Wet Socks, Bugs, and Sweat: Land Navigation

June 17, 2014

Meet John Jermyn, one of the newest NCSP Student Assistants in the Training & Project Management Section. This is John's perspective on Land Navigation, the latest training course developed and delivered by the SPTC and NCSP.
John Jermyn

John Jermyn (featured left)

This training is an excellent opportunity to obtain useful skills that are often overlooked or forgotten about in the first responder community. Gaining the skill set to enable responders to survive in rural terrain and to use land navigation systems to both locate victims and drive a team through unfamiliar areas can make a huge difference.

This course attracted a strong turnout from the first responder community - just by glancing around the registration area, I was able to point out EMTs, law enforcement personnel and active military members all anxiously waiting to begin training.

We kicked it off with classroom activities. Within just a few minutes, students were actively engaged in map reading techniques. My partner, a member of the Air National Guard, and I were interpreting every aspect of the map in front of us. After building a strong foundation in map reading, the class headed outside where instructors covered compass and GPS systems. We started to experiment with compasses and hand held Garmin GPS systems, and once confident with both methods, it was time to test out our new navigation abilities. We trekked out on a short distance "confidence" course where we navigated successfully to a few pre-determined points.

Just like that, day one was complete.

Day two started bright and early with basic outdoor survival skills. We gathered around our instructors in the woods in the survival village and discussed water purification, sources of heat, improvised shelters, distress signals, and other health, safety, and awareness tips. Students were asked to take a few minutes to search in teams of two for flammable material. My partner and I recovered birchwood and returned to test out our fire lighting skills (an area at which we greatly exceled). Next, we took a firsthand look at different improvised shelters constructed by our instructors.


Finally, it was time to set off on a half-day multiple mile course through the wooded terrain of Oriskany, NY. Using our newly acquired skills, we explored through thick woods filled with deer droppings, mud, water and bugs. By the end of the journey, cold water had seeped through my boots damping my long socks. Despite the wet socks, bugs, sweat and a few disagreements in choosing route directions, the navigation skills we learned proved very successful. We navigated to nine different points and back to the original start line in only a few hours. My team was the second team to finish the course, even after being the last to enter the woods.

Not only was the training educational and useful, but it was also a lot of fun. It was evident at the end of the course when students regrouped that each had been impacted. In certain cases, people learned brand new skills; in others, the course enhanced the student's prior knowledge and understanding. Overall, each student walked away from the class with practical experience in outdoor survival and land navigation. When thinking about my experiences as an EMT, I am confident that many of the students will be using these skills in the field, particularly in the very rural areas of New York State where things can go wrong quickly.

Check out some course highlights below!