I am a contracted US Army ROTC Cadet, which means that I am in training to one day trade in the black dot of the Cadet’s rank for the gold bar of the 2nd Lieutenant’s. This past spring, I stepped off of a bus and onto the hot, dusty ground of a major Army camp built on rolling hills and ringed by mountains. It was hot, there wasn’t any cloud cover to speak of, the terrain was rough, and our area of operation was vast: perfect for a land navigation (orienteering) course, which is where this story starts.
Since the Army is the primary land force of the military, its Soldiers should to be able to, you know, get around on land. Since we can’t always depend on GPS, everyone needs to have a basic knowledge of how to work with a map, a compass and a protractor. I was partnered with a less-experienced Cadet, and we were tasked with finding a handful of coordinate points, which were marked by metal poles with dog tags hanging from them, scattered among perhaps a couple hundred other points.
We consulted our map, developed a route plan, and off we went, carrying our map, compass, protractor, water, tactical vests and 50-pound rucksacks. We were having trouble finding our first point, and my partner was tired, so I left all the gear with her while I ran to inspect a metal pole some 200 meters away that we thought might be it. It was still the wrong one, so we decided to backtrack to our last known point. After we had shouldered our rucksacks and left the area, I asked my partner for the compass so we could check our bearing, and I heard five little words that nobody ever wants to hear:
“I thought you had it.”
I didn’t. Regular military folks often call those in ROTC “cadidiots,” which definitely applied here. We had failed to attach our compass to our tactical vests as we were trained to do which, In Army circles, is called “dummy-cording,” because it’s intended to prevent dummies like us from losing their compasses. Now, instead of looking for a two-and-a-half foot pole, we were looking for a small, green compass in a sweeping field of similarly-colored tall grass. After a fruitless search, we headed back to the starting point and told one of our leaders what had happened. He told us that if we didn’t find our compass, the Army would charge us hundreds of dollars, so we’d better give it our best shot. He gave us another compass, telling us that we should use it to get back to where we lost it. As a man of faith, I was praying silently in my head throughout all this. I knew that God wasn’t just going to drop the compass out of the sky and into my hand, so we had to go back over our map and our route in order to have any shot of finding the thing.
For some reason, I wasn’t overly worried, but I probably should have been: We were looking for a 5 cm x 7.5 cm green object in the middle of a huge, greenish field: the proverbial needle-in-a-haystack. We navigated back to the area where we had lost the compass, which took some time, but we found our lost compass after a careful search. We didn’t have enough time to find all of the rest of the points, but neither of us cared. We’d found the most difficult point in the whole course, and we no longer owed Uncle Sam 200 bucks.
I thanked God over and over again for His help, because I knew that things wouldn’t have worked out the way they did without him. It’s true, we used our knowledge of land navigation to make up for our previous carelessness, but I am thoroughly convinced that without combining it with faith we would have failed miserably. Along similar lines, I hope to strengthen both my faith and my land navigation skills in the future, because they certainly went hand-in-hand that day.