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The Tenino Special

How retired Army officer John Millard navigated back to Tenino after basic training

For the last half century, the 1:50,000-meter scaled Tenino Special map has been used by the U.S. Army to teach land navigation during basic training. Photo courtesy City of Tenino

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Tenino is on the map.

No, really ... it's on every single map used in the U.S. Army's land navigation portion of basic training. The infamous map, known as the Tenino Special, short for Tenino Military Map, edition 7-DMATC series V791 sheet 1477 IV, is the standard military training map seen and used by new soldiers.

"I joined the National Guard in 1980, and my introduction to map reading was an Army Correspondence Course based on the Tenino map sheet," said John C. Millard, a retired Army officer and clerk/treasurer for the City of Tenino. "It was used because there's at least one of every terrain feature that is possible to have on any one particular map. It was also used because there is a slight magnetic deviation, so it is a useful tool to teach people how to convert from magnetic north to grid north."

The topographical Tenino Special map that Millard and other servicemembers used in basic training does, in fact, include terrain features necessary for proper land navigation instruction (hills, ridges, valleys, saddles and depressions). It's also published at one of the Department of the Army's standard map scales: 1:50,000 meters.

Although many of these details may seem highly technical (and easily forgettable), they're often drilled into the memory of young recruits by the time they graduate from Army basic training. Millard, who moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1999 after accepting an assignment to Fort Lewis, found himself reacquainted with the same map of Tenino he used in Basic Training when he and his wife, Dee Millard, looked for a home in the area.

"We searched for almost a year," Millard said, "Then one day ... my wife was very excited to announce she'd found our home.  I asked where, and when she said Tenino, my immediate response was, ‘Great! I guess our address will be a grid coordinate!'"

Despite almost 19 years passing since Millard was first exposed to the Tenino map, he could still recall familiar landmarks and terrain features as he and his wife explored the area. The couple didn't take long to make their decision. They moved to Tenino in March 2000.

"I spent the next several months driving around to all the places I was so familiar with by name," Millard said. "The only thing (from the map) I was never able to see on the ground was the machine-gun bunker shown at the Olympia airport. Who knows ... it may still be there (as) part of some basement."

Ten years later, in 2010, Millard had retired from the Army and was serving as a contract employee for 8th ROTC Brigade at Joint Base Lewis-McChord when he realized Army units were still using the Tenino Special to teach land navigation and map reading to servicemembers.

Nowadays, Army recruits in Basic Training are still exposed to the Tenino map, although maps of other areas in the U.S. are also used.

The question, though, isn't whether the map will remain in use, but how many other servicemembers, just like Millard, will find themselves navigating to Washington State because of it.

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