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Fort Bragg geospatial analysts map out mission for Soldiers in Haiti

Jan 29, 2010

By Michelle Butzgy/Paraglide

FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- Since a 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti Jan. 12, troops from the 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team have deployed to Port-au-Prince for rescue and recovery missions. Many other units at Fort Bragg, such as the geospatial analysts with the 100th Engineer Company, 20th Engineer Brigade, have helped the mission progress, each with their own special skills.

The unit, located at the Geospatial Readiness Center, provides maps of everything from towns, lines of communication and routes to soil and flood analysis, said Chief Warrant Officer Julio Toala, geospatial information technician for the company. "There are certain locations where we don't want to set our stuff where flooding might happen."

Many of the map products have been routes for patrol, so Soldiers can do recovery and engineers can do clean up assessments, added Toala.

The geospatial analysts can have maps ready to print or e-mail with a quick turnaround.

"We've worked nonstop since everything kicked off," said Toala, adding that each map is made with the average user in mind. "We make them as user-friendly as possible."

The 100th Eng. Co. relies on information from United States Geological Survey, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency and other sources, said Toala.

One of the challenges faced by analysts is that earthquakes are so destructive, and valid imagery may change from minute to minute.

"We're continuously downloading imagery and vector graphics," said Staff Sgt. Mark Bauman, geospatial sergeant in charge of production. "Everything is changing. Everyone is still continuing to update their stuff, so as they update, we're downloading and we're getting everything. It is still a process."

Toala is taking a six-man team to Haiti to assist the 20th Engineer Brigade with recovery efforts such as clean up and constructing buildings.

The team will deploy with a plotter, two computer systems, one laptop, software, paper and a humvee with its own power supply.

"We can get up and move wherever we need," said Toala. "There's not a lot of places you can get power so it comes with everything, tents, systems, anything you need."

Pvt. Prisca Matsinkou, a geospatial specialist from the 100th Eng. Co., volunteered for the deployment.

"(Hatians) speak a language similar to mine, Creole. I speak French," said the Cameroon, West Africa native. "With that I believe it can come in handy - the fact that I know the language and somewhat understand their language as well."

Geospatial analysts have a minimum training time of 26 weeks but continuously learn new software and techniques.

"I've been here three years, and I'm still learning new stuff all the time. There's so much to learn, it's a non-stop learning process," said Bauman.

In the past, the 100th Eng. Co. has supported other disasters such as Hurricane Katrina as well as missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, for this team, it is the first time they've created maps for a disaster recovery mission.

"There are some things we have to worry about, but on the other hand, it's easier to work with. Most of the information we are working with (for Haiti) is unclassified so it's easier to distribute stuff; it's easier to get data for; it's easier to plan and organize everything," said Bauman.

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