Mapistry

I’ve always had a secret reverence for maps.  More from an artistic point of view than for practical reasons.  I’m fascinated by how the features are laid out to depict worldly locations and how the gridlines guide travelers from point A to point B.  The paths look like they would be easy to follow but from experience, I know they are not and I have a huge fear of getting lost.  So when I travel, I cheat and use the GPS on my phone or those online trip planners.  I prefer to regard maps the way one would observe paintings in a gallery, reveling in their archaic mystery while standing at a safe distance.

Unfortunately, practicality would become a necessary evil when I joined the Army and shipped off to boot camp.  I was horrified to discover that training would encompass more than just playing with guns; there would be land nav familiarization.  Or what I like to call, how not to get lost in the wilderness.  I forget the details, as I’ve tried to suppress most of that part of my life, but at least two days were devoted to an entire study of terrain features (as defined by Army standards), plotting points with the use of a compass (those things are still in existence?), then measuring our steps to get a pace count.  Using this information, we would go off into the woods and magically arrive at the checkpoints and exit the treeline.  That briefs well.

Much was lost in translation between the map plotting and the pace count. I couldn’t comprehend how the two concepts related to one another.  And, like math, I failed to see how this would ever be significant in real life, especially with the use of GPS devices.  Surely land nav had become obsolete by now. If it wasn’t, it should be.  So that was it, I decided.  Land nav would be the end of me.  I was either going to get lost in the South Carolina forest and die from hypothermia or wildlife mauling, or fail basic training because I couldn’t figure out what my counted steps had to do with getting from point A to point B.

When the dreaded day of the pass or fail evaluation finally arrived, I somehow found favor with the mapistry gods.  Instead of being tested individually, we were paired in groups.  Being with a group of guys is extremely advantageous for a lone female on such a mission.  The guys were all too eager to compete with each other and get the task done in the shortest amount of time.  There was much argument over who would do what. I remained quiet and summoned my powers to become invisible.  Apparently, it worked.  By the time the menial tasks were assigned, there was nothing left for me to do. I feigned disappointment.

“Wow, way to leave out the female.”

“Oh, sorry, White.” A round of rushed apologies.

“That’s all right, guys. I see how it is.” I stomped off ahead of them, as if I knew what I was doing, trying to hide my snickering.  One of the guys came after me.

“You can use the beads for the pace count, ok?” he said eagerly.  What a pal.

“I guess it’s better than nothing,” I muttered, clenching  my  jaw to keep from grinning.

We started off with me counting paces but it wasn’t long until an argument broke out over some wise guy calling out random numbers, followed by more arguing over how it cost us precious time for having to start over.  To make up for lost time, one of the guys decided he would be the pace counter, which was fine with me.  I joyfully followed along on their coat tails, skipping when they weren’t looking back, which was most of the time.  We (they) found our assigned checkpoints and our team exited the woods in record time.  I went on to successfully complete basic training, thrilled that I would never again have to deal with that crap.

Little did I know, the joke was on me.  Four years later, I was required to attend an Army school for career advancement: the Warrior Leaders Course.  What was part of the training? Land nav.  I had heard stories.  Here, they gave out whistles because Soldiers got lost.  Soldiers got lost! In the woods!  Or they would fail, more than once, and get sent home then have to return in the future to repeat the entire course.  And here, the final evaluation was done on an individual basis.  There would be no chest pounding Tarzans to lead the way.  I was being sent to hell.

I reported to the school after a long, miserable bus ride from Florida to South Carolina.  Compensation comes in many forms to the weary traveler:  being directed to the chow hall; receiving a room assignment and being told to “go chill” (which is very rare); and learning that a new curriculum has been implemented; one that does not include land nav-or a PT test, which is a whole different story.

“Who gets that lucky?” my fellow Soldiers back home wanted to know.

I didn’t know or care. I was just thrilled that the gods of mapistry chose to shower me with fortune once again.  This time around, I could appreciate the South Carolina forestry from this side of the treeline, at a very safe distance.

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