Caveat:  The opinions expressed in these articles are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Alumni Association - East.  The NGAA East makes space available for members to provide content that may be of interest to others.


For an interesting look back at our DMA legacy go to:

This video link, circa 1994, showcases the mission and people of DMA's Mapping and Charting organization at the DMA Hydrographic/Topographic Center in Bethesda, MD. Of note is the opening and closing by two of the Military Mapping Maidens (inducted into the GEOINT HALL of Fame) a few years ago. Our Honorary member, Bea McPherson, was in that group.

We are conducting a crowd sourcing campaign to identify the staff and systems in the video. Please forward names and the time stamp to Jack Hild (


By Major General Robert A. Rosenberg, USAF (ret)

'Rosie hopes every DMA Alum or family member who reads the remarks know that I hope they will read it as a message to them instead of Perkin Elmer each of you dedicated so much to your country and our victory over the Evil Empire being mindful of Sun Tzu’s wisdom: "The best victory is that which is won without ever going into battle…" You all helped to do that! For me, it was a privilege to be a part of your great team!'  …Rosie 

General Rosenberg's remarks.


by Allen Anderson

When the first two articles in the "Pathfinder" dealing with Vietnam War support were published last spring, I told Dr. Weir, the author and NGA Historian, that I was surprised he hadn't covered the much larger MC&G contributions that had begun even earlier. When I mentioned participating in a contingency study for US relief of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, his interest seemed to perk up.   It was agreed that I would draft an article.   With inputs from Bill Riordan, Red Gilliam, Sam Coffelt, and my boss in my Far East days, I prepared the following article, and forwarded it to Dr. Weir for consideration.

In 1954, the French forces found themselves encircled by Ho Chi Minh’s army at Dien Bien Phu, a remote valley of northwestern Vietnam. The Vietnamese managed not only to surround the French without their knowledge but also to bring up artillery through the jungles and onto the heights overlooking the French encampment. This was the final turning point in their colonial war, and the French were soon forced to surrender. Meantime, US military authorities decided to prepare a contingency plan, in the event that President Eisenhower decided to send in a relief force.

Following termination of the US Occupation of Japan, the US Army Pacific had retained a G2 geographic analysis unit and Army Map Service, Far East (AMSFE) on the outskirts of Tokyo. AMSFE, in addition to its mapping and surveying roles had a terrain analysis unit. These units were tasked to rapidly produce analyses of routes that a relieving force could use, entering either through the Saigon or Hanoi area. President Eisenhower decided against any intervention, but this was the first US geospatial intelligence activity in Vietnam.

After the French departed in the mid-1950s, AMS Washington and AMSFE were directed to extend their mapping and geodesy program to include South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Cooperative agreements were negotiated with the three countries that called for the US to fly precision mapping photography, conduct geodetic and field classification (ground truth) surveys, and produce bilingual maps at standard map scales. The mapping photography was contracted to a US company by AMS, while AMSFE assumed responsibility for survey operations and overall coordination with the local mapping authorities. Relying mainly on Filipino surveying companies, which had been trained years earlier during US postwar mapping of the Philippines, survey parties were first sent into South Vietnam where they proceeded to survey the entire country under AMSFE on-site supervision. Concurrently, training was provided to the Vietnamese Service Geographique. Production of 1:50,000 scale maps was begun jointly by AMS and AMSFE around 1960. Large scale mapping of North Vietnam, necessarily less accurate in the absence of field access, was also undertaken using older aerial photos flown by the French. The mapping of South Vietnam was largely completed by the time that US combat forces were introduced. This was the first time that accurate, ground-truthed large scale topographic maps were available at the outset of a US conflict.

Cambodia field operations, which were begun shortly after the Vietnam operations began, were completed prior to the coup there by the Khmer Rouge, so that good quality maps were able to be produced over that country. However, the Laos operations, the last to commence, were soon overtaken and ended by the Pathet Lao coup. An AMSFE representative was in the capital Vientiane when the Pathet Lao swooped in. He made a hurried but safe departure. Largely lacking conventional ground surveys, the resultant topographic maps were not of comparable accuracy, but a vast improvement over the sketchy smaller scale French maps they replaced.

