How to Make Your Own MGRS / USNG Maps

To do good land navigation, you really need the MGRS grid overlay. UTM is too clunky, and Lat/Long is just a total non-starter. The civilian version of MGRS is called USNG, the only difference being that there are spaces at natural points in the grid. For example, if the MGRS grid is “13SDC23564332”, the USNG is “13S DC 2356 4332”. Simple enough. Unfortunately, it has traditionally been difficult to get MGRS maps outside of the military and whatever areas they deemed fit to print maps of. Enter GISsurfer, a free service based on GIS that allows users to create their own MGRS maps. You can even overlay satellite and roads if you wish. Let’s jump in: 
      1. Go to GISsurfer.
      2. Click “Menu”
      3. Click “UTM MGRS/USNG Lat/Long”
      4. Click either “MGRS” or “USNG” Screen Shot 2019-11-16 at 7.03.40 PM
      5. Zoom to wherever you want a map.
      6. Select other GIS options, such as satellite, roads, contour lines, or the like. You end up with a map, in this case zoomed up so that each gridsquare is a kilometer. Nice.
      7. The final step is to save the map. On an Apple, I can choose File–>Print, choose paper size and layout, then “Save as PDF.” Your mileage may vary.
Happy hunting, and remember your panic azimuth.

Gear Review of the P-14 Gen II+ Night Vision Monocular

3.8 / 5.0

Pros: Excellent value. Near parity with PVS-14 during high illumination. Can use AA or CR2 battery. Couples well with IR lasers for night shooting.

Cons: Only partial PVS-14 BII compatibility, and no company-provided BII.

Bottom Line: This is night vision for the masses. I liked it enough to buy the test unit.

The PRG (Potomac River Group) P-14 flashed across my radar one morning as a deal on Dvor, $750 for Gen II+ night vision. I was intrigued, along with quite a few other people. A few emails later and PRG sent one my way to test. My testing consisted of walking around, shooting, and taking pictures through the unit. What else could you do?

Looks like a bargain basement PVS-14, and pretty much is (in a good way)

As an experienced night vision user can see, this unit is meant to occupy the same niche as the PVS-14, except for the frugal. With the typical PVS-14 costing $3000, the P-14 is very attractive at $1000 or less. Of course, the market is full of cheap night vision that is so ineffective as to not be worth it at any cost. I have used numerous of the sort of units people buy for $500 or less at sporting goods stores, and found that they are worse than paperweights — the user can’t see anything, but they destroy the wearer’s natural night vision for the following 30 minutes or so.

The P-14 boasts some impressive features. Gen II+, a very low price, made in the USA, automatic brightness, an IR illuminator, and at least the appearance of PVS-14 compatibility. What’s the catch? Well, that’s the point of my testing and review.

P-14 Performance

The last time I wore anything other than Gen III was 14 years ago when I briefly used PVS-7s in a schoolhouse setting. For Gen II+, I read what to expect from other night vision experts: near parity with Gen III under good illumination, and near uselessness under low light. That is exactly what I found.

On a walk through the woods with 0% illumination, I had to use the IR flood light to make any sort of movement. The unit alone was almost worse than nothing. I couldn’t make out branches about to swipe me, yet the night vision eye was useless.

Toyota pickup under partial illumination from ambient light. 40 meters.

On the other hand, during 100% illumination (full moon), the P-14 image quality was only slightly worse than the Gen III PVS-14. On that particular night, I could make out trees, terrain, structures, and animals at several hundred meters. Additionally, shooting with the P-14 was a breeze. A friend and I used a Streamlight TLR-2 IR laser on a 9mm XDM. Shooting 8″ plates with this combo was almost comically easy. At one point my friend had a target at 10 meters and another target at 50 meters and alternated most of a 19-round magazine between each target without miss.

Pup at 25 meters. Treeline is at 150-200 meters.

When I wore PVS-14s on a near nightly basis, I didn’t worry much about the illumination level. If it was good, that was all the better. With the P-14, the illumination level, and the moonrise and moonset matter. That isn’t PRG’s fault, it’s just a fact of life for Gen II+ tubes. However, potential buyers should be aware of this performance gap between Gen III and II+ tubes.

