As we stated in a post last week, we’ll be going over some of the basics in the upcoming days as the newest Selection courses get underway. We get a lot of questions regarding SFAS and especially the Land Navigation Course out in the Hoffman Area, what they call the “Star Course” in the SFQC.

First things first, yes, the Land Navigation course is not easy, and many students fail at either SFAS or the SFQC because they failed it. The course is tough, it is the toughest individual land navigation course you’ll find in the US military.

But the course is far from impossible, thousands of Special Forces soldiers have passed it before you and thousands more will continue to do so and get a first time go. That’s the magic word everyone wants to hear. It just takes some hard work, patience, and the ability to keep a cool head once you experience the draws and lack of terrain features in lovely Hoffman, NC.

But before we get into the tips and some experiences that many of us have come across, the first thing a candidate MUST do is to come to SFAS prepared. I know, I know, “how many times have we heard that?” But it’s true.

This is another area where the better prepared you are the odds of you passing the Land Navigation course increase tenfold. It begins with Map Reading; become an expert in this necessary skill before you show up at Ft. Bragg. There are plenty of manuals, study guides, and civilian orienteering clubs out there that will get you to where reading a map is a snap and a second nature to you.

I hear from many candidates all the time and many, especially the younger guys who are entering the 18X program or younger soldiers don’t have a background in map reading and navigation. I encourage all of those who this pertains to, check into any orienteering clubs in your area. They will vary, of course, but the vast majority will give the neophyte navigator a great deal of practical experience and many of the folks in those clubs can give some great tips on navigation.

This was always my block of instruction at Camp Mackall during my brief time at Selection and at that time is wasn’t overly detailed. It was more of a refresher for skills you were already supposed to know. Those who came from Light Infantry or Ranger Bn. backgrounds were already well-versed in it and if you have any of those type guys in your unit before selection, seek them out and have them help you.

When it comes to map reading, you should know it to the point that you could teach a class on it, before you arrive at SFAS because all of those skills will be tested. Some of (but not all) of the skills you should be intimately familiar with include:

  • Contour Lines– what are they, the 3 types and how they appear on the different terrain features. Also, know how to find and identify the contour interval.
  • Terrain Features– How many are there and be able to identify each
  • Declination diagram– Be able to identify it on the map and know how it works.
  • Back azimuth– Identify what it is and be able to calculate it
  • Orienting a Map– How many methods are there to do it and be able to do it using each way
  • Intersection– What is it used for and how is it determined
  • Resection– What is it used for and be able to do it easily
  • Dead Reckoning– What is it and know the steps that entail it (hint…many candidates use this exclusively, but it isn’t the preferred method)
  • Field Expedient Direction– How many ways are there and be able to perform each one
  • Azimuth– What is it and what are the two ways it can be measured
  • 8-digit Grid Coordinate– How close will that take you to a point on the ground
  • 6-digit Grid Coordinate– 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?
  • Circle– How many mils? How many degrees?

These are just some of the skills you need. If you look at these above-listed skills and if you aren’t a whiz at every one (these are just the basics) then you aren’t ready for SFAS and the Star course in Hoffman. So as a word to the wise…take the time and prepare as best that you can.

So, you prepared ahead of time and are a map reading whiz now and can whip out a map and be ready to plot where you are and more importantly, where are you going to. You’re going to need a couple of items that seem trivial but are extremely important. A caveat here, these are just suggestions. They aren’t coming from the mountain so to speak. But I’ve found these worked well.

Invest a nice map case, one that will keep your maps dry and allow you to make some marks on the clear portion with a grease pencil to make any notes to help you along. And…I can’t stress this enough, secure your map case to your body. It sounds stupid and infantile, but far too many candidates fail land navigation because they lose their map in a draw and the Hoffman draws are legendary for stealing maps. I used to see candidates not securing their map cases to their body and use their cargo pockets to stuff their map case in.

My favorite map case had a built-in loop that I kept inside my shirt snapped to a D-ring on my shoulder. It was easily accessible and kept it away from those nasty thickets that would tear it away from my thigh pocket. But that is just a personal preference.

And since you aren’t tactical, be smart. Fold your map with the area that you are working in, right on top and easily found. Nothing wastes more time than fumbling with a map under a poncho with a red lens flashlight. Leave room on the side where you can make notations in grease pencil.

And while you’re at it, dummy cord your weapon to your body as well, ditto for all of your gear. Every class, some tired candidate will stop to do a map check and walk off with his weapon, oops. He’s doing the duffel bag drag to the truck heading back to Ft. Bragg.

Invest in those Ranger beads that allow you to keep your distance locked down. Or you can tie one on your own using 550 parachute cord. The cadre were always pretty liberal with the amount of 550-cord they allowed candidates to have. Bring it. Those little things come in handy and when you get tired, it is easy to forget the distance traveled.

Getting Selected at SFAS: The Basics –  Knowing Your Pace Count

Read Next: Getting Selected at SFAS: The Basics –  Knowing Your Pace Count

In a future post, we’ll get into some of finer points of Land Navigation and dive into some of the topics that seem to give guys trouble.

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to email me [email protected]

Photo courtesy of DOD