Airman Aims High with Online GIS Degree

When it comes to GIS (Geographic Information Systems) technology, Air Force Tech Sgt. and American Sentinel University student John Spence, 31, understands the growing need for GIS professionals.

“Everybody uses GIS now,” Spence says. “The very fact people have Google Maps on their phones shows you the prevalence of GIS in your everyday activities. It’s like email: Everybody has to have it. But nobody ever thinks of it as GIS.”

Based in Tokyo, Japan, Spence is the chief of programs technical support at the 374th Civil Engineer Squadron as well as the lead GeoBase technical architect for the Air Force’s Global Strike Command. Prior to these posts, he was deployed. Spence also served as the programs flight technical support chief for the 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron.

The Air Force depends on Spence to maintain the multi-million-dollar GeoBase, the geospatial foundation on which numerous Air Force communities can be built. The flying community can use GeoBase as a backdrop for approach and departure corridors on airfields and ranges to enhance training.

Spence plans to serve in the Air Force for seven more years before retiring and becoming a civilian GIS technician or administrator. He chose to work on his online GIS degree, because at every new post he’s had to prove himself all over again to civilian contractors. With a Bachelor of Science in Geographic Information Systems, Spence says, he’ll be able to overcome this hurdle and transition to any GIS civilian job.

“This opens up the whole new world in civilian engineering,” he says. Add the online degree to his already outstanding GIS accomplishments, and Spence has a bright future ahead of him.

From 2006 to 2010, Spence’s team wrote a plug-in to its web-based dynamic mapping software (ESRI’s ArcIMS) to give emergency and contingency responders customized NIPRnet (USAF’s non-classified network) map services during base-wide exercises and real world events. In early 2010, the Pacific Air Forces integrated the various main operating base configurations into a standardized solution—the Air Force Incident Manager (AFIM). They added editing tools to Geocortex Internet Mapping Framework (IMF), an extension to ArcIMS, to allow for quick plotting of incident events, cordons, stand-off distances, emergency response vehicles, vehicle routing, traffic/entry control points and installation sector alarm and MOPP conditions.

This accomplishment led to Spence’s team’s efforts being published in the professional journal Air Force Civil Engineer.

As for Spence, well, he’s eight classes from completing his bachelor’s degree and plans to work on his Master of Science in Geographic Information Systems.

He’ll be working in GIS for the rest of his life, Spence says.

Click here for more information about American Sentinel’s online GIS degree programs.