House and barn at 250 meters.
Creek crossing at 25 meters. Poor focus. Far treelike is on the order of 500 meters.

The P-14’s automatic brightness feature works well. Though I prefer manual brightness control in general, I never had a problem with the unit not adjusting well. Additionally, the onboard IR flood light did a good job of illuminating the immediate area.

PVS-14 Compatibility

When I saw the pictures, I was really hoping that the P-14 would act like a drop-in replacement for the PVS-14. That way, those of us who own PVS-14s can also have the P-14, and both units can use common basic gear. The P-14 works with PVS-14 gear to a large extent. The J-arm screws in to the P-14, but it doesn’t keep the unit from swiveling. As long as it’s tightly screwed, it’s not a problem. The P-14 doesn’t have the same automatic shutoff that the PVS-14 has when the unit is swung upward by the user.

It fits my existing PVS-14 gear reasonably well.

The P-14 works with my DSLR camera adapter for PVS-14s, but only if I add a bit of padding to the eyepiece ring. The eyepiece ring of the P-14 is just not quite big enough, so the adapter tends to work loose off of it. It is in no way a deal-killer, but I’d rather the ring just match the PVS-14 standard. Why not?

P-14 Quality

The P-14 does not feel like flimsy junk. I think it could take a little kicking around. It’s stamped Made in the USA. The rep told me the unit is made in Arizona. I’m not sure precisely what that means. While I think PRG is a company with integrity and does make the units in Arizona, that doesn’t necessarily mean all the glass and the tube is also made in the USA. I have no idea where each component is made.

I walked in the unit during a light mist without trouble. There is some distortion at the outside edge of the lens. Overall the quality seems to be present. Time will tell.

One Caveat…

I am fairly enthusiastic about the P-14, so much so that I went ahead and bought the test unit to serve as a backup or loaner. My one caveat is that I can’t vouch for the reliability of the P-14, nor the tube longevity. Tubes are known to last anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 hours, and I have no idea how long this will last. I will certainly update the review if it fails prematurely.

Shelter and Sleep in Non-Permissive Environments

This article is part of a series on the practical aspects of stealth. To see links to all of the articles on this topic, see the main page for The Stealth Fighter. This excerpt is from Chapter 3: Terrain, Weather, and Fieldcraft

Shelter in the Field

The woods are inviting during nice weather. When it is sunny and 75 degrees, being in the forest makes our hearts soar. When it is drizzling and 55 degrees, however, people simply clam up. They withdraw. Rather than standing up straight and looking outward, people pull blankets and tarps over their hunched shoulders, and look downward. It’s not a situation conducive to staying hidden and alert. If the weather is much more extreme than the drizzly day described above, it can even leach strength and lead to foolish decisions.

Military men call cold-weather gear “snivel gear,” the implication being that real men simply take the cold without aid. Nowadays, the term is mostly said in jest. Through repeated exposure to misery in the field, military men learn how to best manage their mobile wardrobes. The most basic principle for effective snivel usage is to not use it while conducting movement, but rather to wait until an extended stop to layer up. Extreme cold may necessitate a light under-layer.

When in Afghanistan in 2007, higher command tasked my recon team with infiltrating through the mountains to a valley, where we would clandestinely secure a landing zone for a much larger assault force. We were to set up a supporting position featuring sniper rifles and a medium machine gun which would enable rapid action in the event the enemy attempted to down the incoming helicopters. The altitude was well over 8,000 feet. The mountains were covered in several inches of snow, and the temperature was roughly 20°F.

The attached machine gunner layered long underwear top and bottoms under his uniform. Laden with body armor, a machine gun, and ammunition, he became overheated during the 4 hours of mostly vertical hiking through the mountains. Our element had to stop to deal with his heat exhaustion. The medic removed some of his clothes, which sent his temperature downward. The temperature blew right through 98.6°F and he quickly began shivering and slurring words. The machine gunner went from heat exhaustion to hypothermia in 15 minutes or less! We quickly resumed our walk, sans long underwear, and the situation worked out fine.

