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Feature Stories

NEWS | Jan. 24, 2020

Coalition partners navigate map fundamentals

By Story by Sgt. 1st Class SHAIYLA HAKEEM Area Support Group - Jordan

Cartography, the science or practice of drawing and reading maps, can be dated back to the ancient ages of Before Christ (B.C.) within the Julian and Gregorian calendars. One of the oldest maps discovered is captured on a Babylonian clay tablet entitled Imago Mundi, estimated to have been originated around 2300 B.C. The ancient craft of reading maps has naturally evolved with human advancement, but its foundations have not been lost, it is still very relevant within military operations.

The Military Engagement Team-Jordan (MET-J), with 158th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade (MEB), Arizona Army National Guard (AZANG) explored this ancient technique, with modernized methods, through a Map Reading Subject Matter Expert Exchange (SMEE) with Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army (JAF) and their Quick Reaction Force Female Engagement Team Soldiers at a base outside of Amman, Jordan Jan. 13, 2020.

Despite technological advances, such as global positioning Systems (GPSs) and satellite-based systems similar to Google Maps, basic paper map reading skills are still important within our current era, the Information Age. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the Information Age as, “The modern age regarded as a time in which information has become a commodity that is quickly and widely disseminated and easily available especially through the use of computer technology.”
Technology adds a level of comfort and convenience to navigating, but as stated by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Elvis Sierra, with MET-J, 158 MEB, AZNG, a downside of relying solely on technology is its constant dependence on some sort of power source. Sierra, who served as one of the subject matter experts for the exchange, said it is imperative to have a solid knowledge base; building from an elemental understanding that leads into more advanced techniques.

“You have to start with a foundation,” he explained, “If the foundation is set strong, the rest will derive from the foundation.”

Military maps have multifunctioning purposes, including giving a Soldier the ability to navigate from one point to another utilizing grid coordinates, topographic symbols and terrain features.

The SMEE centralized on understanding and interpreting geographic information displayed on a Military Grid Reference System Map. This included identifying the five major and three minor terrain features, which are an essential in deciding the most effective routes for tactical troop movement, supply routes, rallying points and overall analyzation for missions.

“Light discipline, noise discipline, even litter discipline are important factors of map reading,” explained Sierra, “As you get further into the items needed to safely and securely complete said tasks.”

The exchange used Military Grid Reference System (MGRS) maps to examine terrain, plot points and analyze pattern of life using a map reading practical exercise. The JAF usually use Universal Traverse Mercator Maps, but the exchange focused on the similarities between the two systems.

Sometimes experience can be the best teacher in life. In a past deployment to Iraq, Sierra had to often rely on his map reading skills, which was not always for finding his way, but for relaying information so he could be located and to identify potentially hazardous areas. This was accomplished through resection, a method used to determine the grid coordinates of an unknown location by using well-defined locations or structures.

“When the IEDs [improvised explosive devices] began to pop off, we needed to know where we were at to relay to higher and also to mark off the area,” said Sierra.
Practical exercises during the exchange included determining straight line and curved line distances, resection, determining routes of travel, plotting points using six to eight-digit grid coordinates and practicing azimuth conversion formulas.

MET-J facilitates and conducts military-to-military engagements with regional partners within U.S. Army Central in order to build military partner capability and capacity, enhance interoperability and build relationships.

“Today’s militaries are moving forward to train, assist and advise to build strong partnerships,” explained Sierra, “Exchanges like these help foster realistic relationships and strengthen each other’s confidence while working to overcome cultural challenges, advancing our mission mindset and protecting one another.”

Realistic coalition relationships mean that everyone may not speak the same language. Sierra said English was his second language, so he understood the significance of pausing while speaking to allow translations to sink in. Despite apparent language barriers, the SMEE was a complete success through the help of linguists assigned to both groups and Soldiers who spoke both Arabic and English.

The teams [U.S. and Jordan] worked together very well and completed the exchange well, which helps both militaries obtain a solid grasp of the joint operations environment,” said Sierra.

The U.S. military has a long-standing relationship with Jordan to support our mutual objectives by providing military assistance to the JAF consistent with our national interests. Our people and governments have a historic, unbreakable, strategic relationship that spans decades and different administrations. Jordan is not only one of the United States’ closest allies in the region, but in the world as a whole. This is not going to change.