This is how the army trains to fight and win in the jungle
A few miles from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, sits what may soon be the most important training course for soldiers: the 25th Infantry Division’s Lightning Academy, home to the Jungle Operations Training Course. .
The 12 Day Oahu Course is exactly what it sounds like; a program that teaches soldiers how to survive in the jungle, which is increasingly becoming a reality as the US military focuses on the Indo-Pacific and a potential fight with China.
The jungle is an environment the military hasn’t operated in for decades, and as one can imagine, it’s incredibly different from the desert terrain soldiers are more familiar with after 20 years of combat operations under the aegis of the global war on terrorism. And while jungle battles may seem far away, Lightning Academy 1st Sgt. Scotty Moore and executive officer Captain Nick Schuch told Task & Purpose last week that it was essential to master the basics now, rather than waiting until it was too late.
“Even if we don’t have to fight and win in a jungle environment for the next 15 to 20 years, it’s better that we get ahead of the problem now instead of it being a knee-jerk reaction,” Moore said. . . “Because when we went to CENTCOM, when it became a thing, it was a knee-jerk reaction, wasn’t it? Like we were learning lessons and losing a group of people while we were doing it. Now we anticipate a problem and say, ‘Hey, what are the lessons that we already know from the jungle when we fought there? Let’s train them now so that in 15 to 20 years, when we have to, or next month, we’re ready to do that and not learn the hard way by sending people home in boxes.
For more than 40 years after World War II, soldiers were able to experience top-notch jungle training in Panama. But that training course was closed in 1999 with no plans from the United States to replace it. Instead, according to the LA Times, soldiers were to receive this training “only as small units through exchange programs with other countries.” Then, in 2013, the Army reopened the course at Schofield, which now trains between 760 and 950 soldiers a year.
In order to quickly get up to speed with best practices when the course reopens, the army has sent soldiers to train in the jungle with other countries’ militaries. They learned doctrine from their foreign partners and how they live and survive in a jungle environment, bringing those skills back to the U.S. military. The Army combined this training with lessons learned from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, and developed the Jungle Operations Training Course (JOTC) as it stands today.
Operating in the jungle requires an entirely different set of skills than most soldiers honed during the Global War on Terror. At Lightning Academy, soldiers learn to catch, skin, and cook their own food; various ways to start a fire with items found in the jungle such as bamboo, tree sap and tree bark; how to keep yourself and your gear dry when navigating rivers; and how to safely rappel with your gear down the side of a ravine.
It’s also about getting used to the little things, like not shaving in order to conserve water and avoid infections – surprisingly, having a little facial hair doesn’t seem to have any ill effects on their readiness – do not smock your boots to avoid heat loss, and keep your socks changed and clean.
In the jungle, you “don’t go back to a FOB to do your laundry,” Moore said.
One of the first things soldiers do when they arrive at the academy is to run 5 kilometers – about three miles – through the jungle. This is one of the hardest things for students besides land navigation. This is partly due to the nature of Oahu’s jungle, which Moore says is called a secondary jungle because there aren’t “many thick canopies,” and it lets in sunlight, which entails “all this undergrowth that comes out”. “This underbrush isn’t as common in jungles with thicker canopies, and that makes land navigation all the more difficult.
“Match that with what we call gullies and gullies, they’re just super deep, and once you’re out there alone and scared, you’re like, ‘Where am I going? What do I do? said Moore. “It’s very different from your traditional land navigation course.”
Captain Mac Lalor, the commanding officer of Lightning Academy who was taking the academy’s air assault course on the day of Task & Purpose’s visit, said land navigation was the hardest part of training in the jungle.
“No matter what you’re doing here, you just need to know the terrain to be able to move around it,” he said. “You can take land navigation training at Fort Bragg or Benning a million times, and then you come here and it’s different.”
And the management of the Lightning Academy wanna you to do well — they’re “not concerned with protecting the tab, we want the division ready to fight,” Moore said. One of the biggest hurdles for new students is one of the simplest: their packing lists. If a soldier who comes to the course wants to make sure he has what he needs, Moore said he’ll have an instructor check his list beforehand so he knows he’s ready to go. leave.
In addition to training soldiers within the 25th Infantry Division, the JOTC also regularly sees special operations units come through before deployments. Typically, they do what instructors call “MBT,” or menu-based training, which means SOF units tell them in advance what they want to work on. More recently, Moore said soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment came to practice mobility with their service dogs.
In addition to training U.S. military personnel, JOTC is also a frequent destination for foreign military personnel. The course recently hosted an Indonesian army platoon that came to train with an infantry regiment from the 25th ID and will often send its own instructors to courses in other countries for the same learning experiences. It’s a great opportunity for other service members to train with the United States in a new environment, Lalor said, sometimes because Oahu has fewer jungle animals that will kill you than other countries.
“When they come here, they say, ‘Wait, there are no tigers, there is nothing that wants to kill you, there are no piranhas in the water?'”, a- he said.
These partner nations often have different techniques for doing things that the United States can learn from. In one case, instructors learned a rappelling technique from another country that the United States had “no idea existed until we sent instructors to these courses.”
“It’s really good to have instructors who have all that experience, because when students go through the class and they’re like, ‘Hey, what am I doing in this scenario? ‘What should I do in this scenario?’ The instructors aren’t just like, ‘Oh, I’m only allowed to teach these three techniques,’” Lalor said. “They can say, ‘This is what Brunei is doing, this is what Brazil is doing, this is what [the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency] made in Pearl Harbor.
And while it can be crucial for soldiers to know how to fight in the jungle, the course isn’t just about combat weapons. Lalor said it’s equally important for US Army Pacific mappers to try it out, or for logisticians to learn what it might be like to resupply units in that environment. Moore added that training is important for leaders, if only to know what their soldiers are up against and why it might take them longer to get from point A to point B, and to be realistic with the planning.
Too much gear, for example, could be detrimental in the jungle. Moore said you “take what you need for the fight” and to survive. And while the military is aiming for “the night is ours” with advanced night vision goggles and other abilities, that won’t matter in the jungle.
“In the jungle, no one moves at night. Nobody fights at night,” he said. “And the reason is that at that time the jungle becomes 10 times more dangerous.”
Indeed, training for the jungle environment means, in many cases, throwing away what you’ve always known and challenging yourself to think differently. Because at the end of the day, the goal is always the same: to get where you need to be as quickly and efficiently as possible and to be ready to fight when you get there.
“The history of jungle operations shows that the unit that can maneuver the fastest and arrive ready to fight – they’re the ones who are going to win,” Moore said.
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