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.
In previous segments, we touched on Map reading, pace count, orienting the map and plotting your starting location as well as your point. Now we need to get to our points. Here are some of the tips for walking the course in the Hoffman area.
Fold Your Map – Sounds like a no-brainer but it is simple and saves a ton of time without having to unfold your map every time you want to make a map check. Fold it down to where it fits perfectly in your map case so that only the part you are traveling shows, it simplifies your task immeasurably. This way every time you make a quick check of the map, only where you are and where you are going next is visible.
A technique that many orienteers use while navigating is what they call thumbing. I’ve talked to some and what they do is to keep their thumb on the spot on the map where they are and it speeds in finding where you are while walking and doing a quick map check. The thought being as you walk along you move your thumb slightly forward to reduce the confusion of scanning for your location on the map, especially in the dark.
Navigating Techniques – So, you’ve plotted your starting location, your first point that you’re looking for. You’ve folded the map and placed it and your protractor carefully inside your map case. The next thing you must do orient the map into the direction that you are traveling. Now the terrain is laid out exactly the way it is in front of you.
Weapon tied down? Check. Compass tied down and easily accessible? Check. You should have a red lens flashlight a notebook that will allow you to write in it, even if it is wet in your pocket or map case. Ensure you have all of your gear and do a quick check of the area before you leave and don’t forget anything.
Pull out the compass and take a quick reading. If you can see far enough in the distance, do the cheek hold method where the notch is the rear sight, and the wire is the front sight. Pick out a point as far in the distance as you can and get to it as quickly as you can.
If you’re following a basic azimuth, rotate your bezel ring so that your North seeking arrow aligns with the bubble. So, say if you are traveling on an azimuth of 65 degrees, your North seeking arrow will be in the approximate 10 o’clock position, rotate the bezel ring so the bubble aligns with the North seeking arrow and it is a quick way to keep on your azimuth, especially in the dark. Also, remember that each click in the bezel ring is three degrees.
Remember, to read the red ring which is in degrees and not the black which is in mils.
Trust your map, pace count, and your azimuth as you move out on the course. During the practical exercises in the course, you’ll notice you’ll veer a bit in the dark. Everyone’s perception changes during hours of darkness and it will vary.
As you encounter ways around the draws, you’ll no doubt see where others have tread before you and those well-worn paths are a good indicator that this is the best spot to cross a draw…if you must. But the best rule of thumb for the course is to veer around them if at all possible. But if you do cross one, make sure you check your compass every 20-25 paces. It is so easy to get turned around in those, don’t let it happen to you.
In SFAS an instructor will be present at your points but you’ll no doubt come across green engineer stakes with a dog tag on them. If you do, do yourself a favor and stop and check them out. These are an eight-digit grid coordinate that is built in GPS. There’s no better way to check your location.
Don’t talk to other students. Don’t be a road runner. Nothing will get you in hot water faster than doing those things.
When crossing the roads, the rule of thumb is at a 90-degree angle….and they’ll be watching.
Take advantage of the practical exercises and learn the terrain and the area as best you can. Do try to do the minimum, it will cost you in the end. Talk with other candidates AFTER the course is complete every day and share notes and experiences about what you find on the course. It will come in handy. It is no different than doing a debrief of another unit when planning a mission.
Get used to moving at night and make night movement a breeze. It will serve you well once you get in one of the operational Groups.
Move with a purpose but never out of control. Land Nav is like Selection is to a smaller extent. It can be a lot more difficult if you’re not using your head. Think everything thru and don’t let doubt creep in. Your training will get you thru this. Thousands of students have done it before you and you can too.
You get familiar with a bunch of landmarks out there on the course. I researched thru several social media pages and made note of what different people mentioned. Many of the names remain from my time.
Bones Fork Creek
3 Wire Road…and some new names
Dagobah (I don’t know who named this area in the north, but he deserves an impact award) My personal favorite.
Photo courtesy of DOD