So, you’ve volunteered to be in Special Forces and you’re getting ready to go to Special Forces Assessment and Selection (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 and the importance of your pace count. Now we’ll move on to the next step in finding your way around Hoffman. That begins with orienting your map and then plotting your start point on the course.
Prior to Starting Out:
Orienting the Map – This makes map reading and using the available terrain features much easier to read. What does it mean to have the map oriented? The schoolbook answer is: A map is oriented when it is in a horizontal position with its north and south corresponding to the north and south on the ground. In layman’s terms, it means when you’re holding the map in front of you, the terrain matches up exactly as it is shown on the map.
It makes it much harder to try to read your terrain features upside down or sideways. If you are using an Army lensatic compass, remember that a compass measures magnetic North. So, don’t forget your declination diagram which is located on your marginal information at the bottom of your map. Most military issue maps take the guesswork right out of it and tell you how to convert the declination of azimuths from grid to magnetic and from magnetic to grid next to the declination diagram.
It sounds simple but many people mess this up and start off on the wrong foot. Don’t be Ned the Navigator. Take your time and do it right the first time.
With the map in a horizontal position, take the straightedge on the left side of the compass and place it alongside the north-south grid line with the cover of the compass pointing toward the top of the map. This procedure places the fixed black index line of the compass parallel to north-south grid lines of the map.
Keeping the compass aligned as we said in the last paragraph, rotate the map and compass together until the magnetic arrow is below the fixed black index line on the compass. You’re close but not there yet!
Now rotate the map and compass in the direction of the declination diagram.
If the magnetic north arrow on the map is to the left of the grid north, check the compass reading to see if it equals the G-M angle (if memory serves me well it is 8 degrees for the Hoffman area) given in the declination diagram. Voila! The map is now oriented. Take your time and try to pick out the terrain features as they lay out in front of you. Just be advised, in the Hoffman area, the terrain features aren’t as distinct and are a bit harder to distinguish.
In certain areas, you’ll be able to orient your map using terrain features. And when the terrain allows, it is quicker and easier to navigate using the available terrain. If you’ve ever navigated in the mountains, you’ll find this is much easier and you’ll find that this way is much more preferable than dead reckoning. And it definitely comes in handy when having to call for fire in a jiffy…(that is for another time perhaps)
Creating a Start Point – Now the map is oriented in the direction that you’re going to be walking and the next thing is you must create a starting location. The starting point is where you are standing at. Now pull out your handy, dandy Army protractor. But wait.
Don’t lose your protractor, always keep it secured inside your map case until you need it and ensure it is in there before taking off and hitting your points, especially at night! Nothing worse than losing a protractor during land navigation. While you can get by without one, it makes things unnecessarily much harder. So, take the few seconds to check.
Now read the grid lines to the right and up and make sure that you’re using the 1/50,000 scale for the map, which is in the upper right corner of the protractor. That will automatically ensure that the protractor is facing the right way and isn’t flipped over.
Remember a four-digit grid, gets you to within the grid square or 1000 meters. A six-digit grid to within 100 meters and an eight-digit grid gets you within 10 meters. A good rule of thumb to remember is to forget about where the plastic is cut out of the protractor. Always align the 0’s and check it twice. Ensure you plot it twice to get the exact spot.
Now we have a starting point, and the next time out we’ll look at plotting and plan a route.
Photo courtesy DOD