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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Bring Fresh Socks

When you're in the field, you want to bring as many fresh socks as you can manage (given all the other gear you need, too). If you only bring one pair per day, it may not be enough. Land navigation today proved that point.

This morning, we set out in two-man teams as a final practice before our solo land navigation test. Two of our points were bisected by a stream. This wasn't your California mountains stream of clear water over sand and rocks. It was stagnant water, and mud, and muck. It smelled bad.

We attempted to cross by balancing on the branches and roots of the many plants growing in and around this source of moisture. Unfortunately, many of our would-be supports were dead and rotting. We carefully applied our weight, tested our new foothold, then took a step. We almost made it. The final 4' proved a little tough. I had to jump for the other side, but the extra force of pushing off was just enough to snap the old root I was balanced on. I came up about 6" short on the other side, and down I went. My boot slid all the way into the muck on the far bank. I quickly stepped up to the far bank, but not before the putrid water had soaked my socks. In the Army you quickly learn that you're going to get dirty, and you get over it. The lesson here is that dry socks are vital to good foot hygene. If you're in the field, be sure you always have a clean pair to change in to.

Back at the base, we sat down to enjoy lunch. They actually gave us plenty of time to eat our MRE's. Suddenly, I heard the cry "Oh Sh!t". Scanning the area, I noticed one of my fellow soldiers had apparently stowed his travel-size shaving cream in his cargo pocket after morning hygene. Something he did during land navigation must have set it off, because his pocket was filled to overflowing with white foam. It was the first time in a while I had a meal with a show :-)

As afternoon came, it was time to prove our land navigation skills. We were each assigned 4 points, and given 4 hours to navigate to at least 3 of the 4. Ever since entering basic training, we have not been alone. In BCT we were ALWAYS in a group and under supervision. In AIT we were sometimes given pass, but the buddy rule was in effect. Even there we had to travel in a group of at least two. It felt strange being out in the woods by myself. Strange in a good way. I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon. I did not stress over finding my points because my navigation skills are strong. Upon reaching my second point, I relaxed with some left-over MRE food I had brought along. The 15 minute break, just laying there soaking up the sun, felt very good.

My third point was an odd one. All of the area surrounding it was burned down. I surveyed the area, and noticed that one fallen tree in the area was still smouldering. I did not have enough water on my person to put it all out, but was concerned that any winds could fan the flames and start a larger fire. Three points in hand, 2 hours left on the test, and my 4th point less than 1km from the base, I returned to report the fire hazard.

At the base, the Company Commander himself decided to drive me out to the site of the burn with jugs of water. In AIT you really respect your Drill Sergeants. The First Sergeant, their bosses, is someone you REALLY respect. The Company Commander is the First Sergeant's boss. In spite of his rank (he was a Major), the Commander quickly put me at ease. We quickly discovered that we're both pilots, and spent quite a bit of time talking airplanes while driving to the site of the burn. It was a good time. Before long we found the burning tree and drenched it with water.

The test was scheduled to be over in four hours. As the sun began to set, two students had not yet returned. We held dinner for them. One team, one fight. As it became totally dark, concern began to spread. Then a search party was formed. I was asked to join one of the search teams. We navigated along the route of one of the missing soldiers, checking to see if he had perhaps fallen and broken a leg en route. Drill Sergeants and instructors drove the fire roads. Finally, after about an hour of search, the word came down that they had been found along a nearby highway. One of them had gotten totally lost and followed the other, who it turned out was also totally lost. They went in pretty much exactly the wrong direction for miles and miles before hitting a highway. You might think that they could catch hell once they returned, but the opposite was the case. They were welcomed back with only a moderate amount of jokes.

In all, the day was fun and successful. Just remember to bring fresh socks.


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