Celebrating Armed Forces Day: 5 Military Contributions to Geography
Armed Forces Day will be celebrated this Saturday, May 16th. The day was created after the Second World War in 1950 to honor Americans serving in the military. Armed Forces Day celebrates the work by those in all branches of the military, including the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Coast Guard. U.S. National Guard and U.S. Reserve Units. Today, the day is observed across the country with some states holding parades, receptions, and air shows to mark the event.
Throughout history, the military has played a fundamental role in the development of geography and geographical thinking. The various branches of the military have all contributed to the development of knowledge and understanding of our earth in a variety of ways.
In honor of Armed Forces Day, take a look at some of the great contributions militaries from around the world have made, and continue to make, to geography and understanding our physical and human world.
Preservation and Restoration
Militaries around the world have a long history of being engaged with the environment in different ways and are commonly first responders to both man-made and natural disasters and help in the rebuilding process.
- US Army Corps of Engineers: Rebuilding after Katrina and Sandy
The U.S Army Corps of Engineers played a major role in relief after one of the worst hurricanes to hit the United States in its history, Hurricane Katrina. Not only did it provide humanitarian relief to so many that were affected along with the National Guard, but they have played an integral role in helping rebuild and protect New Orleans from future storms. The US Army Corps of Engineers established Task Force Guardian immediately after Hurricane Katrina hit the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts. Task Force Guardian’s main mission was to repair and restore the Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System (HSDRRS) to pre-Katrina conditions, a feat accomplished by the beginning of the 2006 hurricane season. Since then, with federal funding from Congress, Corps is on track to complete construction of the HSDRRS. What protected the City of Stamford, Connecticut during the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in 2010 was The Army Corps of Engineers two-mile-long barrier system, a project completed in 1969 which to their estimates helped prevent about $25 million in damage to businesses and homes.
- Protecting endangered environments
Department of Defense policies have been implemented to protect U.S. and international coral reef systems. The U.S. Navy, representing the a section of the Department of Defense, is one of twelve federal agencies on the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force. The task force leads, coordinates, and strengthens federal actions to better preserve and protect coral reef ecosystems. The U.S. currently has jurisdiction over 17,000 square kilometers of coral reef ecosystems, most of which are found in the western Pacific and off the coasts of Florida and Puerto Rico. The programs are operated in American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Hawaii, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Read their Coral Reef Implementation Plan: http://www.denix.osd.mil/nr/upload/dodbk5.pdf
- Protecting endangered wildlife
Along with the increasing commonality of military trained non-profit conservation agencies, the military itself in many countries protects the world’s most endangered animals from poaching. Countries like Chad, the Central African Republic, and Nepal are some of the many countries around the world investing soldiers and technology from their militaries to protect these endangered invaluable creatures, such as elephants and species of Rhinoceros, to our world ecosystem.
Submarines were first used during World War One and are now widely featured in many large navies. The development of submarine technology sparked a new generation of research submarines. For example, submarines have enabled us to gather more knowledge of areas previously unfathomable, such as information about the Mariana Trench which is seven miles below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. In the last 60 years, many research submarines have been constructed for scientific and archaeological purposes, expanding the role of the equipment and giving scientists and geographers a greater opportunity to further understand our planet.
- Satellite imaging and surveillance technology
Several satellites and optical surveillance and observation systems have been developed by militaries around the globe. A great example includes Skynet, developed by the British Ministry of Defence. Although principally a military system, Skynet is also being used to aid in environmental monitoring. For example, Skynet provides several hours of coverage over the South Pole each day, generating extra data and imagery over the region in which British and American Antarctic research operations can use.
- Computing Systems
The complex histories of computer science and computer engineering were shaped, in the first decades of digital computing, almost entirely by military funding. Mathematical cryptography, meteorology, and rocket science were also central to the war effort, with military-funded wartime advances having a significant long-term effect on each discipline. Military leaders came to view continued advances in technology as the critical element for success in future wars, and thus computer engineering developed considerably and has evolved into a powerful tool for citizens and researchers alike.
- Geosciences and Astrophysics
The history of earth science and the history of astrophysics were also closely tied to military purposes and funding throughout the Cold War. American geodesy, oceanography, and seismology grew from small sub-disciplines in into full-fledged independent disciplines. For several decades, virtually all funding in these fields came from the Department of Defense. A central goal that tied these disciplines together was the figure of the Earth, the model of the earth’s geography and gravitation that was essential for accurate ballistic missiles.
The effort to visualize and understand our surroundings and our planet is an ancient human tradition. The military has been an institution that has produced a wealth of our map making technologies, and maps that we have referenced in the most important of times, during disasters, during strategic developments in peace and war, and in ways we use in everyday life.
