I started my off road training early in life riding in the back of my Uncle’s Suburban both recreationally and when I worked for his surveying company for a brief period in high school. Other than that, taking our two wheel drive Chevy down beaten paths and getting towed on a sled behind 3 and 4 wheelers, I had never gone through any type of formal instruction on the subject. Who knew there was such training? I joined the Marine Corps in 1993 and suddenly had access to far more expensive and capable vehicles then had had been exposed to growing up. Amazingly, I found that even these trucks were moderately useful if you didn’t have a clew as to how to drive them, how to use their features, and lacked knowledge of tolls to get you back on the road when you do eventually get stuck. I went through some basic driving courses of military vehicles, but driving wasn’t my job; trucks were just one of many ways to get to work. It wasn’t until around 2002 that I received any serious instruction on getting a truck into and out of pretty rugged areas while limiting damage and getting the real job done along the way.
My company hired a fellow named Frenchie La Chance who is a member of the International 4-Wheel Drive Trainers’ Association, and owner of and instructor/guide for Western Adventures 4×4 Driving School and Guide Service. After a course in the mechanical function of the G-Wagon (known as the Interim Fast Attack Vehicle – IFAV within the USMC) La Chance taught us all about selecting routes and lines, proper gearing for different terrains, tire pressure for varying terrains, understanding the location of the differentials and transfer case, spotting for drivers, sand driving, rock crawling, approach angle, cliff climbing, steep hill ascent and descent, using the winch, using a HiLift jack, using snatch straps and tow bars, all in day and at night on night vision devices. I must say, for such a short period of time he crammed a lot of knowledge into our heads, including tips on working the winch with no remote, using your tire as an anchor point, bypassing clogged fuel filters and numerous other bits of knowledge he had gained over his decades of off road driving and competing. We practiced everything he taught us and spent a lot of time determining our load outs, practicing tire changes, and a variety of other skills. I felt quite prepared when we finished the course and I spent the next few years as my teams driver where I really had opportunities to dial in and reenforce the knowledge he had offered. It is a whole different challenge to implement off road techniques in hostile environments where getting stuck could cost you and the rest of the guys with you their lives. Needless to say the learning curve was steep, but I am thankful for that, and thankful to have had the opportunity to learn that I did. In 2005 or 2006 I had the opportunity to reenforce and review what La Chance had taught me while participating in driver training at Blackwater. This course also provided off road instruction, but had less detail than La Chance’s course. Still a good review and a lot of fun, though.
Video of the Blackwater training course:
Pictures from Frenchie La Chance’s training course:
On the Job Training (OJT):
4-Wheel Drive Freedom: The Art of Off-Road Driving by Brad DeLong. This was the starting point for La Chance’s course; required reading before the course started. Good book, but made much better getting hands-on experience.
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