Non-Profit Provides GPS Guidance for Safety of American Soldiers Preparing for Active Duty in the Middle East
St. Augusta, Minn. – Operation Waypoint, a Minnesota-based, non-profit program administeredby the St. Augusta American Legion Women’s Auxiliary Post 621, announced today thebroadening of its program from a state and regional focus to national in scope with its newwebsite, gpsfortroops.org.
Fully run by dedicated volunteers, the program is committed to increasing the safety of militarymen and women deploying to the Middle East with the guidance of highly accurate, handheldGPS units and mapping cards for Iraq and Afghanistan. Since its inception, Operation Waypointhas relied heavily on its partnership with Lowrance, a leading GPS navigation systems brand,to provide GPS products and charts to soldiers preparing to serve, as well as generousdonations from service and social organizations, and numerous individuals to fund the effort.The redesigned Operation Waypoint website will build awareness for the organization’s work,making it easier for visitors to donate and encourage other organizations to become partners inthe project to provide GPS devices for soldiers in their own communities.
Operation Waypoint was started in 2005 by retired educator Ed Meyer after a former student,preparing for deployment to Iraq, contacted him to ask what type of GPS unit would be best forhis mission. As the military only provides one GPS device per unit, which is usually mountedin a vehicle, Meyer contacted a friend at Lowrance, requested three GPS handheld devices,and trained the company commander and two former students how to use them. Shortly afterthe soldiers arrived in Iraq, while traveling at night, their 24-vehicle convoy took a wrong turninto a very dangerous Baghdad neighborhood following the lead truck’s Army-issued GPS unit.Realizing the mistake, the convoy commander called Sgt. Gaylen Heacock, one of the soldiersequipped with a Lowrance GPS supplied by Meyer. Heacock’s device determined the correctroute and was able to guide the convoy to safety. Upon hearing of how the Lowrance unitsaided in safety, Meyer worked through the American Legion Auxiliary and Post 621 to broadenthe idea into a full not-for-profit program.
“Our goal is to spearhead an even larger movement where communities nationwide can directlysupport our troops in a very meaningful way,” said Meyer. “I believe that every soldier that feelsa GPS would aid them in their mission in the Middle East should have one with them.”
With the enhancement of GPS accuracy and advanced features, today’s GPS units are evenbetter suited to the challenges often seen by the military than when the program began.Operation Waypoint provides soldiers with Lowrance Endura Safari handheld GPS unitsthat contain a precision GPS+WAAS antenna with 42-channel receiver and 3-axis magneticcompass to ensure troops have pinpoint accuracy for proper guidance or calling in air supportwhen needed. The combination of the touchscreen, simple menus, and the ability to controlone-handed or with gloves, keeps usability fast and seamless. However, the most importantbenefit is the ability to store up to 2000 waypoints for areas of safe passage, suspectedinsurgent buildings, and other items that are marked and identified with any of 193 differenticons and then shared between GPS units over time or added to satellite maps.
“The [GPS] unit helped insure the safety of crews while running convoys through the worst partof Iraq,” said Sgt. Heacock. “It’s helpful in pinpointing causality evacuation points and points ofhostile action.”
To date, Operation Waypoint is responsible for delivering over 200 handheld devices into thehands of deploying soldiers. The St. Augusta American Legion accepts donations for OperationWaypoint and purchases its Endura Safari handheld GPS units directly from Lowrance.Lowrance also provides permission for the organization to copy and encrypt its Middle Eastmapping onto locally sourced microSD cards. While more work, this avoids packaging andoperational overhead costs that would normally be seen by a manufacturer. Once the GPS andmapping cards are prepared, each participating soldier is personally trained on the GPS andmapping prior to his or her taking it overseas.
“Each Lowrance GPS and chart card costs $115 after corporate discounts are factored in,”continued Meyer. “Unfortunately, there are still times when we can’t purchase enough units.I have even given my personal GPS away, because I can’t imagine turning down a bravesolider. The challenge, as with most non-profits, is maintaining enough donations to support theprogram effectively.”
Operation Waypoint seeks to grow nationally by working with other American Legion Posts andorganizations with a goal to provide a GPS unit to every deployed unit. For more information onOperation Waypoint, to make a donation or learn about other ways to support the organization’swork, please visit www.gpsfortroops.org or contact (320) 252-6693.