“…We are what we repeatedly do, Excellence then is not an act but a habit”
Aristotle

One of the first questions we always get from any aspiring SOF candidate is, “What do I have to do to get Selected?”

While it is a legitimate question, it is a bit simplistic. There is no one specific thing that a candidate has to do to pass but many.

Selection and Assessment for Special Forces haven’t changed all that much since the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in World War II when General William “Wild Bill” Donovan and his band of glorious amateurs were looking for “PHDs who can win a bar fight.”

While SOF doesn’t require doctoral degrees or any degree for that matter, they are constantly looking for candidates who are smart, trainable and have a good overall balance of knowledge.

As we’ve mentioned many times before, in Selection there are three big discriminators that every candidate must check the block on early in the process if they are going to get selected. Those are being properly prepared for Physical Fitness, Rucking, and Land Navigation.

That’s why we’ve been going back to the basics and hitting on and revisiting all of the topics that generally give candidates the most issues, lately in Land Navigation.  

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Again, 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.

So….we’ve gone over some of the A-B-Cs, the basics of Land Navigation and now comes the time to put all of those lessons into practice. I’ve compiled some nice to know notes from back in the day, that are really helpful, especially if you’ve never done Land Nav before.

Invest in a Good Map Case – A good one should be waterproof, seal up tight so that you won’t lose pencils, grease pencils, your protractor …etc. I should also have a neck lanyard or least one that will allow you to attach it to your body, via a snap link. Losing your map in Hoffman is bad, bad, bad news.

Some guys opt for ziplock bag but those can fall out of a shirt or pants pocket and then you’re right back to square one. Some have extra pockets to store other materials as well. Next…

Fold the Map – This sounds so simple but yet you want to fold the map to keep only the area you are traversing in sight. It saves tons of time when checking your map during movement.

Have you ever seen a film where they’re trying to portray a lost person (Ned the Navigator) who has no clue where he is and how he can find his way?  If you fold the map down so that only the part of your map that you are using shows, it simplifies things immeasurably. Every time you consult your map, only where you are and where you are going next is visible. It saves a lot of time. And when you’re on the course, a minute here or there can be very valuable. If you’ve ever been around orienteers walking or running on a navigation course with only a small folded map in their hands, The are surveying only the part that matters to them at the moment. Having the route which you are traveling showing with a bit of leeway on either side is a good rule of thumb to follow, speaking of which…

Thumbing – This helps to always know exactly where you are without searching around on the map. However, in Camp Mackall, this may prove difficult at times. And no it isn’t hitching a ride to your next point.

Here’s how thumbing works. When navigating, especially in the Hoffman area, you’ll want …and need to make frequent map checks. Trying to find your location on the map every time you stop can be time-consuming. So the easiest way to keep track is to hold your thumb at the spot on the map where you are. Then as you progress through the course, you can slide your thumb along the route. Using this method consistently eliminates the time it would take to orient the map and then find your way.

Good Ways to Check Your Progress While on the Move:

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Plan Checkpoints Along the Route – Checkpoints help to keep you on target. They are also a great way to check your route planning and pace count. If you get to a checkpoint and the going is much tougher than anticipated. You have a place where you can plot and then plan an alternate route.

This is also great reassurance if you happen to be new at this and are unsure of yourself. Trust me, in Hoffman, you will be…

If your route planning takes you by an improved crossroad or the edge of a large body of water, those are easy checkpoints to use as a way to check your route and pace count.

You can use any map feature that is readily identifiable along the way. This is the reassurance that you really do know where you are. This will aid you in finding your Attack Point.

Attack Points – Finding a good attack point before your actual point is essential.

Someone in one Selection class got hung up on what constitutes an attack point. And the fact is, we all have used them countless times. An attack point is nothing more than an identifiable landmark to guide you to your target.

“When you come down Main St. you’ll pass a Dunkin’ Donuts on the right. Right after that take your second left and the house is the fourth on the right.” Sound familiar?

In this case, the Dunkin’ Donuts was the attack point – an unmistakable feature that tells you you’re getting close. Then, you know, that from there, it’s a very short distance to your destination. Sometimes if your attack point is a crossroad or along a linear spot like a road, we use deliberate offset, which means that you purposely aim to the right or left of a spot so that if you don’t hit the attack point exactly, you know, you must move either right or left correspondingly.

Draws and Thickets – As you encounter the draws and thickets of which there are a plentiful amount in Hoffman, you’ll no doubt see where others have tread before you and those well-worn paths are a good indicator that this is the best spot to cross a draw. So, if you must cross a draw in the “Dagobah System”, take advantage of some of the other candidates’ trailblazing and save yourself some time.

In SFAS an instructor will be present at each of your points but you’ll no doubt come across green engineer stakes with a dog tag on them. If you do, do yourself a favor and stop and check them out. These are put in by GPS for the SFQC and are an eight-digit grid coordinate that are exactly where they say they are. There’s no better way to check your location.

Photo courtesy of DOD