Finding their way through the woods
July 31, 2013
FORT DEVENS, Mass. (July 31, 2013) -- Marksmanship, physical fitness and Army warrior tasks are primary aspects of Army training. While not a first thought, land navigation is just as important.
With this in mind, the Soldiers and officers of the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, or USARIEM, went to the woods of Fort Devens to brush up on their skills July 26.
Prior to heading to the field, Soldiers clocked in some classroom hours to prepare for the adventure. Soldiers looked at the tools they would be using to familiarize themselves with the fundamentals of land navigation.
After arriving in the field, a quick briefing was given to personnel, stressing the importance of the correct way to hold the compass, how to establish a pace count, and plotting points on their maps using an azimuth, or degrees.
"So, basically, what we're doing is we're handing out maps of the general area, giving them three to four eight-digit grid coordinates; they plot those coordinates on the map, and they go and they find them," said Staff Sgt. Carl Larcom, Military Performance Division non-commissioned officer in charge at USARIEM.
Larcom spearheaded this particular training, along with Capt. Laurel Smith, a research occupational therapist with USARIEM.
"It's just good refresher training, and it gives the unit a chance to mingle with people that they might not have an opportunity to work with outside their division," said Smith. "It promotes esprit de corps and morale, and gets us out of the office."
Once a week, the Soldiers of USARIEM partake in some type of training. This usually consists of classroom-style instruction covering everything from Equal Opportunity to Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) to life-preservation training. USARIEM leaders also try to incorporate field exercises at least once a month.
"(This training) is nice because it breaks up the day and gives some of the Soldiers an opportunity to get out and apply some of their military skills and knowledge," said Smith.
This type of out-of-the-office training also prepares Soldiers for potential future assignments.
"It's all very precise in order to get you there," said Larcom. "That eight-digit grid should get you within 10 meters of your point … (With) a 10-digit grid, you should be within one meter."
Larcom also pointed out that it is often difficult for some Soldiers to realize the attention to detail it takes during an exercise such as this one.
"They have to be really accurate," Larcom said, or the Soldiers run the risk of not finding their points.
As the first iteration came to an end, Soldiers had plenty to say about the course.
"Everything went really well, especially considering the weather. Everybody's in pretty high spirits," said Sgt. Shaun Morand, a behavioral health NCO at USARIEM.
Soggy conditions called for a slightly trickier land navigation day as Soldiers had to be certain they weren't stepping into unstable terrain.
Morand, considered an expert in land navigation, made sure not to dominate his group.
"I kind of let them take the reins, made a couple of corrections when I realized we needed to, and used it as a learning point," said Morand. "If you have people looking over things twice, you're more than likely to get it right."
Morand also said the land navigation course had "real-world application" that could be used whether someone is downrange or hiking on his or her own.
Cpl. Luis Leandry, a bioscience research assistant at USARIEM, trekked through the moist woods to complete the course.
"Two of the points were in the middle of the swamp …, which threw us off," Leandry said with a chuckle.
"The first one was really hard to find, then the second was OK, and the third one was in a swamp again, so that was a little bit rough."
Course facilitators purposely designated points in areas such as these so Soldiers could then practice their skills involving getting a back-azimuth. Instead of getting a direct "hit," Soldiers could backtrack to figure out where their next point would be.
Smith thought the exercise overall went really well.
"No one got hurt and everyone had fun," said Smith. "I think (everyone) learned something, and it seems like most had a good time despite the weather, which is always a positive."
USARIEM has more training on the horizon, including a leader's reaction course, grenade launcher and rifle ranges.