The mailman dropped off something nostalgic a few days ago, an Army publication from the days when men were men, HMMWVs were new and the Army still ran IBM 360 mainframes.
That would be back around the end of the last ice age, or 1984 to be exact.
Need a map? The Army Engineers came up with this nifty graphic training aid to guide you through the arcane process of ordering maps.
Now, map supply was no minor concern. The Army had an almost insatiable appetite for paper maps, and in 1984 that demand was filled by the Defense Mapping Agency (DMA). The Defense Mapping Agency was a victim of its own success. They did such a good job of compiling, printing, distributing and updating their standard map products (which covered literally all of the world at one scale or another with the exception of the US and its territories – that job fell to the USGS), and they didn’t charge for their services. You could order all the maps you wanted and have them delivered for free. Even better, if you set up an automatic distribution account the Defense Mapping Agency would automatically ship you any updated map sheets for your area of interest whenever they were published.
As a result maps became a commodity item, something everyone was used to having immediately available at any hour, day or night.
In reality, we had to order the darned things, and the ordering process could be pretty tricky. Like many things in that great machine known as the Army supply system, if you filled all the paperwork out right you stood a 50/50 chance of getting what you ordered. If you made even a slight mistake – say you accidentally put down an incorrect map sheet number – your requisition was routed straight to supply system purgatory, where it languished indefinitely while your installation logistics office returned the dreaded ‘BB’ (backordered) status month after month after month.
So let’s peel open GTA 5-2-14 and see what it has to say about ordering maps.
So the 5-2 has the map catalogs? Oh sorry, that would be the S-2. Didn’t anyone at the Engineer School take a look at this thing before giving the go-ahead to print and distribute hundreds of thousands of copies? Anyway, as a former battalion S-2 I can confirm that I had a complete set of DMA catalogs. I kept them locked in the bottom drawer of my safe, along with a loaded pistol, in case a second lieutenant dropped by to try to teach him/herself the arcane art of ordering maps. DMA map catalogs were simply too dangerous to leave unsecured. Someone might do something dumb and I’d come to work one day to find pallets of maps sitting outside my office (remember, they’re free and DMA will ship as many and as often as you like).
Oh damn. It’s about to get tricky…
The DMA map catalogs were hundreds and hundreds of pages of small scale maps covered in teeny-tiny squares, each with a unique number. Each square represented an individual map, and you were expected to put on your reading glasses (or for the really cool intel types, pull the monocular magnifier out of the Photo Interpretation Kit) and start writing down the number for each and every map you need to order. Remember, no mistakes!
Got it? It’s at about this point that the average second lieutenant’s eyes would glaze over…
This is where those in the know could have some fun. See that Priority box? If you wrote ‘3’ in there you’d get your maps pretty quick, but if you put a ‘1’ in there you’d start alarm bells ringing all around the Washington D.C.beltway as flag officers tried to figure out just why the 443rd Mess Kit Repair Battalion at FT Bragg needs 500 copies of every map of Western Europe by noon tomorrow. What do they know that Washington doesn’t? Maybe the 443rd is just a cover unit for Delta Force? Yeah, that has to be it!
Going to war in Korea? Send the request to the USFK Engineer office. Going surfing Going to war in Hawaii? Send your request to Hickam Field.