Army

Happy Belated Veterans Day: GIs and GPS

By Joe Summerlin

A few years ago, I found myself trekking along Town Branch Creek in Bolivar, Missouri noting areas that were impaired, taking photos, and storing waypoints on my smartphone. I mused at how easy it was to load information and tell a story about this little watershed from a device that fit firmly in the palm of my hand. Then it dawned on me. Just fifteen years earlier, I had witnessed the birth of handheld GPS devices in the U.S. Army. I then thought, “I am getting old. Maybe some of the younger generation would like to know about the predecessor to devices they take for granted today.” This blog will discuss the capabilities of handheld GPS devices in the early 1990’s, specifically the Precision Lightweight GPS Receiver (PLGR.)

The PLGR or “plugger” was one of the first mass produced handheld GPS devices used by conventional forces in the U.S. Army. It saw its first real combat test in 1991 during the Gulf War. The concept was simple: use existing military and secure government satellites to orient a soldier on the battlefield. At the time there were 24 satellites in orbit and this puppy needed three for accurate lat/long data or four for lat/long plus elevation data.

Many of the negative characteristics of the design of this beast were made by engineers to ensure longevity and meet the requirements set by U.S. Army leaders. Note the lack of a full color display. This was designed on purpose using liquid crystal displays to ensure an ambient light source would not give away the positions of soldiers on the field. This also made it incredibly difficult to read where you were. The display was also compatible with night vision goggles. Unfortunately, I always peeked under my goggles and pushed the “light” button or used a red-filtered lens and shined it on the display.

The PLGR was bulky, boxy and not a product to sell to the masses. The buttons were clunky and there were only twelve. In order to store a waypoint you had to arrow through a bunch of poorly written menus. Sometimes when you wanted to store a waypoint, you would find yourself scrolling through a menu for 10 minutes. When you did actually store a waypoint, you would have to clunk your way back to the main menu by using a series of guesses, some luck, and maybe some sort of magic ritual. My secret was to hit the power button and wait for the 7 minute reboot.

I haven’t even touched on the size of this monster. Hand held – yes, only if you had Shaquille O’Neal-sized hands. The PLGR weighed a mere 2.75 pounds or about the equivalent of one canteen of water.

The PLGR was large for two reasons. First, micro technology was not as advanced, and second, soldiers lose small items. It used 634 AA batteries (maybe it just seemed like it did) and the battery life was about 2 hours. We learned to conserve battery power by turning it off and using the maps in our pockets. Only when we were lost (which never happened because we are the U.S. Army) did we pull it out to get our bearings.

Well, there you have it, the smartphone’s grandpappy. Next time you are in the car listening to that speak n’ spell voice demanding “TURN RIGHT,” just think to yourself, if it weren’t for the military and those veterans that tested and used this stuff I might have just made a left turn at Albuquerque.

 

Joe Summerlin is an Environmental Scientist in EPA Region 7 who works with the Agency’s NEPA program. He served in the U.S. Army for 14 years as a Cavalry Scout and a CH-47D Chinook  helicopter pilot.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Science Wednesday: Net Zero

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Leslie Gillespie-Marthaler

As someone who has spent time on military installations and has a great respect for the Army community, I’m thrilled to be helping the Army work toward “Net Zero” and sustainability.

I’ve lived on installations myself, and know firsthand that they are very much like small cities. With thousands of soldiers, civilians and families on base, they face many of the same challenges that cities around the country are facing, including increased energy costs, limited water resources and aging infrastructure. For example, last year Army installations used 41.8 billion gallons of potable water at a cost of $67.4 million.

To help combat these challenges, EPA and the Department of the Army have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to advance the Army’s Net Zero Initiative.

The goal of the Initiative is to ensure that Army installations only consume as much energy and water as they produce and minimize waste sent to landfills. EPA scientists and engineers will provide their skills and expertise to bring cutting-edge research assistance to the effort.

I was happy to be on hand this week when Paul Anastas, PhD, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Research and Development and Science Advisor at EPA, signed the MOU with the Honorable Katherine Hammack, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and the Environment.

“The Net Zero partnership was inspired by the Army’s ability to demonstrate true leadership in sustainability,” said Anastas. “The Army Installations are a test bed for new technologies that can solve more than one problem and can be replicated or scaled for communities throughout the nation.”

“We look forward to working with Army experts to develop tools and technologies to address some of our more pressing economic and environmental challenges,” he added.

“Through a whole-of-government approach to sustainability, the Army’s Net Zero Initiative increases the Army’s ability to be successful today and into the future. Our collaboration with EPA’s Office of Research and Development brings leading-edge research assistance together to advance both our institutions’ goals for increased resource efficiency and balanced resource use,” said Hammack.

Anastas emphasized how the Army’s and EPA’s goals are intricately interconnected: “You are protecting the nation. We are helping make the nation worth protecting,” he said.

I feel it’s both a privilege and an honor to help incredible Army communities and their neighbors achieve “Net Zero.”

About the author: A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Leslie Gillespie-Marthaler, is currently a senior advisor in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.