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Discussion: U.S. Army change to land navigation in Basic Training

in: Orienteering; General

Mar 3, 2018 7:05 PM # 
While this article talks a lot about the discipline concerns for Commanders gaining new recruits, an interesting orienteering-related discussion is also found within:

Basically the U.S. Army will continue "training" recruits in land navigation during Basic Training, but it will no longer be a skill that requires "qualification." In other words recruits won't be tested on land nav any more in order to graduate from Basic Training, if I understand correctly.

Thoughts? Or better info out there on this? Here's the link:
Mar 3, 2018 8:09 PM # 
Unfortunately, it's not much of a change than they had in the last few years. Recently it as done as a fire team (4-5 individuals). The courses are not difficult and ample time is available.

I am not a fan of this because land navigation skills are pretty poor across the Army at this point.
Mar 3, 2018 10:37 PM # 
It was terrible in the 80s, too!
Mar 6, 2018 6:04 AM # 
I just completed the nav component in the Aus army and it didn't require a lot to pass. One of my section read the wrong bearing and took us way off course, losing about 1.5hrs in the process (on a ~800m leg) after he had to relocate several times and he still passed. I took over near the end just to finish the course and get us all back in time.
Mar 8, 2018 12:07 AM # 
On the one hand, as a traditionalist, this grieves me.

As a realist—probably as useful as learning to detail strip a musket. Nice, but there are only so many hours in a day. Most battles will not hinge on musket excellence. Nor on land nav.

Orienteering is last year’s pentathlon.
Mar 8, 2018 12:22 AM # 
At least until the GPS jams, the guidance software gets a virus, or someone hijacks a video feed. Having the confidence to trust one's eyes and a map is important. I can't say any Army land nav training taught me that very effectively, though.

I've seen articles about other modifications to Basic, such as dropping the requirement to lob a live grenade far enough for it to explode without injuring the thrower. Apparently the generation going through training hasn't played catch much growing up and has to be taught how to throw, much less how to throw far under pressure. With non-catch-playing recruits, there isn't enough time to train grenade throwing in the allotted time. And the budgetary and logistical impacts of extending Basic are significant enough that they can't just tack on a day or two, as crazy as that might seem.

Part of me cringes (I don't remember grenade-throwing being all that difficult), but another part recognizes these are skills that will be trained in depth for those who need them. As we support more operations remotely, the nature of skills that need to be universal is changing. I would love to be a fly on the wall as all the sergeants major discuss what everyone *must* be able to do, though!
Mar 8, 2018 5:13 AM # 
The nav we were taught was essentially set a bearing (in mils, not degrees) then walk in a straight line, pace counting, until you get there.
Mar 8, 2018 2:38 PM # 
Reading a map isn't just about knowing one's coordinates. I would think that the military would be interested in assessing how exposed they will be to fire from various locations due to topography, assessing how protected from the weather potential sleeping locations are, assessing how physical (and even passable) a route will be, and so forth.

