Doug Goodman

Texas Horror Writer. Cadaver Dog Handler.

Doug's Blog

My Name Is Mud

Posted by douggoodman on March 12, 2011 at 8:35 PM

I have been training for the SARTech II field exam.  The SAR team has graciously been working with me so that I have some practice on some of the field tests before the exam.  Last week one member gave a great ropes course presentation.  (I hope I can remember the difference between bights and bends.)  Up today - Land Nav.

 

It was swampy and muddy, and my boots were completely submerged in water up over the Gore-Tex.  At one point, I was crawling through the underbrush.  Along with several cuts and scrapes, I now have an abrasion on my left cheek (not that cheek) that makes me look kind of like Tommy Flanagan.  Soon after finding the first post, one of the field advisors warned everyone that there were feral hogs roaming the training grounds.  And somewhere along the way I lost the walking stick SARTechs are required to carry in their packs.  So all in all, it was a great morning!

 

Seriously, it felt great to be out on the land nav course.  Land Navigation is one of the hardest challenges I think any search and rescue technician faces.  The goal is to navigate through a wilderness area using only a compass to guide you.  I remember the first time I tried this - I had no problems getting through the course.  Of course, I was minus a 50-lb backpack and I was trying to keep my paces.  There was also this thing called "no pressure."  Once you add the gear, the pressure, and the pace-keeping, it becomes much more difficult.

 

However, to me what land nav really tests is bushwhacking skills.  Can you crawl through underbrush while keeping paces?  Can you push through briars and thorn bushes thicker than walls?  (A good whacking stick can help.)  Can you get a reading off your compass while surrounded by a swarm of mosquitoes and while standing in a foot of water?  I have found some techniques that help.

 

1.  Know your eye dominance.  Most people are eye-dominant on the same side as their handedness.  Not me.  I may be a righty, but I see with my left eye.  It helps to know this because otherwise I would look out my right eye, then start walking towards the left.  So I swerve away from the path.

 

2. Keep it simple.  The less objects in hands and pockets, the better.  I have foregone gloves, which would reduce the cuts and scrapes on my hands, but I am a complete butterfingers when I am wearing my gloves.  What I find works is to clear everything from my pockets except what is essential for the test - a small pad of paper, a pace counter, a compass, and a pen.  The pad, compass, and pen are in one pocket; the counter in the other.  This never changes so I know where to look for my equipment.

 

3.  Keep the compass out!.  I have a tendency to put the compass away.  I think this makes me swerve off the path.  It also means I add steps to my procedure.  I have to put up one thing, pull out the compass, take the reading, then put the compass up.  It's much easier to just leave it out so that it is ready for a reading at any time.  By keeping the compass out, I also can see direction changes much better.

 

Now, will any of this experience serve me at the SARTech II exam?  I have no idea.  I guess I will know in a few weeks time.  Until then, it is just fun to be in the outdoors in Houston while the weather is nice.  In a month or two, the heat will be intolerable and land nav will be next to impossible.

Categories: Search and Rescue, Camping/Hiking, SAR - People Training

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