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.
In the first two segments, we talked about the fitting of your boots, socks and dealing with hotspots and blisters. Taking care of your feet is paramount in Special Forces and once you get it down, everything will be a little less hard.
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.
But the course if far from impassable, thousands of soldiers have passed it and thousands more will continue to get a first time go….the magic word everyone wants to hear. It just takes some hard work, patience and the ability to keep a cool head once you experience the draws and lack of terrain features in lovely Hoffman, NC.
But before we get into the tips and some experiences that many of us have come across, the first thing a candidate MUST do is to come to SFAS prepared. I know, I know, “how many times have we heard that?” But it’s true.
This is another area where the better prepared you are the odds of you passing the Land Navigation course increase tenfold. It begins with Map Reading; become an expert in this necessary skill before you show up at Ft. Bragg. There are plenty of manuals, study guides, and civilian orienteering clubs out there that will get you to where reading a map is a snap and a second nature to you.
This was always my block of instruction at Camp Mackall and at that time is wasn’t overly detailed. It was more of a refresher for skills you were already supposed to know. Those who came from Light Infantry or Ranger Bn. backgrounds were already well-versed in it and if you have any of those type guys in your unit before selection, seek them out and have them help you.
Know map reading to the point that you could teach a class on it before you arrive at SFAS because all of those skills will be tested. Some of (but not all) of the skills you should be intimately familiar with include:
- Contour Lines- what are they, the 3 types and how they appear on the different terrain features. Also know how to find and identify the contour interval.
- Terrain Features- How many are there and be able to identify each
- Declination diagram- Be able to identify it on the map and know how it works.
- Back azimuth- Identify what it is and be able to calculate it
- Orienting a Map- How many methods are there to do it and be able to do it using each way
- Intersection- What is it and how is it determined
- Resection- What is it and be able to do it easily
- Dead Reckoning- What is it and know the steps that entail it (hint…many candidates use this exclusively but not all accurately)
- Field Expedient Direction- How many ways are there and be able to perform each one
- Azimuth- What is it and what are the two ways it can be measured
- 8-digit Grid Coordinate- How close will that take you to a point on the ground
- 6-digit Grid Coordinate- How close will that take you to a point on the ground
- Colors on the Map- How many are there and what do they denote
- Mils to degrees- How many mils equal one degree?
- Circle- How many mils? How many degrees?
These are just some of the skills you need. If you look at these above-listed skills and aren’t a whiz at everyone (these are just the basics) then you aren’t ready for SFAS and the Land Nav course in Hoffman.
Next up, so you are a map reading whiz now and can whip out a map and be ready to plot yourself and where are you going to. You’re going to need a couple of items that seem trivial but are extremely important.
Invest a nice map case, one that will keep your maps dry and allow you to make some marks on the clear portion with a grease pencil to make any notes to help you along. And…I can’t stress this enough, secure your map case to your body. It sounds stupid and infantile, but far too many candidates fail land navigation because they lose their map in a draw and the Hoffman draws are legendary for stealing maps.
My favorite map case had a built-in loop that I kept inside my shirt snapped to a D-ring on my shoulder. It was easily accessible and kept it away from those nasty thickets that would tear it away from my thigh pocket. But that is just a personal preference.
And since you aren’t tactical, be smart. Fold your map with the area that you are working in, right on top and easily found. Nothing wastes more time than fumbling with a map under a poncho with a red lens flashlight.
And while you’re at it, dummy cord your weapon to your body as well, ditto for the maps. Every class, some tired candidate will stop to do a map check and walk off with his weapon, oops. C-ya guy, better luck next time!
Invest in those Ranger beads that allow you to keep your distance locked down. Or you can tie one on your own using 550 cord. Those little things come in handy and when you get tired, it is easy to forget the distance traveled.
In our next segment, we’ll get down to the nuts and bolts of Land Nav.
Photo courtesy of DOD