Another problem with moving while wearing cold weather gear is that the movement tends  to get the gear wet with either sweat or rain. If you are using a moisture repelling shell, it’s a sure bet that you are making too much noise. While moving in inclement weather, carry a large outer garment which you can easily take on and off during halts. I always order my field jackets in a size larger than I need so that they will fit over kit. Another tactic is to carry gloves, a beanie hat, and a neck gaiter. They conserve energy, but an overheated wearer can easily remove and stow them while walking.

Whatever suite of snivel gear you choose, you must manage your clothing articles during inclement weather. Don’t strip out of your wet clothes and put on dry clothes while it’s still raining, or you have more water crossings in the future. What are you going to do with your wet clothes? In cold rainy environments, they will pretty much never dry, and the moisture will add to your weight. Use an overcoat or poncho to conserve heat when not on the move. Your body heat will dry the clothes out. Obviously if it’s a matter of safety, you may have no choice but to break into your dry clothes.

Small items like gloves, socks, and T-shirts dry easily inside of a jacket. My favorite field jacket has an inner mesh pocket for precisely that reason. A sleeping bag will also help to dry wet clothing. Lay the clothing out to your side in the bag, and it will be much drier in the morning. Bunching up wet clothing in the bottom of the bag will provide little drying capacity.

Another critical piece of equipment is a small poncho or tarp. The ideal tarp is waterproof, 5’x8’ or a little more, and has grommets for tying. The way you use this piece of gear is not to wear it, but to make a “hooch,” which simply means to string up the tarp into an overhead cover. Using 550 cord and nearby trees, shrubs, and rocks, your goal is to turn the poncho into a single slanted sheet which will protect personnel and equipment from rain. Pre-tie the grommets with long pieces of 550 cord. If the tarp is too shiny, dust it with paint. You can hold up the center by placing a pebble on the dry side, and looping a rope around that pebble on the wet side. I generally just make the hooch tight enough and with enough slant so that it’s not necessary to hold the center.

Poncho hooch in Tora Bora, 2007

If you cannot use a tarp or outer jacket, needle evergreens like cedar and juniper make a very good shelter from the rain. I’ve huddled under such trees during fierce storms and stayed quite dry. Because their leaves are so fine and tight, water runs down the leaves and branches, and to the ground at the base of the trunk. The ground underneath the canopy stays mostly dry.

During hot, sunny weather, wear loose cotton clothes which cover most of the skin. Wear a wide-brimmed hat as well. If it’s too hot, cut a hole in the top and fill it with mesh. When crossing streams, roll up your sleeves and submerge your arms as much as possible. The forced convection from the water will remove heat. Water evaporating from your head will also remove heat. Plan movements to avoid the worst heat of the day.

When I was the leader of a recon team, I had to carefully manage my team’s strength in 100°F weather. Between 12PM and 4PM, I sought to keep men from moving. My goal was to have a surveillance team in place before the heat hit, to be withdrawn after the worst of it had subsided.

Sleeping in the Field

Getting sleep during field operations is an energy-conservation issue, much the same as sheltering against cold weather. Tired leaders make poor decisions. Tired operators are sloppy. I have found that energy conservation is a key aspect in leading men in an environment where stealth is paramount. The discipline and work that stealth requires is exhausting, not to mention the demands of the actual mission. As soon as you begin such a mission, the team must be in self-preservation mode. Part of that means getting some amount of sleep.

Obviously, pitching a neon-colored tent and striking up a campfire is not acceptable in a non-permissive environment. In extreme cold, a small, drably colored tent can conserve fighting strength. It’s critical to camouflage the site with vegetation and other techniques. See Chapter4: Hide Sites and Surveillance for more information. The poncho hooch, as I described in the preceding headline on shelter, is another alternative with a smaller signature, and greater ease of breakdown. Furthermore, a team member can pull security from underneath the poncho.

During good weather, I recommend sleeping on the ground. It creates no additional signature, and the sleeper can typically prepare himself to move very quickly. A mild-weather technique I have used to maximize sleep during operations is to preposition a surveillance team near the objective at dusk, when they can move quickly and quietly, yet fading light offers a camouflage advantage. The team then prepares their night optics and cameras in the dusk light, before taking turns sleeping much of the night. The team can then move onto their objective at an extremely early morning hour such as 0300, when defenders are in their deepest sleep, and watchers are fighting drowsiness. The team is well rested, and makes much less noise overall since most of the route took place in daylight hours.

