ROTC Weekly Recap: Land Navigation Course

By Jacob McCollum

[Image courtesy of]

This week, Seneca Battalion ROTC cadets conducted a land navigation course that took them through the forests and main buildings of campus.

Land navigation is a critical skill for any soldier.  Knowing where you are is vital for conducting operations on the battlefield or at home.  With modern technology, land navigation has become relatively easy.  In the field, the Army constantly monitors its troops and vehicles through a system called Blue Force Tracker, a GPS system that follows US assets anywhere on the globe.

The problem is: technology doesn’t work all the time.

That’s why ROTC cadets, as well as soldiers in most of the Army’s training schools, undergo land navigation courses, where paper maps and compasses are used to navigate the “old school” way.

First, cadets were taken outside behind the Reilly Center to ensure their compasses were properly calibrated. After they determined their pace count, the number of steps they take to move 100 meters.

Cadets were then taken inside and given a plastic zip-lock bag containing a map of the St. Bonaventure campus and surrounding areas, a protractor, a “lane strip,” a glow stick and a whistle.   Cadet Koty Mann gave a safety brief and went over the area of operations, or AO, where the land navigation course was set up.

Once Mann was finished, cadets were given 15 minutes to plot the coordinates from their lane strip.  Once all points were plotted, cadets had to choose a path from point to point and then determine the distance in meters and direction in degrees on their compass that they would need to move in order to accurately find the point. This is all done using the military protractor provided to the cadets.

Experienced MSII and MSIII cadets were sent out alone without any review instruction to find five points.  Those that had not undergone a land navigation course before were held back for instruction and released later to find two points.

While this all sounds easy in theory, it’s anything but.

Once the direction is determined by use of the compass, distance is determined 100 meters at a time.  Every time the pace count is reached it starts over, marking that the cadet has walked 100 meters.  Every so often the cadet has to check their heading and ensure they’re still walking in the same direction.  In a forest, there are many things that can throw off a pace count.  Swamps, fallen logs,

Even if all of this is done perfectly, if the plot is off, the cadet will find nothing at the end of their path.  Then the cadet would have to look for the point and hope to find the right one, or re-plot the point and try to find it based off of one of the Known Points plotted throughout the map as an aid.

Adding to the challenge was the fact that this time around, cadets had to find points hidden amongst Bonaventure’s buildings as well, requiring them to be even more accurate with their plots.

For this course, fluorescent orange kites were used for woodland points and white tape was used for urban points.  On the kites and tape were alpha numeric codes that cadets were to write on their lane strips.  Once all points were found, cadets returned to the start point and have the lane strip graded.

All in all, cadets returned with solid scores and more experience in the difficult science of land navigation.

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