Running around like a maniac in the woods, and winning

The last couple of times I’ve been on a land navigation course, I didn’t do so well. The first time, I tried to “take it easy” and walk the course (I normally run a lot). I wasted a lot of time slowly traversing the course, and then because I had it in my mind that I was “taking it easy” it was more difficult to get amped up to crash into the woods and destroy the homes of hundreds of Fort Benning spiders.

Then, at Ranger School, I made a couple of bad decisions at the start of the course which threw me off.

This past week I had another go at a land navigation course for IBOLC’s mini-RAP week. Excited for the chance to get back on a land navigation course and “get my groove back” I put in a little more preparation than usual. One of the problems I had during RAP week land navigation was poor fieldcraft. I didn’t have a clipboard or flat writing surface and I placed my map haphazardly in a zip-up map case. I wasted lots of time digging it out for map checks. Precious minutes spent standing around on a land nav course messing with gear can add up and work against you.

Eager to not make the same mistake twice, I dug through my giant box of old Army gear from my enlisted time and fished out a plexiglass map case I made. It’s something I picked up from watching officers on the drop zones of Fort Bragg. Many of them would pull out these hard map cases with all of the key information they needed already plotted. The case was easy to handle, flat, and protected the map (see here for instructions on how to make one).

After making a few minor repairs to the case, I headed out to the land navigation course with the other post-IBOLC students for the land navigation course (a painful day, wake up at 0030). Surprisingly, we did not go to the usual Red Diamond course I’ve done almost a dozen times since being here at Fort Benning. It was some other course that I’ve never been to before, just south of the Ranger School land navigation site. It was exciting to have to do a new, unfamiliar course.

The map we got for the course was pretty bad. The contour lines were difficult to make out and everything was blurry. I slipped the map into my case and began plotting. Lesson learned: it would probably be better to plot directly on the map and then put the map into the case. The map case is tight, but the map tends to slide around a little bit, and I had to ensure that the map was correctly lined up each time I pulled an azimuth. Also, the parallax caused by the thickness of the plexiglass can effect grid plotting and azimuths if you are not looking directly down at the map case.

I don’t plot out my exact route or course of action for a land navigation course. After plotting my points (and checking!) I usually move myself to the furthest point first, using the night hours to erase the distance. I’ll have a general route plan in mind, but I don’t lock myself into it because I don’t know how the course is going to treat me. I choose my first point, and move out. After getting it (or not), I’ll look at the map and choose the next point. I repeat this until I finish.

After pinpointing my location, I began the course. I used the trails to get myself to attack points. Most of the course was done during the night, so I kept my attack points within 300 meters. While moving along the trails, I jogged. Time spent traversing the course is time wasted. I want to have as much time as possible to locate the little orange and white boxes in the woods after navigating to the general area. The way to get more of that time is by moving swiftly from point A to B.

On this particular lane, I had three points close to the start point, so I snatched those up first. Then I moved to my two furthest points and got those before bringing it back to the start point, grabbing the last two points along the way in my lane.

At the end of the course I was soaked in sweat, but hadn’t actually broken too much brush because I used good attack points. Going with what I know worked (moving quickly, especially at night) and doing well on the land navigation course provided a much needed shot of confidence. Bringing out the map case was helpful, and I learned some lessons on how to use it effectively.

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Resisting the urge to spend money on dumb Army things (fear the Sirens)


I’ve always had a hard time resisting the urge to spend money on more Army gear. In my experience, the Army provides you everything you need to complete any given task. But there are so many things that you can buy that make completing that task easier, more comfortable, or just look better.

During my first enlistment, I loved to go to the ‘tactical’ shops off post and buy cool packs or field equipment. It was all unnecessary stuff. Coming back into the Army, I thought that the urge to spend money on dumb gear had been kicked. I figured it was just part of being young and in the Army. I even wore the old, buggy-looking original Wiley X’s that I had been issued in 2003 as my eye protection during OCS, much to the amusement of my peers who had never seen them.

Now that I have been back in for a few months, that urge to buy additional gear to make things a little easier/comfortable/sexier is coming back, and needs to be suppressed!

I just bought a CAC card reader and I use a Mac. I tried for about 30 minutes to get it to work last night and couldn’t solve the problem. I know it is possible to do and will take just an hour or two of getting the right information and patiently plugging away, but instantly I thought of buying a cheap Windows-based Netbook to be my “Army computer.” A $15 investment in a CAC card reader almost turned into a $350 investment in a new computer. The advice I would give to myself is to save my money and put in the work to just figure out how to get the CAC card reader to work with my Mac.

One of the observations I have made since being back in: most of the prior service Lieutenants choose to wear their Army issue boots. Most of the new Lieutenants choose to wear after market boots (which we were never allowed to wear when I was in). I’m not sure if it’s a comfort thing or if it is, as I suspect, a hardened resistance to blowing money on unnecessary Army stuff. I hope it is the latter.

So far I’m doing good. But it’s getting tougher. And I really want to get some new eye protection.

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