19 Delta Scout
Looking back at almost thirty years of service as a soldier in the US Army, I can comfortably say that it was an honor and a privilege to serve such a great and remarkable country. During my time, I managed to acquire several combat military occupational specialties, or MOS, to include Vulcan Gunner, Stinger Gunner, Artillery Gunner, and Combat Infantryman. My favorite MOS, however, definitely has to be Cavalry Scout.
As the name implies, an Army Cavalry Scout is the eyes and ears of the maneuvering combat battalion. We usually operate alone and far ahead of the main combat force, oftentimes behind enemy lines. Using stealth and silence, we locate enemy positions, determine where they have laid their mines, locate their barriers and ambush positions, and find ways to outflank their defensive positions. To be a scout, you have to be able to act independently and confidently, because more often than not, Army scouts will usually be outnumbered and surrounded. Conducting reconnaissance behind enemy lines is not a job for everybody, but if you are daring and crazy enough, it’s a job that a select few would really enjoy.
The one skill that an Army scout needs above all else is the ability to read a map, determine your coordinates on the ground, and have the ability to navigate stealthily to your objective. A scout is virtually useless if he cannot read a map and ends up getting lost. As such, a large part of a scout’s training consists of land navigation in all terrains, weather conditions, and environments which include forests, dense woodland, desserts, and swamps. While I was training to be a scout, our class was dropped out in the middle of a dense forest somewhere in Pennsylvania at eleven o’clock at night. It was a cool November evening and the only illumination came from the full moon which shone brightly in the sky. There were sixteen of us who had advanced to this phase of training, including one guy who was a former US Navy SEAL. We were each given a map, a compass, a red lens flashlight, water, night vision goggles (NVGs), and four hours to find at least four out of five points located on the map.
Each point which we had to find was located somewhere inside the black forest that surrounded us. A point consisted of nothing more than a wooden pole sticking out of the ground with an ammunition can at the base. Inside the ammunition can was a description of an enemy position. For example, a description might read: “ENEMY MACHINE GUN POSITION FACING NORTH.” The scout would then have to write down something like, “At vicinity grid AA 1234567890 there is an enemy machine gun position facing north.”
Besides the darkness, there were several other factors working against us. For one, some of the points were located relatively close together, separated by about twenty meters or so. This meant that the scout had to track precisely to the correct point or else risk navigating to the wrong point. Also, all sixteen of us were given different points to navigate to, so there would be absolutely no helping each other. This was strictly an individual training event and it was timed. Anyone who failed to successfully find their four out of five points in the designated time would have to come back tomorrow evening and try again. Finally, we were told that there were several “enemy” soldiers out there somewhere in the forest who would be hunting us. If one of them caught us, we would be brought back to this start point and have to do it all over again.
The land navigation site was a densely forested area roughly ten square miles and was criss-crossed with streams which we would have to navigate in the dark. A dirt road surrounded the entire area and if a scout came to a dirt road, he knew he had reached the boundary. Also, if a scout became completely lost in the dark, he was to make his way to a dirt road and await pick up and the joking and insults which were sure to follow. An instructor gave me a list of five points and I went to the front of a HMMWV and used the hood as a makeshift table. Using my red lens flashlight, I plotted all five points on my map. This was perhaps the most important part of the process because if a scout plotted his points incorrectly on the map, he would never find his points, especially in a pitch black forest. After double and triple checking that I had correctly plotted my points, I studied the map to see what terrain I could expect. Two of my points were located on small hilltops, two were located in a valley which would require me to cross two streams, and one was located near the boundary next to the dirt road. That last point was farthest out but also the easiest to find. All five of my points were located in an area roughly three miles square. My plan was to find that last point first, then work my way back to the start point. The only variable that I could not control were the “enemy” soldiers who would be hunting us. After assuring that my NVGs operated correctly, I secured it on my forehead. Satisfied that I had all of my gear secured to make as little noise as possible, I stepped off of the dirt road and plunged down into the black forest.
