WIGGINS: When Canadian lives are at stake in one of the most rugged regions on earth, you’d better know the lay of the land – out here, the last thing you want to do is get lost.
ALEXANDER: We are experts who plot the battle space for Canada’s commanders and fighting forces – the masters of the Terrain called Geomatics Technicians.
I’m Warrant Officer Mike Wiggins originally from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. I’m a Geomatics Technician currently employed at National Defence Headquarters.
And I’m Private Brandy Alexander from Kamloops, British Columbia. I’m a Geomatics Technician. I’m currently training at Algonquin College.
IN THE CANADIAN FORCES
WIGGINS: Geomatics Technicians are members of the Military Engineering Branch whose task is to capture, store, process, disseminate and manage geospatial information. We use high tech tools ranging from advanced GIS software to satellite imagery to help our soldiers, sailors and air crews find their way.
ALEXANDER: When soldiers head out on a mission, they don’t just pick up a rifle and start walking. It takes knowledge and information to succeed in the modern battle space – and that’s where we come in.
WIGGINS: Our equipment and capabilities generate the most accurate geospatial renderings available anywhere.
The basis of mapmaking is survey and photogrammetry. So what we do is we deploy soldiers to the field where they survey points on the ground. Those points are then correlated to photos taken from an aircraft. We tie them together to create a very accurate photomap. That photomap is then used to make the maps that we as soldiers use in the field.
Geo Techs are primarily employed at the Mapping and Charting Establishment in Ottawa; however, we are embedded in every major headquarters across Canada. You get to work with the Army, the Navy and the Air Force in all phases of operations.
ALEXANDER: We are the eyes of the commanders before they ever see the battle space. We can give them a 3-D elevation model that shows every hill, every stream and every building and road.
WIGGINS: I bring a new set of eyes. I’m bringing information that commanders don’t necessarily have at the top of their head or at the tip of their fingers. When a sniper commander comes in and he needs to go on a mission in one hour, the Geo Tech can give him the quick and dirty device, a mapping product and have him out the door in time to deploy on his mission.
ALEXANDER: It’s a great way to get outdoors, serve Canada and learn a trade with real value outside the Forces as well.
You don’t master a trade this complex in just a few days. Becoming a Geomatics Technician means more than a year of classroom and on-the-job training. You’ll need top-notch computer skills, great visual awareness and a passion for detail.
WIGGINS: Like every new member of the Forces, you’ll start with your basic military training. Then you’ll spend 20 months on the campus of Algonquin College in Ottawa, studying with the best instructors from the college and the Army’s School of Military Mapping.
ALEXANDER: We started off with the basic map fundamental course, how to read maps, how to use maps, interpret them and then also a basic remote-sensing and satellite imagery course and also a physical geography course. And then from there, you move on to the next semester and you’re kicking it up a notch just learning a little bit more and getting more in-depth into different scenarios.
Two major benefits, I’d have to say is you’re gonna get a recognized college diploma from Algonquin College which is a great facility and second of all, you get paid to be here, so it’s definitely a nice aspect of the trade.
WIGGINS: When your classroom work is completed, you’ll start your military career as a Geomatics Technician – going on field surveys and exercises and working on real-world mapping and spatial analysis until you’re ready for your first deployment.
ALEXANDER: That could mean being embedded with a mechanized brigade group in Alberta, Quebec or Ontario or being assigned to the 1st Canadian Air Division Headquarters in Winnipeg or Maritime Headquarters in Halifax or Esquimalt.
Everywhere the Canadian Forces go, Geo Techs go with them.
WIGGINS: I’ve already been deployed twice to Bosnia and once to Afghanistan, plus four different postings in Canada and one of the most gratifying things is to see how much the commanders want the information that we can give them.
There’s no military operation, nothing done without a map. When a soldier needs to go from point A to point B, he uses a map. Or he uses a GPS device.
ALEXANDER: If you’re interested in maps, definitely if you’re interested in problem-solving and challenging yourself - it requires a lot of thought and patience, but it also is very rewarding.
WIGGINS: I enjoy most being somebody that can be relied upon, that works in a small team atmosphere, that brings a capability to the table.
ALEXANDER: For us, it’s a pretty demanding and exciting job.
IN THE CANADIAN FORCES