Missouri National Guard officer candidates conquer land navigation

Matthew J. Wilson/Missouri National Guard

Missouri National Guard officer candidates conquer land navigation

Officer Candidate Dan Evans, left, and his 19 classmates use maps, compasses and clip boards during a land navigation course at Fort Leonard Wood.
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (May 11, 2009) — Even in a modern, technologically advanced world with a global positioning system, soldiers still need to be trained on how to navigate using a map, compass and other low-tech tools.

That type of training is especially important for officers, who may be called on to lead their soldiers through battlefields. That’s why 20 Missouri National Guardsmen in the 2nd Battalion, 140th Regiment Missouri Regional Training Institute Officer Candidate Class 48 worked on land navigation, both day and night, during their third drill weekend in a grueling 18-month program where they’ll have to demonstrate they have what it takes to become an officer.

“We want to make sure that they have the skills necessary to be able to navigate in the event that the GPS equipment goes down or the Blue Force Tracker is not working,” said Capt. Joel Maxwell, course instructor. “They can still use a compass and a map, find an objective on that map and be able to successfully lead their troops to that objective.

“We want to make sure that when they are that platoon leader, they are not that lieutenant that is always lost. There’s an old saying in the Army that you can’t spell lost without ‘LT.’”

Soldiers who aren’t where they are supposed to be will be unsuccessful and risk putting their troops in danger.

“If you can’t get where you need to go, it’s awful hard to accomplish your mission,” said Officer Candidate Dan Evans of Detachment 2, 735th Force Provider Company in Jefferson City.

In the course, officer candidates learned that technology won’t always work for them.

“Technology fails in the field — batteries die and things get broken,” said Officer Candidate Perry Hoffman of Company B, 1st Battalion, 138th Infantry Regiment in St. Louis. “You have to be able to still pick up a map, read it, plot a grid coordinate and be able to orient yourself on a map. You have to know where you are all the time.”

For Soldiers without a map and the proper training, getting lost can be easy.

“You never know when your GPS is going to fail on you or when you are going to find yourself not where you thought you were,” said Officer Candidate Jason Ward of Headquarters, Headquarters Detachment, 203rd Engineer Battalion in Joplin. “You have to be able to figure out exactly where you are and how to get where you want to go.”

Even if technology is working, it doesn’t always tell officers everything they need to know, Maxwell said.

“Whenever you are doing movements — like, on order, move 2,000 meters in a given direction — if you don’t know how to read a map and understand where you are at 2,000 meters at a given azimuth, there may be obstacles. You may just try to take a straight line, which isn’t your best path,” Maxwell said. “You need to be able to have the good map reading skills and be able to use that compass to be able to tell what direction that you are going and how you need to orient around any obstacles.”

One goal is for the officer candidates to be able to find where they are by using what they see.

“I want them to get an understanding so that they can always orient themselves — no matter where they are at, they can look at a map and be able to figure out where on the map they are located, based upon the terrain around them,” Maxwell said.

The officer candidates received classroom training before moving into the field to one of post’s land navigation courses.

“Last month we did a class on applied map reading, and this month we are going into the skills that they learned there to be able to orient themselves on a land navigation course so they can be successful as they progress through the officer candidate school program,” Maxwell said. “I hope they understand that it looks really easy on paper when they are sitting in the classroom, but there is a lot more treacherous terrain, once they actually get boots on the ground, that they have to navigate through.”

Hoffman said the field exercise reinforced the classroom training.

“We just put it to work,” said Hoffman, who lives in Rolla. “We plotted our points, got our distances and found our points. The instruction was good.”

Ward said putting the classroom knowledge to work was a good experience.

“It’s hard to learn exactly how to do land navigation just in a classroom,” he said. “Being out here and actually seeing the terrain features, it kind of enforces that. I’m able to see ‘draws.’ That’s probably the thing that Capt. Maxwell focused on a lot that I usually don’t pay very good attention to.”

According to www.armystudyguide.com, a ‘draw’ is a less-developed stream course than a valley. In a draw, there is essentially no level ground and, therefore, little or no maneuver room within its confines. When standing in a draw, the ground slopes upward in three directions and downward in the other direction. A draw could be considered as the initial formation of a valley. The contour lines depicting a draw are U-shaped or V-shaped, pointing toward high ground.

“If you can register a draw visually on the ground and then actually find it on a map, it’s just an extra terrain feature that you can really use,” said Ward, who lives in Ozark.

Officer Candidate Joshua Sink of the Missouri Medical Detachment, Troop Medical Clinic No. 3 at Camp Crowder has been in the Guard for 12 years and said the course has helped him shake off some rust.

“It was definitely some good training, especially for the folks who aren’t real familiar with doing land navigation,” said Sink, who is from Fort Smith, Ark. “It’s a great refresher for all of us who have been in for a little while. It’s always good to come out here and sharpen your skills on land navigation.”

Sink said the biggest challenge was completing all the movements after taking a physical training test earlier in the day.

“We were out there walking some miles,” he said.

Students climbed steep hills with different types of terrain, traversed streams and negotiated other natural obstacles during the instruction.

“It’s not easy walking up and down those hills,” said Evans, who lives in St. Charles.

Evans said the instruction also was a refresher for him, but he did learn something new.

“This is the first time I’ve ever taken a rough terrain pace count,” he said. “It’s where you take your pace over 100 meters over rough terrain so when you are walking in hills like this, you can more accurately judge your distance. It helps you determine your location in the woods, find your points and get where you need to go.”

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