I was reading the news yesterday and saw a piece in Army Times by Meghann Myers about a poor soldier who was at Ft. Carson, Colorado who was attempting to earn his EFMB (Expert Field Medical Badge) on Monday when this poor troop (the Army refused to say if it was a male or female) got lost on the Land Navigation Course. The course was located on the southeastern corner of the base, close to Interstate 25.

The unit, the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division as well as others, with more than 1700 soldiers on the ground, civilian first responders from El Paso, Fremont and Douglas counties, military and civilian helicopters all searched for this lost soldier. The unit feared that the soldier was hurt and therefore pulled out all the stops to find him/her. This soldier was last seen at 9:45 p.m. on Monday night.

But never fear, our erstwhile Land Navigation student was found alive … and safe by a passing motorist on Highway 115 at 9:45 a.m. on Wednesday morning. But the soldier wasn’t on the Land Nav. course. He or she actually wasn’t anywhere near it. In fact, the soldier in question was on the opposite (western) side of the base

Myers said in her post that “but you can bet the ‘lost lieutenant’ jokes will fly anyway.” Oh, Meghann, you have no idea. The soldier’s commander didn’t help matters by means of the following statement.

“The soldiers of our brigade are tremendously relieved that our Soldier has been recovered safely,” said Col. Dave Zinn, commander of 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. “The soldier has displayed physical and mental toughness as a soldier and persevered through a challenging situation. I want to extend my deepest appreciation to all of the soldiers of Fort Carson, along with the Colorado Springs community, for their diligent work while searching for and bringing our soldier home.”

Lost Lieutenant jokes? Hardly this is “Ned the Navigator” territory. What the good Colonel didn’t say, probably to save this poor soldier any further embarrassment was that other than that “physical and mental” toughness, the soldier displayed piss poor judgment and planning. Pace count? Left and right limits to the course? Oh boy, this poor soul will never live this one down. Time to go to clothing sales and purchase some new nametapes…Ned the Navigator.

For our aspiring Special Forces candidates, especially those 18X younger troops, Ned the Navigator was a SFAS and SFQC legend. Every class has a Ned, and if you haven’t gone thru the pipeline yet, you’ll meet him soon enough. Some classes have more than one. Word to the wise here folks, Don’t be Ned. Ned is the guy everyone remembers, but he didn’t graduate from the course. He did the duffle bag drag back to Ft. Bragg.

In case you were wondering, here are some of the symptoms on Ned the Navigator syndrome, so that you…as an aspiring Special Forces candidate, will recognize these traits and save some poor unfortunate soul from endless misery, by pointing these things out and hopefully talk some sense into these candidates. Upside the head with a smart stick will work just as well, thank you very much.

  1. Pace count: Meh, pace counts, space counts. Ned doesn’t need those, he’s going to use his vast experience (probably a week or so) as a navigator to find his way there without the benefit of those.
  2. Map reading and terrain association: “The map is sooo wrong.” is a familiar lament of the Neds of the SF world. If I had a nickel for every time I heard that and it was usually from the guy who got lost. Maps don’t lie, they have no sense of deception. What you see is literally, where you are.
  3. Paying attention to the cadre brief: “Ned doesn’t need no stinkin’ briefing!” Especially about the part where they’ll tell you. “If you come across a hardball road….stop! There are no points across the highway and you should never cross one, or you’ll be off the course.”

There are others but you get the gist of things here. You can tell almost right away who the Neds are going to be in each class. And no story is complete without a FOG anecdote from our author here…yes I have a million of them, really.

One SFAS class we ran, we had a rather large class to start that was doing Land Navigation practice (day) early in the course. It was a perfect late fall afternoon in North Carolina, sunny, clear, about 60 degrees. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon where most of us missed sitting at home watching the NFL rather than be running a Selection class.  

Back then and I’m sure things haven’t changed today, we had a master list of the candidates and what lanes they were on. The list had each candidate’s starting point and each of the points that he was supposed to check in at. Each point in SFAS had a cadre member there. The candidates would check in, the candidate would be given his next point’s coordinates and after plotting and planning his course, the candidate would check out with the instructor. Therefore, we had a timeline of each candidate’s progress. The purpose of this will become clear shortly.

And each cadre member manning a point would have a list of the candidates that he was supposed to have finish at his point. So, before we would transport the candidates back to Camp Mackall, everyone would be accounted for.

About 30 minutes before the candidate’s time limit for the day’s navigation practice was up, the cadre member in charge of the day’s event would begin to call around to the different points and see how many candidates had checked in and how many were unaccounted for.

This particular day, with 15 minutes to go, there were only three candidates still on the course. Within ten minutes, two more candidates had finished the course and checked in. That meant there was just one candidate unaccounted for with five minutes to go. It seemed like, for once, we’d finish and be able to get home and maybe even catch a few minutes of the late football game. As in those early days of SFAS, our instructor numbers were way down. We operated with about 30 percent of the manpower we were authorized to have. Days and nights were long, but we thought we’d be finishing early. We were very wrong.

As the time limit ran out and Roster #69 (j/k), was still unaccounted for, all of the roving vehicles manned by cadre members began to descend on the point where he was supposed to finish. Those rovers would constantly keep tabs on candidates all over the course.

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Ned the Navigator had checked out of his second-to-last point with plenty of time to find his final point. The vehicles scoured the area between his last check-in and his final destination. No sign of him. After an hour of him being overtime and several cadre members searching for him, the very real possibility of him being hurt out on the course began to creep into everyone’s mind.

We consolidated the candidates in a central location and more instructors joined the search as the clock ticked away. After Ned was overtime by about 2.5-to-3 hours, we got a call on the radio from the headshed back at Camp Mackall. The duty NCO there got a collect call from a lost Land Navigation student. A collect call? For anyone who hasn’t been out to the Hoffman area, there aren’t many pay phones out there.

The duty NCO said the knucklehead had no idea where he was but he could see across the road and there was a huge parking lot with tons of cars in it. What??? One of our cadre senior NCOs knew exactly where he was. Ned the Navigator had walked to Rockingham Raceway, right into the crowd at a NASCAR race.

Rockingham is about 20 miles driving distance from Camp Mackall, but in a straight line from the Land Nav course, it is probably less about 10-12. Ned crossed the highway, (Mistake #1), ignored his pace count (Huge Mistake #2) and when he was finally picked up, said, the map was wrong (Mistake #3).

The cadre members were not happy, the candidates weren’t happy, sitting on their hands out in Hoffman, although they have no right to be happy or sad unless it is on the training schedule. When we got back to Camp Mackall, the other candidates were giving it to the one who got lost. Because it wasn’t long before they knew where he ended up. And then a day or so later, Ned the Navigator was doing the duffle bag drag.

So while we’re glad the soldier from Ft. Carson is safe and healthy, he or she will never live that one down. Ned the Navigator lives.