A good small-element leader should encourage snoozing and napping, within a sound security system. On a surveillance site when nothing is happening, one member should sleep while the other watches the objective, and keeps situational awareness for local security. In a hide site where a larger team is bivouacking, it is perfectly acceptable for the whole team to sleep while one man keeps watch. In this case, the hide site should be small so that it creates less signature. It should be acceptable for an element to take a thirty minute halt, and let the majority of men close their eyes. 

This thinking flies in the face of normal infantry operations. In that case, the men spread out so as to create a sparser target. Casual naps are a major faux-pas; sleep is a controlled commodity dispensed at a specific time. For small teams concerned with stealth, little naps can help team members to concentrate.

In summary, keeping hidden in a non-permissive environment is exhausting. Conserving fighting strength might be the one thing that tips the balance in favor of the hunted in staying hidden and alive.

Non-Visual Target Indicators

This article is part of a series on the practical aspects of stealth. To see links to all of the articles on this topic, see the main page for The Stealth Fighter.

A target indicator is anything that makes your presence known to an enemy; it indicates a target (you, in this case). If you master this section, you can write the book on stealth. The purpose of camouflage is to reduce target indicators. The importance of the term “target indicator” is impossible to overstate. If you get just that from this article, it was worth your time to read it.

People spend an enormous amount of time on reducing visual target indicators. This article is on reducing your signature as a target in the domains of sound and smell. A misplaced radio crackle, or a whiff of cigarette smoke can burn you just as well as an errant movement. Let’s dive in.

Smell

In any field environment, perfumes stand out. The detergent you wash your clothes with is almost certainly scented, as is your shampoo. The simple solution is to keep your clothes for the civilized world and your field-wear separate. Wash your field wear in warm water with no detergent. It wont become rancid with stench, and yet it will not give you away. Similarly, avoid soaps, deodorants, colognes, and other such frills for a minimum of 24 hours prior to entering a field environment.

Another obvious olfactory target indicator is cigarette or campfire smoke. Don’t do it near the enemy. An unfortunate wind will leave no doubt as to your presence. Cooking food falls into the same category. You must eat, but use good judgement.

Perhaps one you didn’t consider is the food you eat seeping through your pores. This mainly pertains to situations where your potential observers are foreign. If you’d like to see this firsthand, get extremely drunk. The next morning, go for a jog. You’ll smell the booze seeping out. If you prefer not to abuse yourself that much, eat a healthy dose of curry and breathe in the same effect later.

Sound

Some sounds belong, and some don’t. The clanking of metal is sure to draw attention, as is the ringtone on your cell phone. Make sure that whatever sounds you make in a given area of operations belong, or don’t make them at all. Discipline is obviously a key factor.

The way you walk is also a target indicator. If you observe animals in the wild, you’ll note that they never just go tromping through the woods. They walk a bit, then stop, walk a bit, then stop. Crackling leaves and sticks on their own are not a definitive target indicator, but nonstop crackling indicates human movement.

Velcro, radio squelch, water sloshing, the thudding of feet on earth, coughing, and the rustling of paper and plastic are a few other sounds I can think of that cannot be easily explained away . During the Vietnam War, prior to hydration bladders, small recon teams would pass a canteen and empty it to avoid sloshing. I like to tape the metal tabs on zippered pouches, or replace them altogether with gutted 550 cord.

Weather plays a significant factor.  On cold days, sound seems to travel further. This isn’t an illusion. Sound refracts downward from warmer air toward the cold ground, which results in more sound making it further downrange prior to the sonic energy dissipating. The animals are a good bit quieter. The dried leaves and sticks crackle much more loudly than in summer. A cold, calm day is a terrible time to attempt stealthy movement.

During wet weather, leaves and sticks are muffled and make very little noise. While it may be miserable to be out in the field, you can be sure that your enemy is equally miserable, and the reduction in audible target indicators is welcome for the weary stalker.

In summary, don’t focus on purely visual target indicators. Sounds and smells can provide a searching enemy with a wealth of knowledge about your element. Don’t wash your field clothes with perfumes. Do use tape and 550 cord to silence metal and zipper elements on your kit. In the sounds and smells you make… be an animal.