Immediately, unseen branches like skeletal fingers reached out from the darkness to scratch my face and hands. I was only twenty meters inside the wood line but already all sounds and activities behind me had all but disappeared. I slowly knelt, closing my eyes and letting my ears “see” into the darkness. To my left about ten meters away, one of my fellow scouts was also moving through the forest to find his points. Further ahead of me, I could hear movement somewhere in the forest, a skittering noise running through the undergrowth, perhaps a raccoon or some other rodent. The fallen leaves on the ground crunching under foot would give away our movement. We’d have to be extra careful and stealthy to avoid attracting attention. I got up and continued walking towards my first point, counting my steps so that I could judge how far I had travelled and keeping my eyes on my compass to ensure that I was heading in the correct direction.
I was suffering from tunnel vision as I could only see what was directly in front of me. I had almost no peripheral vision because of my NVGs. The terrain was steadily sloping downwards as I descended into the valley. Occasionally, I would stop and kneel to scan my surroundings to see if I was being followed. So far, however, it was all quiet. It appeared that I was all alone on this stretch of forest. At the bottom of the valley, the ground became muddy and at one point I sank to the top of my boots in cold mud. A stream about eight feet wide crossed in front of me. I debated on whether to cross the stream or find a way around it. Farther upstream by a few hundred meters, I heard a loud splash, followed by a soldier yelling, “Son of a…”
I chuckled to myself and silently climbed down into the stream. Looking left and right to ensure that I was not spotted, I climbed over a few fallen tree branches and waded into the water. It was ice cold and came up to my knees, but at least the running water was washing the mud off my boots. Upon reaching the other side, I climbed up the muddy shore on the opposite bank. Stopping briefly to make sure that I was undetected, I hauled myself up an embankment and, wet, cold, and muddy, continued up the slope of the valley. Fortunately, since it was November, mosquitoes or any other buzzing insects were a minor annoyance. However, as I walked up that slope I slowly began to realize that I hadn’t heard any buzzing insect noises at all. If you’ve done this job long enough, you begin to develop what I call a “warning radar”, a sense that there is something just not right with your surroundings. You learned to trust your warning radar and I could swear that I was being watched. This annoyed me more than anything else because I was the one who stalked. I did not like being stalked.
At the top of the slope, I got on the ground and scanned the area again. Yup, there he was. About fifty meters to my right front, crouching behind a stand of trees was an “enemy” soldier. He was looking away from me, probably trying to stalk the other soldier who yelled when he fell into the stream. At night, sound carries farther, so I very slowly crawled back down the slope and walked another fifty meters away from the “enemy” soldier and climbed the slope again. Scanning the area around me again, I found that the path ahead was clear. I pulled out a poncho from a small pack on my back and covered myself with it. Pulling out my map and my flashlight, I determined how far off course I had gone and adjusted my heading and pace count. Satisfied that I was still heading in the correct direction, I put the poncho away and slowly stood up to proceed ahead. Suddenly, far off to my left, I heard the “enemy” soldier yell, “You’ve been captured scout! Return to the start point and restart your mission!”
I chuckled again when I heard the voice of the scout who fell in the stream yell, “Son of a…”
I continued walking through the forest and the trees eventually thinned out. I stopped again and took a knee behind a fallen tree, listening. My internal warning radar was giving me the all clear. I closed my eyes and let my ears see for me again. Ahead of me, I could hear the low rumbling of a HMMWV. Just as I calculated, the dirt road marking the perimeter was about two hundred meters ahead of me. I waited until the sound of the HMMWV passed then made my way to the road, stopping just inside the wood line. I looked right and sure enough, only twenty feet away just off the road was my first point. I cautiously approached the wooden pole and grabbed the ammunition can and took it back into the tree line. I cracked open the ammunition can and the noise of the metal can opening seemed to scream in the dark. I cursed, but apparently nobody heard the noise. Covering myself again with the poncho, I took out my flashlight and copied down what was written on the enemy description inside the can. “At vicinity grid PB 33544459 is an enemy patrol near the road.”
