We’ve been getting back to the A-B-Cs of basic skills and in particular, Land Navigation in recent days. There was an article recently on the web that stated that junior NCOs were struggling with a map and compass.
And if that is an issue with the regular Army, or in the case of this particular article, with the Infantry soldiers, then the trickle-down effect will probably be seen in the Selection courses in the Army, most especially with SFAS (Special Forces Selection and Assessment).
So with this in mind, we’re going back to the basics and hitting on and revisiting all of the topics that generally give candidates the most issues in helping them prepare for SFAS. Three of the biggest issues that stop candidates from being selected are Physical Fitness preparation, Rucking, and Land Navigation. We’ve begun to delve back into the different facets of Land Nav. As a refresher to those who have a good grasp of it already and as a teaching point for those candidates who do not.
SFAS will combine all three of those issues in the very early days of the course, as candidates will be running for time, rucking and then join the three into the Land Navigation course, known as the Star Course in Hoffman, right outside of Camp Mackall. It is the toughest Land Nav course in the military.
The key to passing Land Navigation and the course, in general, is easy. It is to properly prepare yourself. And failure to properly prepare is preparing to fail.
But as we’ve stated, the biggest failure is the failure to prepare. If you are properly prepared, there is no reason you can’t do what thousands of Special Operations Forces troops before you have accomplished. It is more of a mental block than anything else.
Everyone has heard the horror stories of the Star course. Yes, the course is tough, it is the toughest individual land navigation course you’ll find in the US military. But it isn’t anything a cool head and a prepared candidate can’t pass. Thousands passed before you will attempt it and thousands more will in the future.
So, without further ado, we are on to one of the most basic of skills in moving during navigation, and that is your pace count.
Having an Accurate Pace Count is Very Important:
To be successful during the land navigation course requires, plotting the points accurately, planning a good route (which we touched on yesterday) and having an accurate pace count. Accurate being the definitive word here. In certain geographical areas, with very distinct terrain features, your pace count isn’t as important because you can pinpoint your location by identifying the surrounding terrain. But in places like Hoffman where terrain features are very indistinct, knowing your pace is very important because the distances you have traveled will have to be accounted for constantly.
The first thing you must do is to 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 are near a track or a lined football field, you can use that and then just take a spool of 550 cord and mark out 100 meters and put some knots in it or tape it to keep the correct distance You’ll thank me later.
Now wait until the hours after dark and walk the flat course again, three times. Your pace count will probably increase in the dark, mark it down in your notebook that should always be in your pocket. Notate what your pace count is for daylight on flat terrain and your night pace count.
Now take your 550 cord out into 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 complete this exercise again for a third time in the woods but with a rucksack on and repeat the steps in 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 to measure the distance every time you travel 100 meters, then prepare the string accordingly. Slide the lowest bead to the bottom. Most of them come with nine beads on the cord. After you slide nine of the beads down, the next 100 meters brings you to a klick (1000 meters), and you can push them all back up to the top. I highly 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.
Remember this…your pace count is just a piece of the puzzle. You have to plot your points correctly and get an azimuth to where you are going. Your pace count should give you a very good reference point as well as using terrain association off of your map.
A couple of things to consider, when the weather turns on you, and it will, the rain, snow or sleet will cause you to take shorter steps and increase your pace count, especially at night. 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 an SF 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.
Pace Count Tips:
Here’s 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 to your plotted points. By the time you finish Selection and the subsequent qualification course, you’ll find you pace counts and distances are coming really close to the distances when you plot them on your maps.
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. If you find that you’ve drifted on the course, the distance traveled will definitely help get back on track and find your points.
Failure to prepare will result in course failure. And getting lost is the ultimate embarrassment. 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 is to do the duffle bag drag back to Bragg.
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.
Photo courtesy of US Army