GEOINT 2019 featured a special opening presentation Monday morning with junior geospatial intelligence professionals—“digital natives” brought up in the age of digital technology—alongside senior leaders.
USGIF Board Member Carmen Medina moderated the discussion, while Esri founder and president Jack Dangermond and The Honorable Jeffrey K. Harris, chairman of USGIF’s Board of Directors, posed questions to the digital natives.
Benjamin Foster, technical lead for GEOINT Services Capabilities at NGA, spoke about the agency’s responsibility to build technology that supports digital innovation throughout the GEOINT Community.
“Our team is the enabler behind these stories,” Foster said with regard to NGA’s MAGE (Mobile Awareness GEOINT Environment) app.
“The technology is customizable. As you see here, you have civil affairs and agriculture—two very different missions,” he continued in reference to fellow panelists Army Staff Sergeant Aljune Lerio and Katie McGaughey.
Lerio, a noncommissioned officer with the 91st Civil Affairs Battalion, spoke about how digital technology such as MAGE aids his team when working in austere, potentially dangerous areas.
“We were able to use the mobile digital system and it does everything. Now we are moving a lot faster,” Lerio said.
With MAGE, information is gathered and sent directly to headquarters.
“They can see our assessment and can connect with us and ask questions and see where we are,” Lerio continued.
On March 2, 2018, MAGE proved its value to his team. When Al-Qaeda attacked the French Embassy in Burkina Faso in West Africa, primary, secondary, and tertiary systems went down. Immediately, the team used MAGE to locate team members and American children in the area.
“That day we learned that we needed digital integration for tactical assessment on the ground,” Lerio said.
McGaughey, a senior crop assessment specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Foreign Agricultural Service, shared how her team employs MAGE to gather agricultural production data on a global scale.
Historically, her team travels with a lot of equipment, including cameras, laptops, and GPS devices. But now all they need are handheld mobile devices.
“We [took MAGE] to the field to collect agricultural data,” McGaughey said, explaining that their goals are to provide support to American farmers, to enable global market transparency, and to identify hot spots for food insecurity.
“This is the take-home message, leveraging technology allows us to more accurately report on the global agricultural food production, which is important, because food security is a key component to national security,” she said.
Harris concluded the panel by asking a fundamental question: “The dissemination of these products requires trust. This collaboration requires trust. Do you guys trust each other?”
Unanimously, the digital natives on the panel answered, “Yes.”
Lerio said he tested MAGE first and asked questions his leaders would ask about the system.
“Trust the app first and then trust the developers working on the app,” he said.