I put the ammunition can back at the point and walked back into the forest. An hour and a half had passed and I had found my first point. I had another two and a half hours to find at least three more points, but those would go quicker. My next two points were south of me, almost in a straight line on the slopes of a hill. Although it would have been easier to walk along the crest of the hill to get to my next point, I didn’t want to risk being silhouetted by the moon, so I stayed below the crest of the hill were the trees were thicker but the movement was slower. I paralleled to top of the hill for about 300 meters until I came to the spot where my second point should be. Low crawling to the top of the hill I scanned around with the NVGs. I was off by about 50 feet, but there was my second point sticking straight up in the middle of a clearing. I was about to get up and approach the point when my warning radar went off in my head. I wasn’t alone. I knelt back down and scanned the forest area surrounding the clearing again. The faint scent of feces, like cow dung, wafted across the clearing. There! Seventy-five meters at my one o’clock! A figure looking like he was wearing a sniper’s Ghillie suit was peering out of the forest. It wasn’t one of my fellow scouts because we didn’t have the Ghillie suit camouflage, so it must have been one of the “enemy” soldiers. And boy did he stink. I hated to think what he had fallen into. Fortunately, he wasn’t looking in my direction. I observed him for a few tense seconds, then he stood up and turned to leave. Geez, that guy was huge! I waited a few more seconds until I couldn’t smell him anymore, then I entered the clearing to retrieve the ammunition can. “At vicinity grid PB 30096687 is an enemy anti-tank emplacement at the top of the hill.”
I came off the top of the hill, grateful to be back inside the thick tree line. But the leaves crunching under my boots sounded like the roar of jets in that dark and lonely forest. Every crunching step seemed to shout, “There’s a scout right here!” Crunch. Crunch, Crunch. Crunch. I stopped suddenly and slowly got down on my belly.
Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.
The footsteps were behind me, approaching my position. I cursed. Stinky “enemy” soldier in the Ghillie suit was stalking me. He must have been beyond seventy-five meters from me because I didn’t smell him. If I had the time, I would have evaded around him, but another thirty minutes had passed and I needed to get to my third point. I needed to get to where the trees weren’t so thick so I made my way back up the slope and was able to fast walk and jog across the crest of the hill for about a quarter mile. The bad part was that because I had chosen to go back up the slope, the full moon had illuminated me during that whole time. Also, my pace count was off, although I knew that I was still headed in generally the right direction to my third point.
I ran down the slope and back into the wood line again, stopping to see if stinky “enemy” soldier in the Ghillie suit had followed me. Satisfied that I had lost him, I began searching the area for my third point. Because I had made a detour up the slope and had lost my pace count, I was not as accurate in positioning myself close to the third point. I just knew it was around here somewhere here in a fifty meter radius. The bad thing about NVGs is that, while it gives the wearer an amazing ability to see in the dark, it also severely limits the wearer’s depth perception. I found the point literally by accident when I inadvertently kicked over the ammunition can. The loud clang echoed in the night and I shook my head, cursing my bad/ good luck. Pulling out my flashlight again, I copied down the enemy description that was inside of the ammunition can. “At vicinity grid PB 28834755 is an enemy command post.”
I returned the ammunition can back to the point and was turning to go to my forth point when I could make out the faint smell of cow dung again. Man, stinky “enemy” soldier in the Ghillie suit sure was fast for a big guy as well as persistent. It was almost two in the morning, which meant that I had a little over an hour to find my forth point. If I had any time left, I’d look for the fifth point which was only a quarter mile from the start point. I turned due south and headed back down into the valley, the whole time my warning radar was going off in my head. Sometimes I thought I could smell the cow dung and I secretly wished that stinky guy stalking me would fall into the stream.