- The Army Map Service of the US Army Corps of Engineers was the premier map making agency of the US Department of Defence from 1941-1968. The major task of the Army Map Service (AMS) was the compilation, publication and distribution of military topographic maps and related products required by the Armed Forces of the United States. The AMS was also involved in the preparation of extraterrestrial maps of satellite and planetary bodies; the preparation of national intelligence studies; the establishment of world geodetic control networks by both satellite and conventional triangulation methods; and the logistic military planning of Corps of Engineer items. Another major responsibility of the AMS is to maintain the largest geodetic and topographic data libraries for the Department of Defence.
- In 1945 the American map service concluded a contract with the American Geographical Society for the two northern sheets of the Map of the Americas, 1:5,000,000, covering the S., Canada, Alaska and Greenland. These maps were essential in understanding much of North America. In this sense, the military has provided funding to support non-profit research and education.
The Military, using the combination of federal funding and innovative technology, is in many cases a powerhouse for geographical research. It has already been mentioned that the military is a major producer of a variety of maps, but this is only one type of research. The United States alone produces hundreds of reports each year within their different military divisions, be it the Navy, NASA, the Army Corps of Engineers, on issues such as climate change, biodiversity, and other environmental phenomena and anomalies.
- Climate Change
The U.S Military has voiced its concern about global climate change, and the Pentagon has labelled it a priority national security issue. As a result, there has been an extensive amount of research coming out of U.S military agencies on climate change, including the Pentagon’s “2014 Climate Change Roadmap” which reports on sea level rise, increasing frequency of natural disasters, and food and water shortages. The Military also works internationally on climate change issues; former U.S Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel stated in 2014 that “It’s necessary to work with regional partners to address the risks posed by climate change.” The U.S. military has completed a joint assessment with officials from Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, and Trinidad and Tobago on the implications.
- Biofuel Research
The Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is researching the next phase of biofuel research. They’re working with General Atomics and Logos Technologies to work on developing biofuels from algae and cellulose. So far, they’ve made progress. They are aiming to develop a means of mass production and have already been successful in making algae systems, ponds, fermented municipal solid waste, and alcohol into a gasoline equivalent.
- Solar Power
DARPA is developing a solar powered sensor in their Integrated Sensor is Structure (ISIS) program. It’s a stratospheric airship that will conduct persistent wide area surveillance, tracking, and engagement of air and ground. It’s compressing antennae and high-density components into a single airship. A floating radar system could change the way that people perceive their world and weather.
- Ocean Wave Energy Harvesting
DARPA is carrying out a Renewable At-Sea Power program, developing the capability to harvest and store energy from ocean waves. This science is crucial for the success of underwater drones. The ability to extract power from the natural forces of their surroundings could enable Automated Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) to run for significantly longer than they can today. DARPA is specifically interested in establishing re-charging stations for AUVs using this tech.
Wartime experiences encouraged huge scientific research and development in many fields, including communications electronics. Advances were made in the communication capacity of wire and radio relay systems and in improved electronic aids for navigation. Measures to provide more comprehensive and more reliable communication and electronic equipment continued to be stressed in the armies, navies, and air forces of the major powers. These advances helped to break down geographical boundaries, and increase the connectivity of people and places around the globe.
- Telephone and Radio
The Signal Corps’ grandest achievement was the establishment of a massive wire communications system that ran from the seacoast to the American battle zone in France. The system consisted of thousands of miles of administrative and combat lines. Multiplex printing telegraph equipment linked Tours, Chaumont, Paris, and London. This huge advancement facilitated by the Signal Corps broke down geographical barriers, connecting places and people in different places around the world.
The Army Signal Corps also introduced the first portable wireless sets into the field in 1906, and began experimenting with radio telephony (voice radio) the following year. In 1914, it tested a radio set mounted in an automobile. Parallel efforts by the navy during this period included in‐house experimentation and support of the commercial development of radio, radio waves becoming the foundation for huge geographical tools such as GPS.
DARPA does large amounts of research into Photonics, specifically fiber optics. They have implemented a program that looks into increasing internet speeds with the application of fiber optic cable technology as part of the core connecting hardware that makes up the physical “internet.” An increased internet speed will expedite communications of military brass to forces on the ground. The advancements in this communication will also be greatly beneficial to civilians, breaking down geographical barriers even quicker, and making the world even smaller.
- GPS (Global Positioning System)
The original GPS system began as a project of the U.S. military. By 1994, 24 GPS satellites were orbiting Earth providing accurate locations of objects, events and weather. For example, scientists are using GPS to quickly determine the size of earthquakes and facilitate appropriate responses, as well as predicting and preparing for Tsunami events.
Today, an accurate signal is free and available to anyone with a GPS receiver, giving both people and geographers the exact location and direction to an exact position on earth.
Above are just a few examples of how militaries have contributed greatly to our geographical knowledge and understanding. Militaries were and continue to be innovative, knowledge building and crucial in the field of geography . These major geographical contributions that have been made throughout history should be celebrated alongside the additional honorable service work carried out by men and women in the Armed Forces every day.
Sophie Collings & Selene Lawrence of the American Geographical Society (05/15/15).