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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Special Forces Land Nav Course

Today we put our classroom skills to the test. Three days and nights of land navigation on the same challenging course used by Special Forces. Each of the first two days are designed as two-man team events. The third day, we set out on our own to prove our skills.

Upon arriving at our bivouac sight, we first setup large, 15-man tents. They would provide our shelter during the cold evenings. Then, we gathered a large amount of wood from the surrounding forest. A perpetual fire would provide our heat (there was also a heated tent for treating cold weather injuries, if necessary). While setting up camp, Tex (the funniest person I have ever met from Texas) caught a lizard and tied it (using the strand inside 550 cord) to a tree. It would become our mascot for our stay.

Even skills you once mastered must be practiced lest they grow rusty. Our first practical exercise demonstrated that for me. We were to navigate to four points, each quite some distance apart, using map, compass, and our pace count (pace count: the number of paces you need to cover 100 meters). Being a pilot, I felt quite comfortable with the task. Tex and I each took a bearing, counted our pace independently, and felt comfortable that our goal - a 3' high white post - must be close at hand. We searched. And we searched some more, and finally realized that something was amiss. After a while it dawned on me. The magnetic north pole of the earth is not exactly aligned with the true north pole. You need to add in a magnetic deviation factor, the value of which depends on where you are on the earth. The correct value is printed on your map. We had both failed to apply magnetic deviation, leading us well off course. One option would be to return to the starting point and begin over, with the correct initial bearing. That would take a long time (it was a timed event). With a basic knowledge of trigonometry, it's possible to estimate the effect of the missing adjustment and calculate a new bearing from the first point you found. That would have been an option. I found an easier route. The point was plotted on my map. I looked for the bends in roads near the point, and the bends in roads I could observe. After just a little while, I formed a mental picture of where I must be on the map, and could then simply visualize the correct position of the marker. Think outside the box. Use all information you have available to you. We learned a valuable lesson today.


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