On yesterday’s post, we talked about the Army’s junior NCO’s (E-4 – E-6) are exhibiting a definitive lack of Land Navigation skills where nearly a third can’t pass a Skill Level 1 map, compass, and protractor exercise at the Ft. Benning, GA NCO Academy.

We’ll go back to the Basics, much of this you’ll have seen before and if you haven’t or are entering the military and have signed up for a Special Operations slot (Ranger, 18X Program), this is just the tip of the iceberg. In the Land Nav environment that is very hard to pass, especially in SFAS. The majority of people who fail, do so right here. It is the hardest Land Navigation course in the Army and in our opinion (yes, we’re biased) the entire military.

One question we’ve gotten here is “why put such a high priority on a task that won’t even be needed since the teams all have GPS?” The answer is GPS is fantastic and by all means, take advantage of it, but what if your satellites go down or in the case of a large conventional conflict, are jammed by an adversary?  

The skills that you’ll need at a minimum and terms that you should be very familiar include but won’t be limited to:

  • Contour Lines– what are they? And you should know the 3 types and how they appear on the different terrain features. Also, know how to find and identify the contour interval on each map sheet
  • Terrain Features– How many are there?  Know how to be able to identify each
  • Declination diagram– Be able to identify it on the map and know how it works. Be able to immediately know what the declination is for your area. ***It is very important to successfully navigate in SFAS***
  • Azimuth and Back azimuth– Identify what it is, how it used and how to calculate it using the declination diagram. What are the two ways it can be measured?
  • Orienting a Map– What is the definition of it. How many methods are there to do it and be able to do it using each way
  • Intersection- What is it? How is used? and most importantly how is it determined
  • Resection– What is it? What is it used for? And be able to do it easily
  • Dead Reckoning– What is the definition?  Know the steps that involve using it. (many candidates use this exclusively but not all accurately)
  • Field Expedient Direction– How many ways are there to determine it? Be able to perform each one
  • 8-digit Grid Coordinate–  What does this measure? How close will that take you to a point on the ground?
  • 6-digit Grid Coordinate– What does this measure? 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? How is each on used?
  • Circle– How many mils? How many degrees?

Now we’ll move on to the next step in finding your way around on the ground. That begins with orienting your map and then plotting your start point on the course.

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. And always double check everything. After you are lost isn’t the time to realize you’ve been moving in the wrong direction.

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. Boom! 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 Camp Mackall area, the terrain features aren’t as distinct and are just 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)

Special Operations Skills 101: Land Navigation

Read Next: Special Operations Skills 101: Land Navigation

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 exactly where you are standing. Now pull out your handy, dandy Army protractor. But wait.

Without sounding like a broken record, here is another tip, which seems silly…however. 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 is 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 someplace to start. Revisit the above tasks and terms if you’re experienced but rusty in Land Navigation and study those if you’re a novice at this. This is just the beginning.

What I’ve told several 18X candidates before they reported for basic, AIT and airborne school is to join an orienteering club prior to shipping out. Most of them will have classes for newcomers and be a great source of knowledge and experience for you. Land Nav like anything else is easier the more you practice it. And as we used to say as cadre members in Selection, “if you can navigate at Camp Mackall, you can navigate just about anywhere.”

Photo courtesy DOD