Trust But Verify

Do all your compasses point in the same direction?

All too often, we will trust things we get or have because they come from “Official Sources”. How many pieces of gear did you buy, or do you have because “It’s official issue” to our military? Have you verified the bearings that are shown on one compass with another? What about maps? What is the source for your maps, and is it a “Subcontractor” for the original source?

While conducting a LandNav class back in April, I found out that the map we were using for the area I had chosen to conduct the class, had a glaring deficiency in it’s markings. As in all beginner LandNav classes I’ve taught (first time in this area), I use major, easily seen terrain features (roads, powerlines, pipelines, etc.) to help with keep students from getting lost. This class was no exception, and I used one of the well used roads in that area as the extreme Western “handrail”, and a gas pipeline “right of way” as the Northern “handrail”.

Map marked pipeline with black dashes. Actual pipeline in red. the blue lines are MGRS 1,000 meter grid squares. Notice how even the azimuth angle is wrong.

This gives students a safety net in case the get lost in the “area of operation” (AO), and they know if they follow their compass due West (270 degrees), or due North (360 degrees), the will come to one of these “handrail” guides which can then lead them back to the start point, which was where the pipeline and the road intersect. Problem is, the map was wrong. The map in question had the pipeline marked 550 meters North of where it actually was, and it didn’t even follow the correct azimuth, East to West.

550 meters is over half a kilometer. 550 meters IS A LOT! During the class, it was figured out that it was off using other major trail marked reference points, pace counts and multiple GPS’s (they are not always right either, so be careful trusting them), and people were able to adjust fire and continue with the class. Two weeks after I taught the class, I called My Topo, and made them aware of the issue. Their response was they would check it out, but that their info came straight from USGS.

I sent them a copy of the map, with the pipeline marked where it actually is as a reference. How did I verify it’s location? I used resection with my compass and map together with my pace count, as well as my GPS using the MGRS coordinates and elevation features. I mapped out a path I made in the area, and plotted it on the map using the above listed information.

Why am I telling you this? If you have an area you going to be using, especially if it’s a place you’ll be going to after a SHTF event as a safe haven, you need to verify that the map is correct as much as possible. As an example, during Vietnam, SF and LRRP Team Leaders would do an aerial recon of most of the areas they were going to be operating in, to confirm things the map and the S2 (Intel) were telling them were correct.  Just like we always tell you that you need to test your gear out thoroughly before you need it, you need to verify what the map is telling you is correct for your “AO”. Checking these things is not an exercise in futility, LandNav skills are something you should be practicing anyway, right?

In this instance, what if you were using that pipeline as a handrail (you can move quicker that way) to lead you out of your town to an area you think will be safe, or to an area where you were supposed to link up with friends? If you had used that one in particular, the terrain you were seeing would not have matched up with what the map was telling you it was supposed to be, and you could end up in the wrong, maybe a “non permissive” area. Worse yet, what if you had been moving a night (a good idea if things are bad)? Identifying that the terrain around you doesn’t match the map is a lot harder at night.

“Trusting but Verifying” is never a bad idea wihether it’s your acquaintances, your gear, or your information (in this case, your maps). LandNav is just one more of the Mountain man, Pathfinder, Scout and Infantryman’s skill sets that, as Survivalists, we need to be able to do well. This starts with correct information on your map, and you’ll never know for sure unless you check it (remember the LRRP/SF guys above). A Survivalist is a “Jack of All Trades”, a master of some (hopefully the life protecting and the life saving arts). We are not Infantrymen, we have to be much more than that.

Figured while I was out checkin’ the map, I’d do some ruckin’ and kill two birds with one stone. You do LandNav with all your gear…right?

"Parata Vivere"- Live Prepared.



2 thoughts on “Trust But Verify

  1. Function check! Rog. One wouldn’t take a weapon out somewhere, say, carrying for personal protection without a function check (as an absolute minimum) would one? Same as asking for a resounding ‘click’ when having to defend yourself…..same with maps/compasses, pre-planned egress routes, etc. Nicely made point using a real world training example, JC.

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