An American infantry platoon in the assault advances to the “line of departure” in a file formation, then spreads out in a single rank parallel to the enemy. After artillery and airstrikes “soften” the enemy defenses, the platoon advances in one parallel rank towards the enemy's line of defense with the platoon leader following behind to observe the action and make adjustments to take advantage in weak points or fill in when his men fall.
Regardless of the tactics and strategies employed, infantry units need someone who knows where they are and how to get where they need to go. It's also important so they can accurately direct fire from artillery and air forces, or request resupply or medical evacuation. Thus, we spent a lot of time in OCS learning Land Navigation. Fortunately for me, I was a experienced navigator and had won several competitions testing my skills navigating at sea. Navigating on the land is very similar. It requires only one additional skill: The ability to interpret contour lines on a flat map and see a three-dimensional view of hills, mountains, gullys, canyons, and ridges. Of course, I ended up in the Mekong Delta where there wasn't a contour in sight.
We learned how to interpret aerial reconnaissance photos as well as how to read maps. Much of the world, even today, has not been accurately mapped. We learned how to use a compass and orient a map. Once a map or photo is aligned with the land (north on the map faces true north) all the features on the map or photo will be arranged around you exactly as they appear on the map.
I must have done well. They wanted me to remain at the Infantry School after graduation to teach Land Navigation. It didn't hurt that I once astonished the instructors when I proved that they could accurately determine their location with the aid of only one point of reference. They had been taught that you needed two and by taking a bearing with your compass on each, you would find your location on the map where the two bearings crossed. I showed them how to take a bearing on an object, move to another location and take a second bearing. It was simple then to draw a third line on the map showing the direction and distance you had moved. The three lines formed a triangle. At one corner was the object you had sighted. The other two corners represented you location: One where you had been when you took the first bearing, and the second where you now were.
Unfortunately for the Infantry School and the Land Navigation program, my orders to report in Vietnam didn't allow time for me to stay there and teach.
I remembered all these lessons and experiences as I wrote Rebels on the Mountain. I cannot imagine that Castro had access to maps or aerial photos of the Oriente Province where he fought most of his revolution. However, his lieutenants, especially Celia Sanchez, recruited from the outcasts and outlaws who lived there. These men and women must have brought invaluable local knowledge with them that helped the Fidelistas navigate the countryside.