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NEWS | Nov. 2, 2020

The road gets longer if you want to be stronger

By Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

The sun beamed warmly upon the Soldiers of the 221st Military Police Detachment as they marched, carrying their heavy rucksacks on their backs. They were conducting a four-mile ruck toward a training ground where they were to practice their land navigation skills.

Leading the formation was U.S. Army Capt. Jonathan Rickey, 221st MPD commander. He always stayed in front of his troops and looked back periodically to ensure no one fell behind.

“The purpose of this training is to increase the proficiency of the Soldiers in their basic warrior tasks and battle drills,” Rickey said. “(Landnav) is a fundamental skill for all Soldiers. In the event that our electronic devices go out, we will have to be able to navigate the land to get back to our company headquarters or unit location.”

“What I want them to take away from this training is the importance of fundamental skills that all troops can start with and build upon,” Rickey continued. “As they become future leaders of the Army, they can instill the same beliefs and fundamentals in their Soldiers.”

There were moments during the march where it seemed the road just got longer and longer, but no one dared to fall out.

As the Soldiers trudged on, Sgt. 1st Class Brian Junga, 221st MPD detachment sergeant, marched with them in the rear and ensured they kept distance within their squad file.

“Spread apart, don’t bunch together,” Junga yelled. “Small arms fire could take you all out!”

Junga hoped the day’s training would enhance his troop’s knowledge in what he described as a life-saving skill. As a detachment sergeant, former drill sergeant and veteran of several deployments, he makes it a point to ensure his Soldiers learn from his experiences.

“During my first deployment in Afghanistan, we relied a lot on our computer system—which broke down on us,” Junga narrated. “So we had to look at a map to see where we were at and use the same skills (the Soldiers are learning) here: terrain identification and looking at hardball roads and borders. We used those skills to know where we were at so we could avoid hostile areas.”

The Soldiers arrived at the staging area in the training ground, where an advance team of non-commissioned officers waited for them with jugs of cold drinking water. The troops cooled off, and some even changed their boots. They also sprayed themselves down with insect repellent.

The Soldiers were to locate four marked posts scattered across the training area. Each was given a binder, map, compass and a whistle. The whistle was to call for help if they were desperately lost, ran out of time or if they found themselves in life-threatening situations.

The troops all varied in landnav expertise, and some may find it challenging with the vast expanses of forests and marshland in the Fort Eustis area.

The first one to finish was Spc. Jacob Hartman, 221st MPD patrolman. When Hartman returned to the staging area and took off his boots, he found large blisters on his feet. In spite of these wounds, the patrolman was in high spirits.

“I feel good… my feet hurt a little bit,” Hartman said as he laughed. “It was a good day to be out here with everyone and participate in the training and build on our camaraderie.”

Hartman noted he has ample experience with landnav and recommends the skill to all members of the military. He cautioned against fear of getting lost saying “panic and fear are a navigator’s worst enemy.”

“Just trust your instincts and know your surroundings,” Hartman said. “You should be alright as long as you know where you’re at on the map. Be comfortable and don’t let it get into your head. Once you start psyching yourself out, that’s when you really get lost.”

Junga contemplated the lessons he wanted them to internalize from the training. For him, the ruck march and landnav offer more lessons than what meets the eye: they embody the principles of servant leadership in the Army.

“This is about building junior Soldiers up so when they become leaders, they can carry this forward,” the detachment sergeant said. “This is what the Army embodies. The fact that they retain the information given to them and apply it, I see it as a win any day in my book.”