In my experience, too much (civilian) land navigation training is about compass and pace, and too little about topography. A bearing doesn't solve as much as the general public seems to think. Give students a task that involves reading contours, even fairly simple, and they try everything except reading contours, I've found. In my experience, contours are the only highly reliable map info. Other stuff changes in human timescales. I would think that training that teaches contours, only, would be more worthwhile than training that teaches everything else navigational. But from members of the military that attend orienteering events, I get the impression that most received an emphasis on compass, which doesn't address the above tasks. If even that training is reduced, I hope that the tech proves adequate for solving their needs. Maybe officers get more navigational training?
Mar 9, 2018 12:30 AM # 
I had a brief but interesting exchange with a couple of Florida National Guard corporals one day recently when I was stopped and questioned why I was there on the edge of the woods on their base.
All went well and I was asked about this orienteering. I told them it is a form of land navigation where people interpret information on the map. make a decision and follow through on that decision.
"That's what we need," said one corporal. "officers who can make a decision."
Bring on orienteering.
Mar 9, 2018 2:03 AM # 
Going on a pure compass bearing that someone gives you is not a lesson in navigation, but a lesson in trust, trust that someone who hopefully knows how to read topography actually did look at a map and is not sending you e.g., 200 ft NE, straight down a cliff.
Mar 10, 2018 2:36 AM # 
Another Army example: My brother and his wife have a friend who served for years as a US Army helicopter pilot. Somehow, sometime the subject of me doing 'orienteering' came up in their conversation. The pilot said orienteering helped her get through Ranger School and through her career as a pilot. It turns out for a crucial land navigation exercise at Ranger School she happened to be paired with a guy who actually knew the sport of orienteering and knew the value of taking in all the information on the map, not just finding the 'azimuth' (bearing). They breezed through the navigation exercises together and ever after she looked at all the relevant details on the map of the terrain below when heading somewhere.
Mar 10, 2018 3:29 AM # 
With our navigation exercise I was in the position of being the experienced navigator but had already witnessed people getting in trouble for 'teaching' (i.e. giving advice when the instructor, who in this instance was the 'expert', was present) so didn't want to be that person. Yet I got written up in my report as 'could contribute to the team more but failed to do so'.
Mar 10, 2018 9:20 AM # 
In survival school the instructors kept telling me to put away my map. “Put the map away, L-T!” We had drawn a line for our route on the map and then written down all the information we were supposed to need about what major features we’d cross at x paces. I tried asking about what we would do if we discovered that we needed to take a major detour but I guess that was considered beyond the scope of the exercises.
Mar 10, 2018 2:02 PM # 
Army story #3. There was this West Point cadet I knew from his days doing high school orienteering in Georgia and at O'Ringen in Sweden. Many of you will know him, too.
I asked him if orienteering had helped him with the land nav training at the Point.
"It put me head and shoulders above my classsmates," he responded.
Mar 10, 2018 6:07 PM # 
I think all USMAOC members have some good land nav stories. My favorite is one of the cadets we coached becoming her squad's go-to point woman to lead foot patrols, and the infantry sergeant who was advising them finally had to declare that she was too dizzy to read her map because no one else was getting a chance. I bet he didn't expect that - women have only very recently been allowed to branch infantry and go to Ranger School.

There's no doubt orienteering is valuable to anyone who is going to be performing missions in unfamiliar terrain. The sport began with the military, after all. But Basic Training is not where you learn to navigate well. It's follow-up training specific to one's specialty where you get more than that basic introduction and get to learn from experts.
Mar 11, 2018 3:58 AM # 
HMMWV land nav was by far the awesomest day of a variation of orienteering I've had yet. They said first one to finish the course gets to go to McD's. After a month of chow hall food, and my team totally willing to let me navigate, you can guess which HMMWV came back first. That was one good Big Mac! We waited another hour for everyone else to finish.

Good to hear there's more after Basic. Maybe some benefit doing it this way, learning more of the land nav when it's not under the pressure of the Basic environment, perhaps.
Mar 11, 2018 12:08 PM # 
Army story #4: An AJROTC instructor, who happens to have one of the top ranked JROTC orienteering teams in Florida, told me that while one of his cadets was going through the application process for a university ROTC scholarship she was told by an interviewer that of all the extra activities she had on her application orienteering was the 'most important'. or 'most useful' or 'most valuable' - you get the idea.
Mar 12, 2018 3:12 AM # 
Ha! We just told our daughter Anna the same thing...
Mar 12, 2018 9:30 AM # 
Terje Mathisen:
Near the end of Basic training some of us were offered to take 6 months of officer training instead of going directly to northern Norway, so I naturally said yes to that.

At the time I was close to national team level (but unlike my brother Knut) I never actually go there, I wasn't fast enough, but for Army land navigation being an orienteer was a huge advantage. Our training chief officer, a captain, was also into orienteering but he still made a huge mistake for our final training exercise:

We were divided into small teams then put into the back of a military truck so we could not see where we were being driven, with each team getting a separate starting location. We also got a standard military 1:50K scale topo map with our route drawn in with a heavy black marker so that _all_ details on the route was hidden. :-(

To add insult to injury my team both got the most complicated route to follow, and the captain started us from the wrong spot...
Mar 12, 2018 2:02 PM # 
Was recently in the woods monitoring ROTC land nav exercises with the colonel in charge of the local cadre. He quoted an army study to me saying that the two attributes most predictive of a successful army career were "physical fitness" and "land nav" ability. General "leadership aptitude" was much further behind... Food for thought...
Mar 12, 2018 10:22 PM # 
Leadership only comes into play once you make the higher ranks. Us recruits were told we were the same rank as all the others and so no other recruits should have been telling us what to do (as happened on occasion - I told one guy where to go when he tried this on me).

This discussion thread is closed.