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NEWS | Sept. 17, 2020

Geospatial engineer fills key role in Kosovo deployment

By Capt. Nadine Wiley De Moura 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

PRISTINHA/PRISTINA, Kosovo – At only 5 years old, Spc. Caleb Kaufmann rode beside his father in his semitruck traveling the westernmost states reading complex maps and topography books. He never imagined his map consumption during his father's interstate deliveries would blossom into a lifelong love of topography, education and a career in the Army where his skills would prove essential to the Kosovo Force mission at the Camp Film City Map Depot.

Upon arrival to the 27th Rotation of Kosovo Force Regional-Command East mission, KFOR headquarters leadership at Camp Film City quickly identified a need for a Soldier with a Geographical Information System (GIS) background at the map depot to fill a geospatial specialist vacancy and provide continuity until the Austrian Army chief geospatial specialist arrived.

"We looked at who were the available people and figured out Spc. Kaufmann's background was going to be key to it," said Maj. Stephanie Noell, Kaufmann's supervisor and KFOR Regional Command East intelligence officer in charge.

"It was luck that we were able to place him there and have him participate in this and develop his job skills and network. Other individuals were geospatial and not topographic engineers and didn't have the ArcGIS background that he has."

Within weeks of arriving in Kosovo, Kaufmann, a Soldier organic to the 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Oregon Army National Guard, was assigned to the map depot at Kosovo Force Headquarters as continuity between the outgoing Czech Republic NATO partners and incoming Austrian NATO partners in a warehouse with over 100,000 maps.

"The most fulfilling part is that I am utilizing my college degrees," said Kaufmann, who earned a Bachelor of Science in geography with a minor in GIS from Portland State University in June during the deployment.

"The work in the map depot is pretty mission-essential because visualization gives commanders the ability to see something that they cannot physically see themselves in that instance."

In just the last month, Kaufmann has fulfilled 395 map orders – including 170 he edited or created.

While Kaufmann's topography capabilities were refined by both his military education as a 12Y, geospatial engineer and his certificate in GIS from Clackamas Community College, his father and uncle had an impact on feeding his passion for maps.

"As the miles went by, I had him follow his journeys using my Thomas Guide maps as well as many other styles," said Randall Priest, Kaufmann's father. "When he was 7 years old, he met his Uncle Joe, who at the time was deep in his career for the company Esri. Joe showed him his private globe-making business that included how they were made as well as the multiple details each map included."

In 2016, Kaufmann enlisted in the Oregon Army National Guard.

"He knew I had served in the U.S. Air Force when I was in my youth, so I was a little shocked at first when he had joined," said Priest. "It was a rational decision and I was proud of him. He then carefully mapped out his career while taking into account his new military job."

Kaufmann said he is fascinated by the stacking of layers in maps, starting with the base map, roads, cities, labels and gridlines.

"I've always looked at maps and wondered how the process went to create it and how they are able to get so much visible and understandable information in such a small place," said Kaufmann.

Col. Sebastian Heissl, the Austrian Army geographer who recently arrived to assume his role as chief geographer for the Kosovo Force NATO mission, echoed Kaufmann's passion for maps.

"I think when you're reading a book you have a lot of letters and in the picture, you see something special in one moment, but the map is telling a story – a very special story," said Heissl. "You can look at a map for hours and it will never be boring because there is so much information on a few centimeters of paper."

Heissl said Kaufmann is "very happy to be here and he is technically perfect. ... The Army put the right person in the right place."

Noell, who identified Kaufmann's potential for running the depot alone since April, nominated him with the hope that the opportunity would provide experience and broaden opportunities for future employment.

"Disaster management, emergency response – maps are a key piece to that," said Noell. "ArcGIS is supercritical during forest fires. Maps can help determine if there will be a break in terrain or if you need to send hand crews to dig a fire line. From an emergency management perspective, you need maps for historical flood plains, soil comp and reaction in earthquakes."

While there is a movement toward automation in the topographic field, Noell was confident in the KFOR geographers' talent.

"Intel you can automate as much as you want, but these two gentlemen bring a perspective to looking at a map that a computer could never hope to equal," said Noell.

Kaufmann dreams of being a cartographer and leading a geographic department in the private sector or with the forestry or national park service.

"As a cartographer I create and design my own style of maps," said Kaufmann. "The end product is definitely art because with cartography you have to think of the color theory and how things draw you together, the masking, where things are placed, where do you want the person's eyes to be drawn to first, and you have to base the colors off of that."

Nearing the end of the mission, Kaufmann reflected on his opportunity to fulfill a critical role.

"No matter how much someone tells you you can't do something, your passion and drive and your dreams will always overwrite that and allow you to go further in life."



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