Rather odd that as I arrived in New York that there was an earthquake in New Hampshire and then later that night one in Texas. I had family and friends contacting me from both states about the earthquake joking about the end of the world. And where was I? I was about to embark on a 5-day boot camp that consisted of wilderness survival, rifleman-ship, forming teams and leadership.
Enter Squad School
Over the last six years, I have massed a set of skills such as land navigation using a map and compass, wilderness first aid, rock climbing, backpacking, shooting, etc. I had learned these skills individually and in various environments and numerous instructors; it was time to put them together and test myself. NOTE: This being said, you do not need to have any of these skills to attend this program. Just have the willingness to learn and of course willpower to succeed.
This is where Squad School comes into the picture. This past week I was in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. I was in 2nd Class Bravo, well that’s what we ended up calling our team by the end of the 5 day program.
Topics Covered: Bug-Out-Bags, Survival Kits, Land Navigation, Scenario Planning and Types of Gear
Six students were in attendance from all over North America ranging from the mid-20s to early 50s in age. Turns out, we all were there for the same reason – to be prepared in the event of an economic collapse. The range of experience was from very little to some having a great amount; in either case everyone walked away more confident and had improved their survival skills substantially.
Most of the day was spent in a class room environment, except for the land navigation class.
We spent the morning reviewing scenarios and questions we should be asking ourselves to better improve our survivability. In regards to our BOB (bug-out-bags) and survival kits, each student and instructor emptied their packs and explained what they had, why they had it, etc.
Later in the week we would have the opportunity to test our gear…
Topics Covered: Camouflage, Target Detection, Range Estimation
The second day of the course, we had lecture in the class room, however the time we would spend in the field would increase.
We learned the various methods and patterns of camouflage as well as the pros and cons of each along with learning how to make a ghillie suit. Later that day we would put these lessons into practice and conceal ourselves in a large field full of brush, trees, leaves and have the lead instructor see if he could detect us.
Speaking of detecting, we also had a lesson and field exercise in target detection and range estimation. Both of which were skills that I felt I was weak in however I discovered that I was good in these areas.
Topics Covered: First Aid, Patrolling, Tactics, Shelters
This is when TEOTWAWKI happens. We are sitting in class and all of a sudden an instructor kicks down the door and tells us that we need to gather our gear as the shit has hit the fan and we need to head for the hills. It’s 45 degrees outside, rainy, cold and windy. We get our gear and head into the mountains for the next few days.
Using the land navigation skills we had learned earlier, we hike to our first rendezvous point for our next lesson; patrolling and tactical maneuvers. During this lesson we learn hand singles, verbal commands, how to patrol as a team, leadership, etc.
As we practice these skills (at this time we are broken into 2, 3 person teams) we move to our second rendezvous point. During the course, we are ambushed multiple times which gives us the feeling of anxiety and adrenaline as we execute our evasion tactics and commands that we had learned.
Eventually, each team makes it safely to the second goal. It’s roughly 3.30pm; we have about three hours of daylight left. Yes, that’s right…we are sleeping in the woods.
We have 3 hours as a 3 person team to build a shelter, a fire and to set up guard shifts.
Did I mention it had rained? It was 42 degrees, we were wet, it was cold and windy and not a dry leave or twig to be found.
My team builds a kick ass shelter, an awesome key-fire pit and a heat reflector along with gathering enough wood to keep the fire going until 7am the next morning (our new goal).
Then…the instructors give us another surprise. It was time to have dinner…except rather than eating our MREs or freeze-dried food, they had something special for us. They have living chickens for us. Yes, that is right. We were taught how to kill, skin and clean a chicken (which turns out is about the same as any other bird).
Dinner that night was awesome!
Topics Covered: Rifleman-ship, Basic Tracking
Cold, wet, tired…perfect time to grab a rifle and learn how to shoot.
I was no stranger to rifles. I had taken multiple courses both basic marksmanship, tactical courses and precision courses before, however I quickly learned that I had been taught incorrectly on many of the fundamentals. Simply put, after this lesson my marksmanship skills improved dramatically. I spent the rest of the day unlearning my bad habits and incorporating the new skills I had learned.
After a very satisfying day at the range where we shot from 25 meters out to 200 meters with 22 LR rifles and AR-15s, we had to hike back up the mountain.
Topics Covered: Wrap-Up
Due to weather during the week, we had a few lessons that were postponed that we caught up during this day. However, most of the day was a discussion on how we did, what improvements could be made to the program, etc.
First, the information above is only a small part of what was covered. I learned so much more during this program than I expected.
The lead instructor, John Hawes, a graduate of 5 sniper schools and who was also awarded the Silver Star was excellent! The other instructors, Evan and Dan were superb as well as were the other 5+ instructors that participated a various times during the program.
The program had a clear agenda and in addition, during periods of downtime the instructors would give us great tips and tricks (e.g. how to spot turkey, deer tracks, etc. – basic hunting skills).
I walked away with a ton of notes, new knowledge, new-found confidence and some great new like-minded friends.
I urge you to check it out and sign-up for their mailing list.