Read Part 3 here
So, you’ve volunteered to be in Special Forces and you’re getting ready to go to SFAS. This is the time to prepare yourself for the grind that is to come. There are certain tips, such as the PT program which will help you attain the level of physical fitness that you’ll need to not just pass the course but to excel where the course isn’t as tough as you’ll see other people struggling.
Now, we get to the elephant in the room, the Land Navigation course and many students fail at either SFAS or the SFQC because they failed the land navigation course. The course is tough, it is the toughest individual land navigation course you’ll find in the US military.
We talked in the last segment about Map reading and touched upon some of the tasks that you’ll have to be proficient in. Now let’s get into more of the nuts and bolts of navigation.
Pace Count: Knowing your pace is very important because there are going to be times, that you’ll need to know how far you’ve traveled, even if you can read a map like a pro. At times the terrain will dictate that.
First set up a 100-meter course on flat terrain. Walk it three times and every time your left foot hits the ground count it. Take the total number of steps you’ve walked and divide by three. That is your baseline pace count. If you’re on a track or a football field, take a spool of 550 cord and mark out 100 meters. You’ll thank me later.
Now wait until dark and walk the flat course again, three times. Your pace count will probably increase in the dark, keep a notation in your notebook that should always be in your pocket. Mark down what your pace count is for daylight on flat terrain and your night pace count.
Now take your 550 cord out in the woods and try to find some rougher, hilly terrain. Lay out the 550 cord and walk the course again three times in the day and three times in the dark. Did your pace count increase with the difference in terrain? It should have.
Now put a rucksack on and repeat the steps in both the flat terrain and the rough hilly terrain, day and night. Your pace count should increase a bit with a heavy ruck on especially once you start hitting hills and thicker vegetation.
Remember to use your Ranger beads every time you travel 100 meters. Slide the lowest bead to the bottom. Most of them come with nine beads after you slide nine down, the next 100 meters brings you to a klick and you can push them all back up to the top. I recommend using them or making your own out of 550 cord, it is a valuable tool and comes in handy so that you don’t have to remember exactly how far you have to go and how far you’ve gone.
Things to remember if the weather turns to shit, and it will, rain, snow or sleet will cause you to take shorter steps and increase your pace count. So will exhaustion. As you get tired during the course or during a field training exercise, your level of exhaustion will increase your pace count even if moving during daylight hours in fairly open terrain.
In time, you’ll become a seasoned pro at this and will know just by the conditions that you are dealing with what your pace count will be. And it will change over time. My pace with just web gear on flat terrain was 62 back in the days of Phase 1 at Camp Mackall.
But with a rucksack and a heavy load, it went up to 73. But I noticed after I had been in Group for a while and your rucksack becomes a part of your body, my pace counted lessened to between 68-69 depending on conditions. You’ll find that you will have similar results.
Another tip on pace counts. If you plot your point and you have 4 kilometers (klicks) between points, don’t try to keep a pace for the entire distance. Pick out a terrain feature or road intersection as an attack point. Use deliberate offset (More on that later) to find it. Keep your pace count to that attack point and make a notation with a grease pencil on your map case.
It is a great way to check your pace and see how close you come out. By the time you finish SFAS and the SFQC, you’ll find you pace counts and distances are coming really close to the distances when you plot them on your maps.
Remember, keeping a pace count is just an added tool at your disposal. Knowing how to read a map and the surrounding terrain features is an easy way to quickly, and confidently find your way anywhere. And if you can navigate in Camp Mackall, you’ll be able to navigate anywhere.
But failure to keep a pace count can really hurt you if become disoriented, especially in the dark. It is a valuable tool that every successful SFAS candidate should use while you’re out on the course.
So, your boots are good? Check. Got your rucking down pat? Check. Your map reading skills are up to par? Check. And now we have our pace counts down…right?
In our next segment, we’ll continue with some more Land Navigation tips.
Photo courtesy of DOD