commander, at whatever level, to be able to accurately visualize the battlefield, so that any decision made – – when it affects the terrain – – can maneuver and save lives.”
A former Combat Engineer Sergeant recently told me about preparing to deploy to Afghanistan, with a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He was to be on the Advanced Party, which is usually one plane load of soldiers who go first, find everything, and find where everyone is supposed to be when they get there, and get everything set up, so there is no confusion when the main body of troops arrive. He needed maps of the area where they were going, so he went to his Brigade S2 (Intelligence) shop. He ended up in the Geospatial Cell within the S2 shop. He said he was amazed at what he saw and what they could do. He described the room as having a table about 12 feet by 20 feet with 3D maps, four large screen monitors, and they were watching what a drone was seeing in Afghanistan at that minute. They printed a 3D foam map of his area, and printed several, very detailed, flat maps for him.
While deployed in combat areas, the Geospatial Cells work in large air conditioned vans, because their equipment can’t be exposed to the elements. Some have complained that some staff officers use them like “Kinkos” because they are the only section with large printers and plotters. And due to the sensitive nature of their work, they are always placed well within the most secure area of a compound.
After 10 weeks of Basic Combat Training at Fort Leonard Wood, future enlisted geospatial engineers move a few blocks to B Company, 169th Engineer Battalion for 12Y AIT. That is about as close to college life as an Army AIT is going to get. It is still the Army and it is still AIT, but after PT (Physical Training) for about an hour in the morning, it is primarily classroom and lab work. The 12Y course is conducted in Brown Hall, which is across the street from the barracks, in class sizes of around 15 students. Geospatial Engineer Sergeants also attend Advanced Leaders and Senior Leaders courses there. Chief Warrant Officer William Jones, a Geospatial Technician, and the Geospatial Skills Division Chief said that AIT students comprise the majority of the student population because, over the years, these soldiers have been leaving the Army after one enlistment for the lucrative salaries geospatial professionals command in the civilian and government sector.
Who can get this job? First, you have to be generally eligible to enlist, medically, physically (in good shape and not over weight), be a high school graduate, although you can start the process before you graduate. The ASVAB requirements are fairly high, scoring 95 in ST (skilled technical), which is comprised of the following tests; word knowledge, paragraph comprehension (English), general science, (earth science, biology, chemistry, physics), mechanical comprehension, and mathematics knowledge (algebra). And, you will need a Secret security clearance before you start AIT, and you will need a Top Secret clearance in your actual assignment. The paperwork for a Secret clearance can be completed before, but the investigation starts when you start basic training. A national agency check is conducted for Secret clearances, and that process usually takes about two months, so if a person has answered all the questions honestly and has nothing derogatory in their background, the clearance should be granted by the end of basic training. A complete background investigation is required for Top Secret clearances. That means everyone listed on the application will be interviewed, by field agents. Friends, neighbors, teachers, preacher, and others (not relatives) identified in the interview process. That takes about six months.
As of September 27th, 2017 the national average salary for a GIS Analyst I (entry level, with no degree) ranged from just over $42,000 to just under $50,000. One web site has 54 geospatial analyst jobs available in the St Louis area, most require a bachelor’s degree, but many do not, with the starting salary around $50,000. The salary range of those with degrees range from the 60’s to $110,000, depending on experience. There are many geospatial companies, in the St Louis area, that do contract work for the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. They all require a Top Secret security clearance.
The new facility, in St Louis, for the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency is expected to be completed in 2022 or 2023. I would assume that there will be many new government GIS jobs available there, at that time.

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