9907 3450. These numbers probably mean nothing to you, but to the students in ROTC who spent last Thursday evening in Wells Field taking a land navigation course, those numbers were the reason for giving up an evening off to spend two hours out in the rain.
One of the benefits of being in ROTC is that not every class is going to be spent crammed into a desk, leafing through the pages of a textbook; once in a while, you get to go play in the woods.
Land navigation is a practical skill that, once learned, allows anyone with a compass and a map to figure out how to get where they need to be and how far away that point is.
“This is one of those critical things, a basic task that soldier has to have,” said Lieutenant Colonel Gary Thompson. “Being able to know where you are on the ground and know where the point is on the map and know how to get from here to there. This is one of the fun things we get to do. You’re out in the woods and you’re doing that soldier thing.”
The land navigation course started with the basics. Every student was given a compass, a map, and a protractor. The class was divided into four stages: three instructing stations and one to apply what they learned.
“I am retraining right now to develop teamwork with my newly formed comrades,” said Steve Forsheim, currently a Cadet and veteran who served in Iraq. “Land navigation is my favorite thing to do in the entire world. It’s difficult and you get to be in the woods.”
First stage: learn how to read a compass. Students were taught two different ways to hold the compass; apparently there is in fact, a wrong way to hold a compass.
Second, they learned how to find a plot point on a map. This is where the numbers come in. By using given coordinates you can pinpoint a spot on the map. The more digits coordinates have the more accurate they will be. An eight digit grid will be accurate to within about 10 meters. Once you have plotted where you are and where you need to be, you can use the tick marks on a protractor to figure out how many meters you must travel.
The third stage was to teach pace counting. Pace counting is done to keep track of how far you have travelled. By figuring out how many paces it takes you to travel 100 meters, which will vary depending on the terrain, you can use that to keep track of how far you have travelled.
“Everyone has a different count so you can average them together to be more accurate,” said Cadet David Teclaw.
In the final stage, students combined everything they learned to physically find points on a map. Working in teams, they were given coordinates and maps and had to find two plot points in the wooded area within 45 minutes. Each group had a fourth year cadet working with them to offer direction and make sure no one got lost.
“My suggestion is, stay on the road and get us to the point,” said fourth year Cadet Cody Seigler. “Also guestimating when you are in the field is a bad idea. You’ll get out there and have no idea how far you have to go. Write it all down.”
Some groups were successful, others were not, but all learned more about how to navigate with these basic tools.“It was kind of a refresher but I definitely learned a few new methods on how to get around if you are not at your exact point. It definitely helps you learn to think on your feet,” said Cadet Carly Falk.
So why not just give all our soldiers GPS? In some cases that does happen. Many military vehicles are equipped with GPS and in occasionally soldiers are issued GPS. But equipment breaks, systems fail, and there’s no guarantee that you can get signal everywhere. However, there is no battery life on a compass and a map will never fail because there is no signal.