Basic Camp

Cadets set aside GPS for land navigation instruction

Bravo Company Cadets practice their land navigation skills at their first land navigation sight. After 30 minutes of plotting the Cadets double check they’re plotting before heading out to find the points. The cadets have 3 hours to find the points and return to the starting point.

Bravo Company Cadets practice their land navigation skills at their first land navigation sight. After 30 minutes of plotting the Cadets double check they’re plotting before heading out to find the points. The cadets have 3 hours to find the points and return to the starting point. Photo by Michael Noble Jr. 

By Matthew Langston
Leader’s Training Course

For many of today’s tech-savvy youth, finding something is as simple as punching in a location to the GPS on their cellphone.

At the Leader’s Training Course, Cadets have that luxury taken away, forced to navigate the landscape by more traditional means — by reading a map.

While some Cadets seem to have a natural sense of direction, land navigation training is not effortless for many.

“I was very confused,” said Charlie Company Cadet Nabetsie Cartagena. “I was getting frustrated because I couldn’t find the points.”

Cadets prepare for land navigation by training for a couple of days, learning how to read a map, use a compass and protractor to plot points and how to count steps to track distance.

The training will help teach them techniques to use and practice during trial runs before the actual land navigation test. Knowing how to navigate is a pivotal part of Soldier training in general. These future leaders will need to know how to direct other troops in situations involving becoming lost and directing others through terrain while on missions.

When arriving at land navigation, they are issued gear: a map, a protractor and a compass. They listen to a safety briefing about hydration and how to combat ticks, which can become a problem while navigating the heavily-wooded terrain.

After that, Cadets are given 30 minutes to plot their points. They attempt to find four out of five points within a four-hour time limit for the day portion of the land navigation test. They also face a night exam, which differs only in that Cadet have to find two out of three points within two hours.

Sgt. 1st Class Markal Hansen, range safety officer for land navigation, said finding the points can prove to be challenging because Cadets have to learn so much information quickly.

“They come here very inexperienced,” Hansen said. “They come here and get fed from the fire hose.”

Cartagena, a student at the University of Puerto Rico, said the more challenging parts of land navigation were endurance through the course itself and being able to use the information taught to them in the classroom before the land navigation tests.

“You have to know how to plot the points,” he said. “I’ve been lost a couple of times today.”

If a Cadet becomes lost on the course, they simply have to blow a whistle given to them and wait for a terrain course official to find them and reorient them to the course.

Although the course was challenging for Cadet Joel Natalie, he was able to get back on track thanks to the training he received.

“We had a good class yesterday that showed us everything that we needed to know,” said Natalie, a student at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.

He said good skills to use while in the field include constantly checking your compass and keeping in step, which help Cadets adjust while navigating.

“If there is a big depression or a tree that you can’t get around, you have to adjust to that,” Natalie said.

With land navigation being an individual event, Hansen said the main goal is to find all five points within the time limit.

“If they get five out of five points, that’s excellent,” he said. “But if they maintain four out of five, that’s still very good and shows that they have gained proficiency in land navigation.”

Natalie said learning how to navigate terrain is an important skill that he will be able to use all the time outside of LTC. He said those who reach the officer rank must have the knowledge to plot points on a much bigger scale, especially if gadgets stop working in the field.

“We have technology with GPS and all of that,” he said. “But if that fails, you have to know.”

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