As the Vietnam War got underway, the forces soon found that conventional line maps did not provide sufficient detail in the largely undeveloped and jungle-covered interior. AMS quickly responded by developing a new product, the ‘pictomap’, a photomap at 1:50,000 scale produced with an edge-enhancing camera technique that facilitated map-reading and navigation. The 29th Engineer Topographic Battalion in Hawaii also produced 1:100,000 scale line maps. At a later point, AMS and the Aeronautical Charting and Information Service (ACIC) were called upon to provide more precise positioning of the aerially-sown sensors and other devices of the so-called McNamara Line. They developed a technique using photogrammetry to better calibrate LORAN D over land areas. The technique enabled monitoring and periodic reseeding of the devices.

The Vietnam conflict also gave rise to new target positioning techniques developed by ACIC. The warfighters needed highly accurate lat/long/elev positions for targets, navigation, and other purposes, often in jungle areas that were largely featureless on the maps. ACIC had the technology: precision optical measuring instruments and highly classified satellite imagery in a computer-intensive process. The problem was how could the warfighter describe the desired position and get rapid turnaround from St Louis, since neither the imagery nor the technology could be deployed.

ACIC developed several innovative techniques. The first was to deploy minimally-classified U2 and SR-71 imagery, optical measuring devices, and civilian technicians to operate and train military personnel. This was fairly successful. Another involved satellite transmission of annotated imagery from in-theater to the US, with transmission back of ACIC solutions. This was slow and not very useful. The real answer came with a rather simple technique. Deployable imagery with an arbitrary grid was sent out to the theater along with ACIC teams, and a duplicate set of the imagery was maintained at ACIC. The user could determine the coordinates of the desired position and transmit them to St Louis. There the satellite imagery, precision optical equipment, and computer power were exploited and an accurate position was sent back in a rapid response system. As a footnote, the “massive” computers of the time had about one-tenth of the power of today’s PC.
Blood Chit by Grady Smith

Grady Smith, Katy Smith's husband, has just published his first novel, Blood Chit. It tells the story of a young infantry sergeant in the Vietnam Delta.   Chuck Paxton has one firefight too many and can't keep it together.  So they send him home and that's when the real battle begins. "First get through the fighting alive, then survive remembering it."

Grady was an infantry company commander in the Delta at the same time Katy was working at the old ACIC to update the charts used by USAF F-4 Phantoms while flying support missions. He retired after a 20-year army career, and accompanied his wife to St. Louis when she served there at DMAAC in the late eighties and early nineties. It was there he first saw a Blood Chit.

"I had never even heard of a Blood Chit, much less seen one or known that the organization Katy was a member of had responsibility for it. And then one Sunday afternoon we went to a Hail and Farewell for a departing Air Force officer. Among his gifts was a framed Vietnam-era Blood Chit, and the whole concept behind it absolutely blew my mind. I owe the idea for the title to that day."

Smith's book, Blood Chit, is available at most bookstores, and on The first chapter can be read at:

DMA DISTRIBUTION: Forgotten and Overlooked

Prior to the Defense Logistics Agency assuming the responsibility to distribute the products developed and produced by the former Defense Mapping Agency, that essential responsibility, to support military operations worldwide, was accomplished by DMA’s Office of Distribution Services, DMAODS.ODS, as it was known, had two large distribution centers, one in Philadelphia and the other in Clearfield, Utah, near Salt Lake City, and offices in the Pentagon, San Diego, Norfolk, Hawaii, Japan, the Philippines, England, Germany, and Italy. These distribution centers and offices filled requests ranging from tens of thousands of maps and charts required for major operations, , to a single copy of a product required for special operations , and in some instances “hand carried” materials for Air Force One and Marine One.

DMAODS’s worldwide presence and dedicated personnel enabled products to be delivered to the right location in a timely and efficient manner. During the Gulf War (Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm) ODS had a person on station in Saudi Arabia to make certain the correct products were being shipped. In an After Action Report, the Director of Military Transport, while visiting DMA, informed the Agency that, while shipping the equivalent of 17 C5 loads of maps and charts, it was the only agency not to lose a single shipment.

Bob Litz
GM-15 Retired

Editorial comment:

The Defense Mapping Agency “Storefront”

When DMA became operational (in those days we didn’t say “stood up”) in 1972, one of the first areas to be examined for improvement was the distribution of its products, which were still almost entirely paper. The idea of transferring the responsibility to the Defense Logistics Agency was quickly dismissed on two grounds: Distribution was an important way to interact with our customers and DLA was not set up to handle time-sensitive products such as NOTAMs.

