FORT PICKETT, Va. -- Seaman Oren Roberts is getting his bearing, slowly but surely. He is wearing a combat load of a flak jacket, Kevlar helmet and pack.
The hospital corpsman with 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, is participating in a land navigation course as part of his training at Fort Pickett, Va.
He clutches a compass firmly in his hand. His back is placed squarely against the wall of the battalion aid station, as he checks his azimuth to make sure he is pointed in the direction he and his fellow corpsmen have plotted.
Roberts gets his bearing and begins walking toward the thick brush of the tree line ahead of him. Another corpsman keeps the pace count, ensuring the six men do not overshoot their navigation points. One sailor holds a map with the course the corpsmen have plotted.
“What they lack in precision, they’re making up in common sense,” says Petty Officer 2nd Class Brady Freeman, a hospital corpsman with the battalion who instructed the land navigation classes. “The point of the course was to work as a team and use common sense to get to the different locations.”
At their first stop, the corpsmen find a fire hydrant on the side of a road. Roberts shoots the next azimuth and gestures toward the next target point.
“That way, through the woods,” explains Roberts, a St. Petersburg, Fla., native.
The corpsmen trained all day refreshing their land navigation skills. This was the final test to see where they stood with their basic skill set.
As the group moves farther along their course, they begin to see the landmarks on which they were briefed, including a rusty guardrail beside a nearby road. They proceed downhill and into a small valley. Obviously on the right track, excitement fills the group as the men check their pace count in order to proceed to their next checkpoint.
The target is a milk pail. Because the corpsmen are using a six digit grid coordinate, it could be anywhere within 100 square meters. Corpsmen fan out in all directions as Roberts stands his ground, marking the spot where the pace count ended.
“I’ve found it,” one man yells excitedly back to the others.
All the corpsmen head toward the man and their target. The bucket sits on a sandbar at the edge of a creek. Roberts gets his new azimuth and consults the map to stay on course. He points to a ridge a few hundred yards away and continues onward.
“They learned how to plot coordinates, shoot an azimuth, pace count and shoot a back azimuth,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jackson Tuggle, the coordinator for the Fleet Marine Force Warfare program for the battalion. “We also taught them techniques for finding objectives in an open area.”
The corpsmen reach a break in the tree line. Their final landmark is another fire hydrant. Knowing they are near the end of the course, the men break out into a full sprint for what they think is the finish line. As they get there, however, Tuggle has a surprise for them.
“You’re dead,” he says as he points to one of the sailors. He goes down the entire line of corpsmen, listing off injuries from an improvised explosive device. “Call in a nine-line for a casualty evacuation, right now!”
Only two of the corpsmen have survived the simulated IED unscathed. One grabs the radio and prepares to call the battalion aid station with the nine lines of information needed to evacuate the downed corpsmen. The “nine-line” provides all the essential information needed for causality evacuation, including the number of causalities, types of injuries and location.
“We basically left the BAS and found three points in a circle,” said Tuggle as he explained how the course ran. “The last point had casualties, forcing them to radio in a nine-line with cas-evac information.”
The last line of information is verified over the radio. The corpsmen stand a little taller knowing they have passed the test and accomplished what they were trained to do.
“These guys did awesome today,” said Tuggle. “It’s stuff they’ll be expected to know when they get to the field.”