With some new Selection courses starting in the cooler/colder weather, it is a good time to revisit some of the basics that the candidates will need to pass. The Big Three in regard to questions we get here which pertains to Selection concern themselves with physical training, rucking and Land Navigation. And we do get lots of questions about Land Navigation and specifically the Star Course out in Hoffman. We’ll address those in just a moment.
But before we get to that, there are certain tips, such as the Physical Training program which will help you attain the level of physical fitness that you’ll need to not just pass the course but to excel… in our humble opinion. We take it week by week and break it down into a daily workout that should have you in great shape to handle the rigors of the course. I don’t claim to know it all, far from it. But after a decade+ in Special Forces and time as a cadre member in Selection, does have its advantages.
So, I know that many of the candidates who are going to attend Selection have heard horror stories about the Land Navigation course and Hoffman. And, there is a lot of truth in parts of the “legend of the SF Land Nav Course.” Most of the students who fail at either SFAS or the SFQC have done so because they failed the land navigation course. There is no mistaking it. The course is tough, it is the toughest individual land navigation course you’ll find in the US military.
But I’m here to tell you it isn’t anything that thousands of Special Forces soldiers haven’t passed before you. It just requires you to be prepared, keep a cool head and know your basics. So, we’ll put the cart before the horse a bit here. We’ll touch on some map reading basics soon but let’s take a look at one of the most basic of skills in moving during navigation, and that is your pace count.
Pace Count: Knowing your pace is very important because there are going to be times, that you’ll need to know exactly how far you’ve traveled, even if you can read a map like a pro or in the case of Camp Mackall, where the terrain features are indistinct. And the terrain will dictate that in many cases.
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 dramatically with a heavy rucksack on especially once you start hitting hills and thicker vegetation.
Remember, if you plan 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.
A couple of things to remember if the weather turns to shit, and it will, the rain, snow or sleet will cause you to take shorter steps and increase your pace count. Exhaustion will do the same thing. 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 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. If any of your fellow students or training partners have been in either the Ranger Regiment or an Airborne or Light Infantry unit, they’ll probably have some experience doing this.
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… as the old saying goes, 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, when navigating, keeping an accurate pace count is not only a helpful aid but essential. Don’t be “Ned the Navigator” and wind up miles off the course because he wasn’t paying attention. That will get you a red face when the cadre has to search for you and usually ends up with the candidate doing the long walk to the trucks back to Ft. Bragg. The last thing you want to see is your rucksack in the hallway.
We’ll get to some more Land Navigation tips and some important Map Reading do’s and don’ts in some of our upcoming articles soon. Until then, if you have any questions, feel free to email me and I’ll be happy to answer them. Either privately or in a post such as this (without giving up names).
Keep Grinding, No Days Off… DOL
Photo courtesy of DOD