But, consolidation of the three distribution systems inherited from the Services did make sense. Since bulk shipment from printing plants to depots was relatively cheap compared with small quantity onward shipments to customers, the decision was made to retain the two former Navy distribution depots in Philadelphia and Ogden, Utah. The overseas distribution points for nautical and aeronautical products were also retained as critical points for providing timely, informed support to the Commands. In fact, those small units were the agency’s only continuing presence in the Commands in the days before telecommunication and database technology advances made deployment of digital databases and exploitation teams a practical reality.
Al Anderson



Al Anderson and Larry Ayers

Soon after the conclusion of WWII, the US found itself confronted by an aggressive USSR.  The Cold War was on, and it intensified with the stalemate in Korea and with the initiation of the Space Race.  It is well established in military history that the nation that is most knowledgeable of the battlefield holds a significant advantage in combat. On the global Cold War battlefield, strategy depended upon military parity or mutually assured destruction.  Particularly from the early 1960’s with the advent of reconnaissance satellite technology, the US military mapping, charting and geodetic services played a critical role in giving the US the advantage, bankrupting the USSR, and ending the Cold War.

There were four critical geospatial technologies that the US Military needed to gain battlefield knowledge superiority.

First, was a very precise model of the shape and size of the earth to an accuracy of a few feet worldwide. This was needed as a reference system for navigation and guidance systems.  Second, was the highly accurate positioning of missile and aircraft launch sites and their assigned targets half way around the world.  Third, was a detailed model of the variations in the pull of gravity at the missile launch site and the gravity effects on inertial navigation and guidance systems

worldwide. Fourth, was a detailed model of the topography and natural and manmade features on the earth’s surface for intelligence assessments and

military deployments.

The men and women of the Defense Mapping Agency (DMA), which is now part of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, took on the task of developing a World Geodetic System (WGS), to replace the myriad of national and regional reference systems which then existed.  WGS became the standard for all strategic and tactical systems and forces.  The second task was to take essential satellite and airborne imagery of the earth and precisely position the imagery so that target and intelligence assessments could be established in a very dynamic and fast moving cat and mouse mobile environment.  This was in support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) for strategic targets. The third was to build gravity collection systems and collect relative and absolute gravity over the Earth.  The gravity collection included cooperative exchanges with nations, oil companies, and universities worldwide.  The DMA World Gravity Model became the standard and official worldwide model for navigation and

scientific studies.  Fourth, DMA along with NATO allies ran a 24 hour, seven day a week operation to create worldwide digital terrain elevation and feature data bases to support the strategic and tactical weapon guidance systems and troop deployment systems.  These are the data bases that helped US Forces create the era of Smart Weapons Systems, such as Cruise Missile.   The Navy’s nuclear submarines faced a similar need for updating their inertial navigations systems. The need was met by creating sea bottom digital elevation footprints, similar to the dry land versions produced for cruise missiles.  The point-positioning and geodetic/gravitational models also served naval strategic weaponry, as well as other, more specialized products.

Each of these efforts presented unprecedented technical and resource challenges and required significant technological breakthroughs.  The pinpoint accuracy of the Pershing II has been cited as a major factor influencing the USSR to seek the Treaty on Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces, which was signed in 1987.

In 1984 DMA received the Defense Meritorious Award from the Secretary of Defense for the major effort that gave the US military a strategic advantage in the Cold War.  A number of the employees also received Distinguished Executive awards from President Reagan for the significant contribution DMA made toward ending the Cold War.

The DMA contributions to the Cold War effort continue to pay dividends today for both the United States and the rest of the world.

--The World Geodetic System is the essential framework for the Global Positioning System.

--The cooperative mapping and charting programs undertaken to bulwark Third World nations against the threat and lure of Communism have served as the foundation for infrastructure and economic development around the world.

--Digital mapping technologies pioneered by DMA have been adopted by nations everywhere and affect our everyday lives through websites such as Google Earth and MapQuest.

Many members of the team that carried out these Cold War support activities formed retiree associations that have now been largely merged into the National Geospatial-Intelligence Alumni Association (NGAA).  Their web site is:

Bio and Sources:

Al Anderson and Larry Ayers served in various capacities during the Cold War with the Defense Mapping Agency (DMA) and its predecessors.   Ayers’s final position was as senior civilian deputy of DMA.   Anderson’s position was deputy director of production and operations.  This article is based upon their personal involvements and experiences in all aspects of the mapping, charting and geodetic support from the beginning of the Cold War until their retirements in the mid-1980s.   Both are members of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Alumni Association.