I’ve recently noted several comments on different blogs asking why all the emphasis on land navigation. Why not just learn your Area of Operations/Area of Interest (AO/AI) like the back of your hand, because you will most likely never venture out of it during WROL anyway. Well, Pilgrim, my best short answer is; land navigation is a valuable skill, that is easily learned and mastered with practice, over time. And like any skill, it makes you a more well-rounded and valuable asset to any team. Why do I need to become familiar with the AK/SKS/Mini-14/FN-FAL/HK systems and every sidearm/shotgun I can get my hands on since I only have an AR-15 ? You never know what you might pick up off of the battlefield.
My best long answer; it is very difficult, even for folks experienced in land nav. to navigate at night, in bad weather, with little or no illumination over broken terrain. Add to that; while humping ruck, tired and hungry. Let’s look at some scenarios.
Scenario 1: Your retreat four man R&S patrol is patrolling the ridges surrounding the outside of your AO when they are forced to deviate from their planned route by the unexpected presence of a large group of armed men. They radio in a SALUTE report to back to your group. The OPFOR group’s size, movement formation and route forces your patrol to evade into an area they are unfamiliar with during the night. Come first light, they find themselves in a heavily wooded area surrounded by low mountains. They must now determine their present location and plan a route of return to your retreat. If they can patrol to one of the mountain peaks, they can orient their map to grid north and either terrain associate or re-section their present location and then plan their route back.
Scenario 2: Your groups ability to make trips to the local barter market have been disrupted by the presence of vehicle mounted harassment/shakedown patrols by groups of local thugs that have recently escalated to include the murder and kidnapping of folks from adjacent groups. After surveilling their operation along different routes for several weeks you determine enough information about them to conduct an early morning ambush of their largest group along a road. This mission will be conducted by several groups with your providing leadership.
Without land nav skills, how will you do your leaders recon of the ambush site, as per SH 21-76 (my favorite, the 1992 version), emplace your security element with eyes-on the objective and find your way back through the release point and then back 300 meters to the ORP at 0200 in the morning, in the rain, and fog, with zero illumination? Or, if you choose to stay on the objective, and send a subordinate leader back to the ORP whereupon he must then lead the rest of the patrol back through the release point to the ambush site, how does he find his way back to the ORP and then subsequently return to the release point? If you’ve not taught him the fundamentals of night land nav he will either A; go off course trying to find the ORP and then decide to sit tight until daylight ruining the ambush opportunity or stumbles up to the ORP off the expected azimuth, whereupon the patrol fires him up and you have a blue-on-blue catastrophe. Or B; he manages to find the ORP and then leads the patrol off course to the ambush site and they stumble upon the road at a different location ruining the ambush and subjecting them to compromise by a vehicle mounted OPFOR patrol.
Scenario 3: You are asked over your pre-established radio net by the folks in a neighboring community to provide mutual assistance in order to deal with the Leroy Jenkins Gang (thanks Sam) by conducting a raid on their compound. The gang has been ravaging the general area, but has left your group alone due to the severe ass-kicking they took the first time they ventured into your AO. You are going to meet up with your neighbors in the middle of the night at a particular farm outside of your AO. They, being somewhat familiar with land navigation give you the 10 digit grid coordinate to that location. Using maps of the area outside of your AO, which your group ordered and stored well ahead of time, you must now plan a route of march, through unfamiliar territory, to your link up and after the mission is complete, in keeping with good tactics, you must have planned a different route of return to your retreat. Then you must execute that movement under cover of darkness, through heavily wooded terrain in order to mask your movement for two reasons; you do not want the gang to realize part of your force is absent from your retreat thus making it vulnerable, they have their snitches in the area you know, and you don’t want the gang to realize something is afoot making them wary. Surprise is an important combat multiplier.
So, three scenarios regarding the importance of land navigation. I apologize that they all involve combat patrols, but that’s my frame-of-reference. I’m sure with some thought you can come up with other reasons. I would suggest looking around online for land navigation sites to include the land nav primer at Max Velocity’s site. Then go out and take a land nav class or join an orienteering club for some hands-on experience.
Have fun boys and girls.