Our post this week comes from CPT Roland Pitts, an Adjutant General (AG) officer stationed in Korea as a Battalion S1/Adjutant. He takes the time to reflect upon his time as an ROTC cadet and a lesson he learned through land navigation that he now relates to mentorship. Do you have a similar story? How many times has something you learned early on in life come back in a tangible lesson? Roland helps us start a conversation…

As a young cadet during my years at Florida A&M University I learned the basic principles of Land Navigation. The instructor would say, “plot your points, find your azimuth, keep your pace-count and follow your compass”.

Those words rang in my head as I began my first Land Nav course. Suffice to say, I struggled but passed the course. It was much later I learned more advanced techniques such as intersection and resection, catching features, but most importantly terrain association. As I’ve traversed my career decisions tend to be similar to a Land Navigation Course; as I’m now approaching my sixth year in the Army I’ve come to see it this way.

We all got in the prone and “plotted our points” when we decided to join the military. The points were the personal goals we wanted to obtain. The protractor represented our recruiters or friends and family. Their recommendations as to how we reach them. The Map serves as the Army and the obstacles we may face. Our pace count is the voice inside our heads that pushes us forward. It’s the voice that tells us to get out of the bed for physical training rather than pressing the snooze button. The essential item, in my opinion, is the compass.

The compass is the guide. It helps to show you the direction you should take to reach your point. In my opinion this is much like a mentor. The compass is centered and balanced. Mentors often are people we look up to because they are slow to anger, clear in thought and have a level of personal or professional expertise which allows them to appear centered in their life. We trust the compass. However, the compass cannot walk the lane for you. Most importantly we pull out the compass and check it. The compass does not initiate with you.

As I set off on my career path or Land Nav course, a technique I learned was to adjust the bezel ring on the compass. I was taught to spin the bezel ring until the luminous magnetic arrow was in line with the short luminous line and desired azimuth. Changing the bezel ring is similar to how you find a mentor that may be better suited to your current situation or desired goal. A female Medical Service Corps Lieutenant Colonel in a hospital may be better suited for teaching, coaching and/or mentoring you for your needs than a male Combat Arms Brigade Commander.

The terrain represents the obstacles I have faced. Some good… others bad. I have often told myself, “I am going to follow this spur until I reach my point” or ” I am going to take Fort Meade over Fort Bragg because it is in a good location!” Sometimes I was right. Most of the time I was wrong. The key to this decision was using my compass. It wouldn’t point towards the end of the spur, but rather towards the saddle. Mentors are there to guide you. We cant focus solely on what we want to do but instead take the advice they are giving. So I went towards the saddle.

A key lessoned to be learned from Land Nav is doing it at night. Most instructors will tell you to turn off your red lens headlamp and walk in the dark to allow your eyes to adjust. I can remember walking through the woods only seeing about 10 meters in front of me at times. You might start to drift off course because it may be thick ahead, so you look at your compass. Mentors often see the bigger picture of your actions because they have either done it themselves or seen it done. Additionally, they may point you to another mentor when you’re alone at a new duty station. The new mentor, in this case, was a body of water – a terrain feature I could associate myself with on the map. Often I find myself alone or not sure what to do in a situation because I only see what is in front of me. Mentors have been there to see the bigger picture. So I fought through the bush, trusted my pace count and reached the lake.

I can now see my first point on the other side of the lake. Now it is time for the reality check. The compass and pace count have led me here, but I have to push through this obstacle I can’t avoid. I can remember a time I did not want to go into the water. It was too cold and too broad to box around it. As a combat arms Army officer you are told by all mentors to attend Ranger School. Some are excited to go, while others are not. Our mentors are going to push us and tell us things we may not want to hear. Whether it is attending a school or applying for a position which may be difficult, we are faced with a choice to take the easy way out or the hard way which will help us grow. The reality is mentors can’t choose for you; they can only show you the direction. Sometimes we have to get a little dirty to grow. So, I took a deep breath and went into the waist-deep water.

I reached my first point and marked it down on the score sheet. I am now wet, but more familiar with the terrain. If I have to go through water or fight my way through the thick wood line it will be that much easier the second time around. I have learned to adjust my bezel ring and set off on my next point.

I reached my point because I looked at my compass. We have to initiate the conversation with our mentors. Even if we are on track and we can see our position we should still begin a discussion with our mentors. They are the reason we are where we are today.

Mentorship for me has been a Land Navigation course. I have plenty of daylight left and many more points to go.

Now let’s spark a transformation…


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