Why You Should be Familiar with the Military Grid Reference System

March 13, 2023

Sharing is Caring

The DirectionsMag Geospatial Community Blog is an extension of Directions Magazine. Visit us for daily geospatial news, exclusive geospatial industry articles, geospatial technology webinars and all-things-geospatial podcasts. If you are interested in contributing, please email editors@directionsmag.com. 

In the world of military operations, precise navigation and coordination are essential factors for mission success. But being familiar with MGRS is not only important for military personnel; it is also important for the average joe who may find themselves in an emergency situation.

What is the Military Grid Reference System?

The Military Grid Reference System, a modification of the Universal Transverse Mercator system, is a geospatial coordinate system used by the military to identify specific locations on the earth's surface. The system uses a grid of squares to divide the earth's surface into manageable sections. Like the UTM system, the MGRS consists of 60 zones that span 6 each (DiBiase, 2014). Each square is assigned a unique identifier consisting of a two-letter code ranging from letters C through X that represent the 100,000-meter grid zone, followed by a set of numbers representing the easting and northing coordinates within that zone. (DiBiase, 2014) For example, the coordinates 16S NE 123456 789012 would refer to a location in the 16S grid zone, with an easting coordinate of 123456 and a northing coordinate of 789012.

Why should it matter to you?

·      Navigation. Knowing how to read and use MGRS coordinates will help you navigate accurately and efficiently, especially in challenging terrain where landmarks may be scarce. For military personnel, this skill can mean the difference between success and failure in a mission. For civilians, knowing MGRS coordinates can help in emergency situations where precise location information is critical. Knowing terrain features and elevation contours on a map can turn a good hike bad or make a difference when planning a wilderness rescue route.

  • Communication. MGRS coordinates provide a common language for communication between different units and organizations. If you are familiar with MGRS, you can easily communicate your location and navigate to specific locations using the same coordinate system as other military or emergency personnel.
  • Safety. If you become lost or injured, emergency responders can use MGRS coordinates to locate and rescue you more quickly and efficiently. Most Garmin watches have the ability to provide MGRS coordinates. If you’re in a situation where you have no cell phone signal but a GPS device and a radio, this could make all the difference.
  • ·Coordination. In military operations, MGRS coordinates are used to coordinate logistics operations, such as resupply missions, by identifying specific drop-off and pickup locations. For civilians, MGRS coordinates can help coordinate search and rescue missions, as well as disaster relief efforts. FEMA uses the United States National Grid system, which is based on the MGRS.
  • Preparedness. Knowing how to read and use MGRS coordinates is an essential skill for anyone who spends time in the outdoors, whether it's hiking, camping, or hunting. Having this knowledge can help you stay safe and navigate effectively in case of an emergency. Also, it’s a fun challenge to navigate with a map and compass. However, always bring a GPS to verify!

In today's world, where emergencies can happen at any time, being familiar with MGRS can make a difference in critical situations. So, take the time to learn and practice this skill, and it may just save your life or the lives of others.


DiBiase, David. (2014) Nature of Geographic Information: An Open Geospatial Textbook. Pennsylvania State Univesity, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

About the Author

Kevin Barrett is a graduate student at the Missouri University of Science and Technology.


Sharing is Caring

Geospatial Newsletters

Keep up to date with the latest geospatial trends!

Sign up

Search DM

Get Directions Magazine delivered to you
Please enter a valid email address
Please let us know that you're not a robot by using reCAPTCHA.
Sorry, there was a problem submitting your sign up request. Please try again or email editors@directionsmag.com

Thank You! We'll email you to verify your address.

In order to complete the subscription process, simply check your inbox and click on the link in the email we have just sent you. If it is not there, please check your junk mail folder.

Thank you!

It looks like you're already subscribed.

If you still experience difficulties subscribing to our newsletters, please contact us at editors@directionsmag.com