The trees were thicker towards the base of the valley where the stream ran, so it was much darker with very little moonlight shining through. But it was still pleasantly cool, although I was hot and sweaty by this time. I calculated that I was at a bend in the stream, about 500 meters away from where I first crossed it. This forth point was weird because it looked to be directly in the stream on my map, meaning it could be on either bank of the stream. I wasn’t looking forward to searching both sides of the stream but I didn’t have much choice. I knew that my forth point was here somewhere close by. I silently searched my side of the muddy stream first for about fifty meters. The rippling of the waters masked any noise I made, but it also masked the noise of any approaching bad guys as well.
Finding nothing on my side of the stream, I once again climbed down an embankment and waded across the icy cold water to the other side and began my search again. I searched for another fifty meters and still saw nothing except mud and fallen trees. I was beginning to doubt that I plotted this point correctly when I looked at the stream again and noticed something that I hadn’t seen before. In the middle of the stream was a narrow dry spot of land like a miniature four foot square island. In the middle of this little island was my forth point. I waded back into the water and after I covered myself with my poncho, I quietly opened the ammunition can. “At vicinity grid PA 00958824 is an enemy submarine base.”
“Really?” I thought. “A submarine base? Eh, whatever.”
I closed the ammunition can and set it back down when the smell of cow dung seemed to hit me like the heat you feel when you open a hot stove. I cursed. Even though I had found the necessary points that I needed, I still had to get back to the start point without being caught or else I’d have to do this all over again. How did stinky guy keep finding me?
Very slowly, I knelt down on the island and crawled backwards into the freezing water. The smell was all around me and there was a noise like branches breaking on the bank followed by splashing sounds only fifty meters to my left. The moon shone down at the place where there was a bend in the stream and outlined in the light was big, BIG! stinky “enemy” soldier guy. Most of my body was submerged in the water with my upper body hugging that little strip of island in the middle of the stream. I looked up at the guy who was fifty meters away from me and gulped. What I had, at first, thought was a Ghillie suit was actually fur! It was a good seven and a half to eight feet tall, had a gorilla-like face and was covered with dark, thick, fur. The creature stood in the middle of the stream, looking around and seeming to sniff at the air.
“Great,” I thought.” I’m being stalked by a Sasquatchfoot, or whatever the heck they’re called. But since, I know where you are, and you don’t know where I am, I guess I’m stalking you now.”
I began wondering if I had packed any more beef sticks in my pack since I saw a commercial once on television where these Sasquatchfoot things seemed to like beef sticks. All of a sudden, in the distance came the blaring of multiple horns which seemed to echo all around the valley. I cursed again. It was the warning signal that all scouts had thirty minutes to finish finding their points and return to the start line. By this point, I was more annoyed than I was frightened. I was wet, cold, irritated, and muddy. Fortunately, I had wrapped my waterproof notebook with all of my plot points inside of my waterproof poncho and kept it on the small island and out of the water. Still, I had only thirty minutes to make it back to the start line, but tall, dark, and stinky was standing in the middle of the stream looking around him like a lost grandpa at the mall. That big Hairy McDingleberry was going to cost me getting my recon scout qualification!
It seemed like I lay there for hours, but in reality it was only a few seconds. After the horns started blaring, big stinky seemed to let out a huff and ran back up the embankment from which he had emerged. I waited for the smell to dissipate before hauling myself out of the stream and double timed it back to the start point.
Although I was the last scout to return to the start point I was feeling pretty good when our trucks brought us back to the barracks. Two scouts got lost and had to be picked up by the side of the road and two other scouts failed to find four of their five points. These guys would have to try again tomorrow night. Only one guy, the former Navy SEAL, found all five of his points, and although I only found just enough points to pass the course, I also stalked a Bigfoot. How many other Cavalry Scouts can say that?
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