Oh, the places we go: 934th Security Forces Squadron conducts land navigation training

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Matthew Reisdorf
  • 934th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Sweating while trekking through unfamiliar terrain may be troublesome to many, but not for members of the 934th Security Forces Squadron. On May 7, 2023, they performed classic land navigation training without the use of a GPS. Land navigation, a more traditional method of traversal which makes use of a compass and pace count, is an underutilized skill that many service members are unfamiliar with.

“I think everyone needs that skill,” said Master Sgt. Matthew Johnson, the 934 SFS unit training manager. “It’s a perishable skill set. If we’re at war, you need to know how to find your way around. You’ve got to be able to report back.”

In order to make sure that his Airmen were ready for the land navigation course, Johnson put them through a class that brushed up on the fundamentals of land navigation. The method in mind to get the information across was a simple process: crawl, walk, run.

“We start slow and make sure they understand the basics,” he said. “Then we do it again, and again and again until you can do it a little bit quicker.”

If an Airman is too complacent in the course, they run the risk of experiencing concerning issues once they are out rummaging through rough terrain.

“My biggest worry is that people don’t pay attention close enough in class,” Johnson said. “Just like we do in any training, we expect people to fail, or we expect them to learn from that to be able to improve their mistakes so that the next time we do this, we can help someone else to avoid that mistake.”

Being able to think on the move is integral to remaining situationally aware and successful when conducting a land navigation course. One mistake that someone performing land navigation should avoid is messing up their pace count. Pace count is essential to performing well during a course such as this, Johnson said.

“Pace count is super important, so you know how far you’ve gone,” he said. “You can employ it by walking points, but all the actual work happens in your head. There’s an understanding – a logic to putting it all together. Pace count is one critical piece.”

Walking points is a term for land navigation to indicate creating marks for the number of steps it takes to get from one point to another.

The next important thing taught in the class was shooting an azimuth. An azimuth is an angular measurement used to locate an object or celestial body such as the moon, sun or a star. This is done using a compass, essentially using it as a scope to stay on a path through many different types of terrain.

“Compass-to-cheek gives you a more accurate reading,” Johnson said. “It is definitely advisable, especially when you are first starting off.”

The class was the first of a three-step process to get his Airmen on track to be successful in the operational world.

“We find there are three different types of learning,” Johnson said. “There’s audio, visual and kinesthetic. Most people learn with a blend of all three. We do the classroom where you hear it, then you practice it on paper. Then you employ it here in the field.”

To keep up with the stressful life of being an SF specialist, a variety of different training is needed. In order to accomplish this with just one unit training assembly a month, Johnson puts his Airmen through a few surprises now and then.

“We have a very dynamic training schedule,” he said. “We do a lot of different things throughout the year, and I think we do a pretty good job of getting people trained and getting them refreshed on what they haven’t done in a year so that we are always ready to go.”

That sort of training philosophy keeps the 934 SFS ready to do their jobs in any sort of environment. Tech. Sgt. Jorge Ortiz, the 934 SFS fire team leader, believes that the training must be taken seriously to capitalize on maximum readiness potential.

“It’s very important to take the job and the training very seriously every month,” he said. “To be prepared to answer the call, whether it be a traffic stop or responding to a domestic call –  it’s important they have an understanding of what they could possibly encounter.”

It all goes back to thinking on your feet, said Ortiz. Logically being able to think through a situation at a fast rate is a necessity.

“It’s important they have an understanding of what you could possibly encounter and be prepared to assess the situation before acting,” Ortiz said. “Whether it's just conducting an interview or having to restrain somebody for the safety of yourself or other people in the surrounding areas.”