This week, we’ve hit on a variety of subjects in regards to the basics of Land Navigation, what we call the 101 level of topics. It is the absolute best place to start. Practice the basics and become so well versed in it until you can teach the class in them. It is always preferable to start at square 1 and work up.

And, it is good practice for even those much more experienced troops when getting ready for Selection into Special Operations Forces to brush up on the basics. Considering that Land Navigation is one of the biggest obstacles to candidate’s paths to selection, it is never a bad idea to be supremely prepared.

In previous pieces this week, we took a look at basic Map reading, setting your pace count, orienting the map and plotting your starting location. Now we’ll get into the plotting and planning of your route. While it sounds very easy on paper, having a proper route planned is much more detailed than just drawing a straight line.

Plotting Your Target Point: In our post from yesterday, we’ve plotted and then double-checked our location so that you know exactly where you are starting from. Now you plot your first point in the exact same way.

Read to the right and up and using the 1/50,000 map scale, carefully plot your eight-digit grid coordinate to the point that you are navigating to. Remember, four-digit grids get you to within 1000 meters, six-digit grids to within 100 meters and an eight-digit grid gets us to within 10 meters. Now, double check your plot and ensure you’ve got it right. Are you certain to your plot? Good, that is the first step.

Now measure the distance between the two points. Remember this is straight line distance and not walking distance. Your actual traveling distance will vary quite a bit from Point A to Point B depending upon your route selection and the terrain that you’ll encounter along the way

Planning the Route: There are two basic ways you can get to where you’re going. Either will get you to where you’re going but for your purposes in Selection, one may prove to be a much better option. Don’t worry about what the other guys are doing. This is an individual evaluation and you are in this part alone.

Dead Reckoning – Dead Reckoning is a system that is done in two steps. The first is getting an azimuth from your starting point using your map and protractor and determine the distance to where your point is located at. The next step is to convert the grid azimuth to a magnetic one using the declination diagram and use your compass and your pace count and apply what you’ve already learned and walked to your point by staying as close as you can to your azimuth.

This system is best used on shorter distances such as a compass course and not for distances covering many clicks (kilometers).

Your position can be checked from time to time using both resection or intersection when there are terrain features available. Dead Reckoning has some advantages; it is easy to teach the neophyte navigator and in open terrain, especially in grassy areas or desert type regions, it is easier to stay on the azimuth. It works well in a desert type of environment where the navigator can pick out a landmark or terrain feature far in the distance and the navigator can easily negotiate around small obstacles.

The Dead Reckoning system is at a distinct disadvantage when you’re facing the terrain that is covered with thick vegetation, intermittent streams, draws, and swampy areas. The Star Course in Hoffman that SFAS candidates use make Dead Reckoning a dicey proposition. However, it can and does work. I know several SF guys who plowed thru the Land Navigation course using this exact method. I wouldn’t recommend this but it can be done at times and will work. But perhaps the second method is the better way to go.

Terrain Association – Terrain Association Is more difficult to plan but is much less forgiving of mistakes and generally a lot less time consuming than Dead Reckoning. It requires a more detailed map study of where you’re going and how you plan to get there but the time spent planning your movement is better served than trying to plow your way thru the thickets and swampy areas.

The advantages of terrain association are obvious. If you veer off course in Dead Reckoning, you are in trouble. Because you could have drifted left or right.  But using terrain association, your position is easily checked and adjustments made on the fly. Especially where terrain features are more prominent.

Selection and identification of terrain features is key here. Plan your route using handrails as a guide and ensure to plot checkpoints along the way. Someone emailed me and asked me, “wouldn’t that add distance to what you’ll be walking?” and the answer is yes. However, while you may be walking farther, you’ll be moving much more economical once you see how thick some of those swamps and thickets are.

Ensure your map is oriented and use the available terrain as a guide. You won’t be following a specific azimuth per se, but more of a cardinal direction to your checkpoints using your map to guide you. If you’re operating in an area with distinct rolling hills and ridgelines, this kind of navigation is a snap.

You can use the roads both the improved and the unimproved as a guide but the best advice is don’t be a roadrunner. The cadre will catch you and that won’t bode well for you. You are allowed to parallel the roads but not too closely.  Make sure that you plot a backstop on your route that you can identify as having gone too far.

A word of caution about the roads on military bases especially in Hoffman. There a lot of them out there, and most are not on the map. While there are exceptions…You’ll become familiar with “Five Points” but for the most part, those are at times difficult to judge. Just be careful.

In almost every case, most especially in SFAS that once you come upon a paved road. Stop. In SFAS you will never be crossing any of those. Let me repeat that… you will never cross a hard, paved road in the course. While a few of the points may be near them, you’ll never cross over a paved road to get to them but you can use those as a handrail at times.

As I type this, I’m already smiling because in your class, as certain as I am about the hair on my head, someone in your class will cross the road. It happens in every class and despite the cadre making it a point not to do it, someone will. Bet on it. Don’t be “Ned the Navigator.”

Plot checkpoints along the way to ensure that you are on track and on target.  Any mapped feature you can readily identify along the way is a checkpoint that you are where you think you are..Choose an attack point that will put you no farther than 200-300 meters from your point. What is an attack point? An attack point is a point no more than 200-300 meters from your target that you can use as a base to try to find the point.

As you encounter ways around the draws and thickets, 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…if you have to.

Once you identify your attack point, use dead reckoning and plot an azimuth to your point. Once you get to where you believe you are at the point is, if you are not seeing it, stop and make small circles of about 25 meters to find it. If that doesn’t work, go out another 25 meters until finding it. In SFAS, the points will be easier to find, once you get close as a cadre member will be there and if it is at night will probably have a small fire going.

These short articles on revisiting the basics are good practice. And that is exactly what you should be doing. If you live on a military base, they may have a land navigation course set out that you may get to practice on. If not, check out the civilian orienteering clubs in your area.

In our next land nav, piece, we’ll touch on some of the other skills you may need to brush up on.  Until then, if you have any questions, feel free to email me [email protected] or Tweet them to me (@SteveB7SFG) and I’ll be happy to answer them. Either privately or in a post such as this (without naming names).

Photo courtesy of DOD