FORT KNOX, Ky. – Armed with a compass, protractor, pencil, map, and a list of coordinates, pairs of Cadets in the 1stRegiment, Advanced Camp, set off on their last day of land navigation practice to find at least two pinpoints in under 90minutes, Fort Knox, Ky., June 10, 2023.

One pair that completed the event under the allotted time are Cadet Rebecca Galan, from the University of the Incarnate Word, and Cadet Akilah Austin, from the University of Idaho. 

“Land nav [navigation] is basically an adult scavenger hunt,” Austin said. “I’ve never thought of Land nav as ‘hard’, instead it’s [your] judgment while on the course, that’s hard because it’s really easy to get flustered.”

Cadet Rebecca Galan and Cadet Akilah Austin stand for a picture, as they wait to start their land navigation written exam, Fort Knox, Ky., June 10, 2023. The land navigation task is separated into three parts: day, night, and written. | Photo by Rosalita Mitchell, Ball State University, CST Public Affairs Office

Equipment is a necessity in land navigation, whether it be physical tools or taking precautions beforehand. 

“Some people are experienced enough to like just go by the terrain; it’s called terrain association,” Galan said. “That’s possible, but you definitely need [equipment] to start off and have an idea of where you’re going. It’s really important to be hydrated before, during, and after, as well as having adequate sleep and food. That helps in terms of energy because you’re going to be moving far distances to take all the points that you need.”

Additionally, having extra sets of tools can be helpful. Cadet Adrian Aragon, a previous Sgt. 1st Class who is participating in the Green to Gold Active-Duty Option program, experienced the importance of being prepared in his past land navigation experiences.

“Definitely take extras, I learned that lesson when I was younger,” Aragon said. “Always have at least two of everything: pencils, protractors, and a map case [are] extremely important. Although you can see the weather, it’s clear for the next few hours, weather can be unpredictable at times. And I learned that after a map case definitely saved some of my iterations.”

While physical tools or taking precautions beforehand are necessary for a successful land navigation experience, Cadets need the mental capabilities and determination to succeed.

“The biggest thing is just practicing in a non-stressful environment,” Austin said. “Once you get it down, you got it down. Then, it’s just taking it out here to CST and doing what you know how to do, because you have practice, over the last few years, being at college. Come to camp with confidence, don’t build confidence on this course. Show that you know how to do land nav on this course but ask for those resources so you can come here confident so you could do it and have fun here.”

Life-long learning, having the confidence to ask questions, and knowing when to adapt as changes arise are other key ideas needed to prepare for activities such as land navigation.

“I truly enjoy, leading [the Cadets], mentoring them, and training them to the best of my ability.” Aragon said, “But I’m here, and I’m a student. I can be a bit impatient at times, like, for example, waiting a few hours, while I’d rather just get it done. It’s also good to get back to like the skill level one task. Because whenever you become more experienced at the Army, you’re taking on other assignments and doing other duties. Those perishable skills you can kind of like steer away from, so it’s good to come back to the roots and do it all over again.”



Cadet Adrian Aragon stands for a photo after his platoon finished quizzing each other on the meanings of map features and basic compass protocols, Fort Knox, Ky., June 10, 2023. To properly complete land navigation, Cadets must know how to follow a map and compass. | Photo by Rosalita Mitchell, Ball State University, CST Public Affairs Office

Mixing together basic concepts, such as following a map and utilizing critical thinking skills, tasks like land navigation challenge Cadets to ask important questions.

“If I can’t find my point, what am I going to do?” Austin said. “Am I going to go forward or make the decision to go back? Am I going to try to go find a different point? Managing time, being consistent, and tracking, there are so many different things that you can learn being on a course.”

While land navigation practice can prepare future Soldiers for survival missions, the basic reason Cadets learn land navigation is to learn how to make sound decisions in terrain where consequences matter, whether having to work with a team or individually.

“I know it can be kind of intimidating. Because, at the end of the day, everyone here is graded against each other and rated, so that can be kind of daunting,” Galan said. “But in what I’ve experienced and seen when you put that stress on you, it’s what makes you more flustered. If you kind of take it, you take that pressure off of you by just going out having fun and learning as much as you can. Everyone here brings something different, a different experience. That can really enhance your experience here and take off a lot of stress.”

Land navigation lessons are not only important, as a Cadet, but they are easily transferable to everyday life. 

“It’s a great tool for communication and interpersonal skills,” Aragon said. “It’s a good way to challenge yourself to see if people, random strangers, truly you know, like your character. I’m 30 years old, and I’m here with one of my 19 year olds, and sometimes, their lingo is a little bit different than mine. It’s good to see the future generations with old generations come together, and they have a common goal.”

About the Author: Rosalita Mitchell
Rosalita Mitchell
Rosalita Mitchell is a junior from Greenwood, IN, attending Ball State University. She is majoring in journalism with a concentration in mass communications, as well as minoring in anthropology. This summer, Mitchell is a member of both the social media and photojournalism teams. She expects to learn new technical skills and further her knowledge in the journalism field. In her free time, Mitchell likes to listen to true crime podcasts, reading, and exercising.