Marines hone navigation skills; Brave rocky terrain under African sun

30 Apr 2004 | Cpl. Adam C. Schnell

Marines with U.S. Marine Forces Central Command-Djibouti trekked across the hills and mountains in central Djibouti, Africa, to hone their navigation skills on a French Foreign Legion Commando land navigation course here April 27.

A team of Marines with Scout Sniper Platoon, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, attached to Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, hiked miles in the hot African sun to find previous plotted points and get a good workout.

“I’ve never been out on terrain like this before,” said Lance Cpl. Steven A. Tannetta, a scout observer for the scout sniper platoon. “It was a great experience.”

For these Marines, operating and navigating desert and mountainous areas provides them with training they might not get at their home base where most of their training happens. Camp Lejeune is very flat in comparison to the many terrain features found here on the southwest coast of the Gulf of Tadjoura.

Once the Marines arrived on the oceanfront starting point and temporary command post, they were broken up into teams of two and given maps, protractors, and eight-digit grid coordinates to four points in the rocky landscape that surrounded them.

Some points here on top of mountains ranged from 240-360 feet above the starting point at sea level. The course also spanned over greater distances than other land navigations they had trained on before.

“This has to be the most physically-demanding course I’ve ever been to,” said Marine Sgt. Taylor A. White, a scout sniper team leader for the platoon.

“Not only was it rocky, but it was really hot,” added Tannetta, a Boston, Mass., native.

“This is an excellent learning experience for the guys,” said White. “[Land navigation] is not just a skill used by scout snipers, it’s an essential survival skill for every Marine.”

Land navigation is important to being a scout sniper because the team must be able to navigate themselves to and from each mission given. When on a mission, the team is very independent and must be able to rely on one another to make it back to their return point safely, said White, a Charlotte, N.C., native.

“[The noncommissioned officers] in my team are really here to supervise the lance corporals and help them along the way,” said White.

Another helpful thing the Marines brought was a commercial global position system, or GPS. A GPS uses satellites orbiting the earth to pinpoint almost exact coordinates of the person using the device.

Although the tool wasn’t used to do the navigating for the Marines, it was a great way of checking the work they did using a map and compass.

“GPS is an awesome invention and extremely useful, but the tried-and-true method of using a map and compass will always be better,” said White. “They will never lose signal or run out of batteries.”

Even though the Marines of the scout sniper team slept less than three hours the night before due to security guard duty, they were glad to have received the training during the day.

“Everyone needs to know how to get from point A to B,” said Tannetta. “This training might be able to get me out of a jam someday.”

Headquarters Marine Corps