Soldiering through annual land navigation course

Looking through the compass

U.S. Army Private 1st Class Fabian Juarez, Delta Detachment, 1st Space Company engagement control shift leader, looks through a compass at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Oct. 18, 2017. Land navigation is an annual course requirement where soldiers have to find three out of four assigned points during the dark morning and the same number during early daylight hours. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brittany A. Chase)

Walking through the woods

U.S. Army Sgt. Michael McMillan, Delta Detachment, 1st Space Company engagement control team leader, navigates his way through the woods as part of land navigation training at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Oct. 18, 2017. Having land navigation training in rough, dense terrain, both during dark and light hours, puts an added level of difficulty on Soldiers, affording them an opportunity to learn in a new environment while gaining essential survival skills. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brittany A. Chase)

Mapping it

U.S. Army Sgt. Michael McMillan, Delta Detachment, 1st Space Company engagement control team leader, holds a topographic map at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Oct. 18, 2017. Topographic maps are detailed, accurate graphic representations of features that appear on the Earth's surface, which were used during McMillan's annual land navigation training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brittany A. Chase)

Plotting Points

U.S. Army Private 1st Class Fabian Juarez, Delta Detachment, 1st Space Company engagement control shift leader, left, and Sgt. Michael McMillan, Delta Detachment, 1st Space Company engagement control team leader, right, converse about the next plot on their topographic map at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Oct. 18, 2017. McMillan and Juarez were one of four teams who participated in land navigation training where teams were given a map with plotted points and had to make their way through dense forest terrain. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brittany A. Chase)

Graphing points

U.S. Army Sgt. Michael McMillan, 1st Space Company engagement control team leader, left, and Private 1st Class Fabian Juarez, 1st Space Company engagement control shift leader, right, find the next marker on their topographic map at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Oct. 18, 2017. With limited to no visibility for more than half of the land navigation training, McMillan and Juarez encountered multiple obstacles along the way, including fallen trees, thorn-covered brush, four-foot-tall grass, vines, swamps and slick, unsteady ground. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brittany A. Chase)

Finding their way

U.S. Army Sgt. Michael McMillan, 1st Space Company engagement control team leader, left, and Private 1st Class Fabian Juarez, 1st Space Company engagement control shift leader, right, find the next marker on their topographic map at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Oct. 18, 2017. With limited to no visibility for more than half of the land navigation training, McMillan and Juarez encountered multiple obstacles along the way, including fallen trees, thorn-covered brush, four-foot-tall grass, vines, swamps and slick, unsteady ground. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brittany A. Chase)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- With weight wearing down on their backs and darkness engulfing the morning, members of the Delta Detachment, 1st Space Company, rucked through the backwoods of Misawa Air Base, Japan, Oct. 18.

Only equipped with headlamps, a compass, a topographic map and a protractor, Soldiers made their way through the dense wooded area for land navigation training where they had to find multiple markers scattered throughout various locations.

“The purpose of land navigation training is to hone and sustain the ability for my Soldiers to navigate without utilizing any sort of technology,” said U.S. Army Capt. Lee Schroeder, Delta Det., Joint Tactical Ground Station commander. “It is a skill our Soldiers must consistently train on because, like any skill, the more you practice it, the better you become at it.”

The course is an annual requirement where soldiers had to find at least five assigned points in five hours, half the time slated for night operations and the same amount of time for day operations.

“This land navigation training is crucial because Soldiers always need to comprehend how to read a map, plot points and understand how to associate themselves with a military map,” explained Schroeder. “These Soldiers have to experience a complex environment, and conducting this training in both night and day only helps build confidence in their ability to execute this task when lives of their battle buddies depend on it.”

Given only grid coordinates, four teams had to meticulously count out every footstep to find the next marker, making calculations and step count essential. If they even made the slightest error in steps or calculations, they could find themselves in the wrong location, leaving them struggling to find the marker.

Each team consisted of two soldiers, a junior enlisted member and an NCO, ensuring the success and learnability of the junior member in a one-on-one teaching environment.

“This is my first unit so I haven’t gotten the chance to experience this part of the Army since basic training,” said Private 1st Class Fabian Juarez, the Delta Det., 1st Space Company engagement control shift leader. “The detachment letting me and everyone else here lead and guide during training is a really good experience for me and preparing me for my Army career.”

Sgt. Michael McMillan, the Delta Det., 1st Space Company engagement control team leader, and Juarez were one of four teams who paired up to navigate their way through the rough terrain.

With limited to no visibility for half of the training, McMillan and Juarez encountered multiple obstacles along the way, including fallen trees, thorn-covered brushes, four-foot-tall grass, vines, swamps and slick, unsteady ground.

“The most difficult part of land navigation was the vegetation and maneuvering through it,” Juarez stated. “You have to remember if you step away from the path to get past an obstacle in your way, you have to remember the step count you’re on. Sometimes it’s hard when there’s elevation and vegetation in the mix.”

Having land navigation training in rough, dense terrain, both during dark and light hours, puts an added level of difficulty on Soldiers, affording them an opportunity to learn in a new environment while gaining essential survival skills.

“For the Army, this is a core task that must be maintained, as these Soldiers might find themselves in an environment where technology may not be at their disposal,” Schroeder said. “Perfecting this skill is a must for these Soldiers especially given the complex environment of the next battlefield could very well encompass technology that could prevent global positioning systems from being utilized.”

Water-soaked boots, thorn-covered pants and sunshine peeking through the trees, McMillan and Juarez emerged through the brush line finding their final point, allowing them to return to safety after their five-hour endeavor.

“This training on common core tasks will ensure no matter where these Soldiers end up they will have the foundation of this and other core tasks that we train on to ensure their readiness is maintained,” said Schroeder. “So when the nation calls they can go, fight and win our Nation's wars."