The old military stereotype that lieutenants are inept at land navigation has circulated for ages.
But a recent incident at The Basic School — a course for newly commissioned officers aboard Quantico, Virginia — may be giving it added credence.
Six officers are now facing expulsion from the Corps following allegations of cheating during the land navigation portion of training at The Basic School, or TBS.
Marine Corps Training Command, described the incident as “ allegations of misconduct” in an emailed statement to Marine Corps Times.
“The six officers are being processed for administrative separation,” Training Command said.
The Corps would not provide any further information.
It’s not the first time young Marine officers have sought out an easier path to the stashed points that dot the land navigation course aboard the sprawling Marine training base at Quantico.
In May 2010, 13 junior officers were booted from the Corps after Marine officials found the young lieutenants had used cheat sheets to help them locate the land navigation points.
Eight men and five women were caught up in that cheating scandal. One of those men was Naval Academy football player Adam Ballard.
Ballard had attempted to fight his punishment, claiming lax procedures at TBS had resulted in widespread cheating, with Marines often sharing answers on the land navigation test to give an advantage to friends.
Ballard was administratively discharged from the Marine Corps, just a day before he was set to graduate TBS.
Junior officers attending TBS are taught the fundamentals of map reading and use of the lensatic compass to plot courses and navigate a sundry of topographies. It’s a necessary skill for any Marine, especially a future platoon commander.
Marine Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller often emphasizes the importance of Marines understanding old school tactics of land navigation should the Corps find itself in a war in which GPS systems have been impaired by near-peer rivals.
During the conclusion of land navigation training, Marines at TBS are tested on their skills where they are required to find a series of points scattered throughout the Quantico woods.
While the Corps places great emphasis on land navigation, TBS doesn’t drop Marines for failing their first go at the course. Those officers are put through remedial land navigation training and given a second chance to pass.
One Marine officer who spoke to Marine Corps Times said that when they went through the course several years ago, old maps made it difficult to use a skill set known as terrain association to navigate the course.
“It’s hard to terrain associate when the terrain is legitimately different than what’s on the map,” the Marine officer said.
Another officer said the night navigation portion was more difficult than daytime, but after getting familiar with woods at Quantico terrain association became easier.
But if terrain association proves exceedingly difficult, Marines can use another technique called “dead reckoning” where a Marine simply stays on a magnetic compass azimuth until they reach their destination.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.