Soldiers Struggle To Find Their Way as Land Nav Returns to Basic Leader Course

Army land nav

Spc. Salvador Osorio and Sgt. David Brewer, infantrymen with the 3rd Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, plot location points during a land navigation exercise at Fort Bliss, Texas, March 4, 2019. US Army photo by Spc. Matthew J. Marcellus.

US Army photo by Spc. Matthew J. Marcellus.

WASHINGTON, DC — Since the Army put land navigation back into its mandatory curriculum for would-be sergeants, about half of the soldiers who have participated in a trial program have failed, a senior enlisted leader said on Tuesday, Oct. 11.

Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Hendrex from the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC, said the trial program has seen “on average, 40% to 60% failure rate on the basic skill set of land navigation.”

Hendrex discussed the return of land nav to the Basic Leader Course at the Sergeant Major of the Army’s Professional Development Forum at the Association of the US Army, or AUSA, annual meeting in Washington, DC.

Sgt. Maj. Jason Stadel, a spokesperson for TRADOC, told Coffee or Die Magazine that land nav was implemented in the Basic Leader Course at Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Drum, New York; and Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. BLC is the Army-wide professional training school that teaches the basics of being a noncommissioned officer and is mandatory for all specialists or corporals expecting to be promoted to sergeant.

Army land nav

First Lt. Nicole Matthews, executive officer, 579th Engineer Battalion, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, instructs her soldiers on land navigation at Camp Roberts, California, July 19, 2022. US Army National Guard photo by Sgt. John Stephens.

US Army National Guard photo by Sgt. John Stephens.

“This is to be expected to some degree,” Stadel told Coffee or Die in a follow-up email after Hendrex’s remarks. “The sample size is very small and it’s the first time some Soldiers have done map reading and land navigation since basic training or one station unit training.”

BLC is mostly focused on classroom topics, but Sgt. Major of the Army Michael Grinston has made returning field skills to the course a key initiative of his term in that position. Other skills besides land nav, like grenade use and combat medical care, may be introduced soon and the course is likely to have days added on to its length.

To pass the land nav, students have to navigate to three of four waypoints, using only a map, compass, and protractor. “You’re a team leader as a sergeant in a typical platoon, so you’re teaching your troops at the organizational level how to do land nav,” Stadel said.

BLC is part of the Professional Military Education pipeline, which teaches soldiers how to lead at different stages in their military careers. BLC is the Army’s largest leadership course, Stadel said, since many enlisted soldiers make sergeant before leaving the military.

Unlike some of the other PME courses, BLC isn’t tailored to specific military occupational specialties.

Passing land nav hasn’t been a graduation requirement for BLC during the pilot programs, but it will become a graduation requirement once extended to all BLC schools, including on National Guard and Reserve posts.

Army land nav

Army Staff Sgt. Remst Vanquiso, a Basic Leader Course instructor at the Army Noncommissioned Officer Academy Hawaii, leads a class of soldiers in a discussion about the Army’s Equal Opportunity program. US Army photo by Sgt. Christopher Thompson.

US Army photo by Sgt. Christopher Thompson.

BLC previously included land nav, but it was removed in 2018 to make room for more classroom instruction, according to Military.com.

“Bringing back land navigation, understanding how to read a map and a compass — that skill is extremely important as we look for large-scale combat and integrated environments,” Grinston said this week. “You need to know how to navigate from one point to the next without a GPS, and that’s a skill that we’re going to bring back in the future.

“We’re looking for field craft, bringing back a field training exercise,” Grinston said. “We took that out of the Basic Leader Course, and we’re trying to put that back in.”


Editor’s note: This article has been updated to remove inaccurate information regarding the pass rate at individual bases, which has not been established.

Coffee or Die Magazine military editor Matt White and staff writer Noelle Wiehe contributed to this report.

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Jenna Biter has written for regional magazines and digital outlets including on great power competition and special operations medical teams for The National Interest. She is pursuing a master’s degree in national security and is working on speaking Russian. Her husband is on active duty in the US military. Know a good story about national security or the US military? Email Jenna.
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