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Military Geography Class to Participate in Daylong Exercise to Put High-Tech Equipment and Skills to Use

Editors Note: To interview Dr. Joseph Hupy or military geography students, call 715-836-2316 or 646-831-4590, or e-mail Dr. Hupy can provide directions to the Oct. 25 event site.

RELEASED: Oct. 22, 2008

EAU CLAIRE — When 10 University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students gather Saturday, Oct. 25, in rural Eau Claire County for a daylong game of capture the flag, they'll be doing far more than hanging out with friends.

The students — all enrolled in a special projects class on military geography — will put to use the technologies and tools they've been studying since the beginning of the semester, said Dr. Joseph Hupy, assistant professor of geography and the course's creator.

"The project requires using all sorts of geographic high-tech equipment such as GPS, computer mapping and databases in a game," Hupy said. "Basically, the students analyze the landscape to create a plan for a full day's event of playing capture the flag with paintball markers. It's a huge area so they're in for a real challenge."

Hupy, an expert in military geography and human-environment relations, organized a similar project when teaching a military geography class at Colgate University in New York.

"It went over really well," Hupy said. "It's an unusual, challenging and fun way for the students to take what they've learned and use it in a setting outside the classroom. It ties everything together. It's a huge project that requires them to use many different geography tools."

Military geography includes studying environmental factors that influence the outcome of military actions, as well as studying the influences of military activities on the environment, Hupy said.

"While a large body of literature exists on how the physical environment influences battle, a limited amount of research has explored the various effects of warfare upon the environment," said Hupy, whose current research is focused on battlefields in Vietnam.

Students in his special topics military geography class were divided into two teams early in the semester, with each team assigned coordinates of where they have to put the flag, Hupy said, noting that none of the students will visit the 1-square-mile site until the day of the event. The students have been analyzing the land using aerial photos, studying vegetation, marking trails and creating detailed plans, he said.

When they get to the site, the students will use GPS to navigate, the first time they'll use GPS for that purpose, Hupy said. And they will use hand-held radios to communicate, he said.

"I'm excited," said junior geography major and Appleton native Tom Koehler, noting he hadn't realized the importance of geography to military operations until this class. "When I tell friends I'm playing paintball they think it's something we're doing for fun; they don't realize how much research goes into it. We're using aerial photography and soils data and applying it to military theory to create a simulation of a military operation. It's going to be interesting."

Military geography is important, particularly given the current state of world affairs, said Andrew Kelton, a senior geography major from Durand. An understanding of warfare and how geography effects it can lead to fewer lives lost and more money saved, he said.

Kelton said he and the other students are anxious to use the skills they've learned in their classroom this semester in an out-of-the-classroom setting.

"It has been difficult to prepare for that day with assigning tasks to group members, making a lot of maps, using GIS, and just general planning," Kelton said. "I think it will be a great and fun day though."

The event is going to be challenging, said Tracey Grubb, a senior geography major from Cottage Grove, Minn.

"I think what is going to be interesting is that we have never set foot on the land that we are battling on," Grubb said. "Dr. Hupy gave each team their coordinates to put the flag so we have to use tons of maps to analyze the surrounding topography. We have to make routes and plans on a piece of land we have never been on. The actual event should be a lot of fun. I think we are all itching for the day to come."

In the weeks following the contest, the students will conduct a post-event analysis to determine what went right and wrong, and how they could have planned better, Hupy said.

"It will be an incredible learning experience for them," Hupy said. "They've put a lot of work into the planning and they'll put an equal amount of effort into the post-event analysis."



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