FORT HOOD, Texas -- Soldiers from 3rd Cavalry Regiment tested their land navigation skills during a practice run of the unit's 1st Expert Infantry Badge course at a training site on the outskirts of Killeen Apr. 16.

The land navigation course is designed to test each soldier's ability to read a map, plot given points and then find those points in a set amount of time. Alone, this may not seem that difficult, but the added pressure of multiple tasks during the upcoming EIB course had soldiers analyzing every detail of the course.

Historically, a soldier's effectiveness on the battlefield has been attributed to their ability to read and interpret their maps.

Testing these critical skills, soldiers were given a map, compass, protractor, pencil and four coordinates, which they had only two hours to find. Failure to find each point, returning all items, or exceeding the two-hour time limit would result in a "no-go."

"Soldier must pay attention to the details," said Sgt. 1st Class Paul Yoder, of 3rd squadron, 3rd Cav. Regt., who added that only about 10 percent of the soldiers who train for the EIB typically make it.

Knowing the fundamentals of map reading, such as what the colors and symbols mean or what the terrain features look like, is a vital tool that soldiers use when studying their maps.

After carefully studying their maps, soldiers found their destination and then plotted the course they intended to travel. To ensure they stayed on the correct path, they had a choice of two navigational methods, dead reckoning or terrain association.

Some soldiers chose dead reckoning, which is the use of a protractor and a graphic scale to determine the direction and distance between known points on a map, and found this method to be time-consuming, but a highly accurate way to move from one point to another. Others chose terrain association, which required them to recognize the terrain and other features around them in relation to their map.

Once all points were found, soldiers returned to their start points, where they were graded. Soldiers who found all their points were given a "go" status, while those soldiers who missed one or more points were given a "no-go" and received guidance on where they went wrong.

"The key was staying focused," said Private Gregory Vail, from 3rd squadron, 3rd Cav. Regt., describing his experiences while going through the EIB course.

The success or failure of the day's training gave the soldiers a taste of what is expected of them during the upcoming EIB course. For some it was a boost of confidence, for others it was a reality check. Regardless, each soldier got what they needed.

"You have to want it," said Master Sgt. William M. Rakestraw, from 3rd squadron, who added that earning the EIB takes drive and determination and is something every infantryman should strive for.

Rakestraw, a native of Tupelo, Miss., earned his EIB in 1994 and described it as a sense of self-pride, knowing that he had entered the ranks of those few who had earned it before him.

"There is no better feeling than to watch a soldier from start to finish as they earn their EIB," said Rakestraw.

Page last updated Wed April 18th, 2012 at 00:00