NEWS | Jan. 10, 2019

N.Y. Army Guard lieutenant creates free map graphics app

By Sgt. Andrew Valenza New York National Guard

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Need an easy and quick way to turn your operations plan into map graphics? 

Thanks to New York Army National Guard 1st Lt. James Pistell, there's an app for that!

Pistell, the executive officer of Headquarters and Headquarters Troop of the 2nd Battalion, 101st Cavalry, has created a free computer application that makes it easy for leaders to create and share operations graphics he dubbed MGRS-Mapper.

Pistell, a Rochester web developer focusing on marketing in civilian life, said he got the idea for the app while deployed in Ukraine in 2018 with the Joint Military Training Group-Ukraine.

The New York National Guard Soldiers worked with other NATO nation soldiers to help train Ukrainian soldiers and battle staffs.

His unit had been using a website to make operations graphics as they planned contingency operations, or CONOPS, but the website didn't work effectively enough, Pistell said.

"It was really outdated, and even if it could work, the symbols didn't," he said. "I thought I could make a much better version. What made me want to create it was from my experience overseas and I wanted to help leaders make CONOPS." The app combines Google Maps, with a tool to overlay the map with a Military Grid Reference System (MGRS), and a symbol select graphic tool.

App users can select their operations area on Google Maps and overlay the region with a standard MGRS overlay. The app allows the user to build the proper NATO standard graphic symbol, for example a friendly infantry platoon, label it, and then place it on the map.

Users also have the ability to place command and control, maneuver, fire support and other graphics on the overlay.

The overlay can be downloaded and emailed to another use, printed out as a handout, or embedded in slides.

Currently, users cannot upload their own map into the app, but he is working to change that, Pistell explained.

Pistell said he thinks that the app is easy and accessible for any Soldier to be able to use.

"I've made the application as intuitive as possible," he said. "If you're looking for infantry you can choose an infantry symbol, then choose the size, and click and drag it on the map. You can update the map you can put the overlay on, you can take it off, and you can have a terrain view or satellite."

Pistell, who majored in history at the State University of New York at Brockport, is a self-taught web designer and tech geek.

Already, with little promotion other than a few Facebook ads, Pistell's app has already gotten attention from around the country.

"I got an email from someone from search and rescue in California that asked if I could add more symbols, and an email from a guy in [the Basic Officer Leader Course] that said that their entire class was using it," Pistell said.

At the moment, Pistell does not have any other products in development, but plans to keep expanding on and improving his app.

"There's a lot more that I want to do with that app like implementing more symbols, and being able to send to somebody, I'd like to make it into an app that you can have on your iPad. I have a lot planned for it but that's only a side gig," he said.

The app is free for anyone to use, and contains no advertisements on the website.

The MGRS mapper can be found at