STAFF SGT. TRAVIS HAUSLER
2nd Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment
During the land navigation training block, students are encouraged to share with instructors any questions or concerns they have about the exam. Some students ask questions due to their lack of navigation experience. In those cases, the instructors recognize the students’ lack of confidence and provide additional training to circumvent a potential failure in the course. Other students, however, might not ask any questions and have no problem passing the written and pinpoint exams. Then there is another group of students — Soldiers who have problems but don’t ask questions. They are unwilling to admit they are weak in certain areas, which often results in a failure on pinpoint day. Here’s an example.
It was a normal start to a routine land navigation pinpoint exam. The exam would include navigating through a heavily wooded training area to find four out of six points during one hour of darkness and four hours of daylight. Leading up to the exam, the students received four days of classroom and practical training — including written exercises and instructor-led walkthroughs. The students were trained to use a compass and protractor and read a map; how to navigate without a protractor during low-visibility situations; and everything else that encompasses navigating any type of terrain at any time of day during any situation.
Before starting the pinpoint exam, students were given their boundaries, which included hardball roads and a river for the northern boundary. They were advised that if they got lost in the woods, head in a cardinal direction and reorient themselves. They were also instructed to use the roads on their return. In addition, the students were told that just north of the boundary river was a small-arms impact area. They were then released to complete the exam.
While the students were on the course, the instructors started our current safety plan of roving the boundaries every half-hour to ensure no one had walked outside the training area. This plan had been very successful for the past eight years of training operations. After four hours of the pinpoint exam, most of the students had returned to be evaluated, leaving only a few remaining in the training area. At the five-hour completion deadline, we still had not received all of the students, so we started conducting our search-and-recovery mission.
Search-and-recovery had become an easy task over the last few classes due to some new GPS trackers our unit received. We were able to find all but one student in the training area, which meant we needed to increase our search area. We were shocked to find the remaining student had crossed the northern river and hardball road and wandered into the arms impact area, which is surrounded by “KEEP OUT” signs.
We immediately notified range control, which told us 26 ranges were live. In fact, all of the ranges were converging on this one location. After informing range control there was a student in the impact area, all small-arms and heavy-weapon ranges were immediately shut down. In total, 30 ranges were ordered to cease fire. We continued to carefully monitor the student’s position on the GPS tracking system and were getting worried. Although we knew his location, we noticed he was no longer moving and believed he might be injured or, even worse, dead.
Range control coordinated with EOD and sent them to our location. We also noticed there was a CH-47 conducting operations in the area. After an hour of coordinating with EOD and the air asset, we were able to extract the student from the range without injury. When questioning the student about his whereabouts, he said he had no idea where he was on the course. He also thought it was standard protocol to be picked up by a helicopter if you were lost. We then asked if he was aware he’d been in the impact area. He said he had no clue.
While no one was injured, this whole event could have been prevented had the Soldier just put his ego aside and asked questions. As instructors, we are here to help. Fortunately, this Soldier’s mistake didn’t cost him his life.