After Recruit Training (bootcamp) I attended the School of Infantry (SOI). One of the training events is daytime and nightime land navigation. There I learned the basics of pace counting, terrain identification, military map usage, and much more. When our platoon underwent training though we had a rather unique experience; an early taste of danger.
We began our day (before sunrise) marching out to an area with complicated terrain with a small cliff. Perfect for identifying significant features and not getting lost (you would think). We start off determining our pace counts and plotting our route. Our task was to navigate through a number of significant terrain markers and make our way back to the start. We were given about 6 hours to accomplish this. We partnered up and headed off. My partner and I got through this pretty easily, finishing in about 3½ hours. There’s of course a bell curve though and a couple groups were not done at hour 7.
The Sergeants in charge were looking nervous and pacing a bit with the late arrivals. One of them ran off to find the stragglers. We found this a bit strange since they were not known for sympathy. It turns out the reason they were nervous is because the area we were using for land navigation was not dedicated for this purpose. We were sharing it with a mortar platoon and they were scheduled to use it for target practice that afternoon.
Nearing hour 8 the remaining stragglers arrive with the sergeant. We then begin hiking back and in maybe 20 minutes the steel rain begins to fall. You don’t know what loud is until you have mortars landing withing 50 yards of you. Luckily the path we were taking was a deep gully with 12 foot walls to provide cover. At this point we begin to sprint with our full gear (~100 lbs) as the rounds continued to fall. I don’t know how long we ran, but until we reached a main road no one dared slow down.