Fort McCoy News Feb. 10, 2017

Soldiers build winter ops skills during course

BY SCOTT T. STURKOL
Public Affairs Staff

Eleven Soldiers assigned to battalions under the 181st Multi-Functional Training Brigade successfully completed training in the first Cold-Weather Operations Course at Fort McCoy, held Jan. 23 to Feb. 6.

The course was a proof-of-principle training event by the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, or DPTMS, designed to teach junior leaders — such as noncommissioned officers and junior officers — to utilize the Army's cold-weather equipment, said DPTMS Director Brad Stewart.

Course instructors Bill Hamilton and Joe Ernst led the students through a variety of subjects over the two weeks of training, including skiing and snowshoe training as well as how to use ahkio sleds and the Arctic 10-person cold-weather tent.

Soldiers with the 181st Multi-Functional Training Brigade participate in a snowshoe-skills training session at Training Area D-10 on Jan. 27 as part of the first Cold-Weather Operations Course at Fort McCoy.
Soldiers with the 181st Multi-Functional Training Brigade participate in a
snowshoe-skills training session at Training Area D-10 on Jan. 27 as part
of the first Cold-Weather Operations Course at Fort McCoy.
Photo by Scott
T. Sturkol

"The students were very receptive to this training," Hamilton said. "We started off teaching them about cold-weather injuries and how to negate that risk. The majority of the focus (in the military) for the last 15 to 16 years has been … hot-weather climates. Hot-weather injuries are pretty easy to negate as long as you are drinking water and you abide by the work-rest cycles.

"Here, with cold weather, the same issues can come into effect," said Hamilton, who has previously served as a cold-weather skills instructor for the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center of Bridgeport, Calif. "You can get dehydrated just as easily in the winter as you can in the summer. So, teaching the Soldiers how to negate the cold-weather injuries is the first and foremost for us and provides a basis for everything else to build on."

Training also focused on terrain and weather analysis, risk management, cold-weather clothing, developing winter fighting positions in the field, camouflage and concealment, and numerous other areas that are important to know in order to survive and operate in a cold-weather environment.

"We taught them how to physically operate in a (winter) environment," Hamilton said. "This does go hand in hand with preventing cold-weather injuries because if someone does have an injury, they cannot operate in a cold-weather environment and that takes away from the mission."

Hamilton said the course is modeled on the Cold-Weather Leader Course taught by the Army Northern Warfare Training Center at Black Rapids, Alaska. "Our program of instruction is nearly identical with the exception that we don't teach certain skills, such as mountaineering and related topics that are better served for mountainous areas," he said.

The students worked hard through every stage of training, Hamilton said. During the fourth day of training on snowshoe familiarization, the students completed nearly 9 miles of snowshoeing practice — 5 miles of which included carrying a rucksack full of gear.

Instructor Joe Ernst (left) with the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security provides direction to students in the Cold-Weather Operations Course on Jan. 27 at Whitetail Ridge Ski Area.
Instructor Joe Ernst (left) with the Directorate of Plans, Training,
Mobilization and Security provides direction to students in the Cold-
Weather Operations Course on Jan. 27 at Whitetail Ridge Ski Area.

Photo by Scott T. Sturkol


Students build an improvised shelter during training Jan. 30 at a Fort McCoy training area.
Students build an improvised shelter during training Jan. 30 at a Fort
McCoy training area.
Photo by Jamal Wilson

"It was challenging for me and a lot of the folks because this is something we haven't done before," said Capt. Travis Michelena, commander of the 181st's Higher Headquarters Company, who was the senior-ranking student in the course. "Most of the students aren't infantry (Soldiers). They are engineers, MPs (military police), and others, so getting this training is good. The instructors also are very good. They took us through (the basics) … and up from there. They also let us learn by experience, which is excellent."

The last days of the course had the students bivouac for several nights at a Fort McCoy training area to practice all they had learned.

"That may have been the toughest part of the training that each of the students had to accomplish," Hamilton said. "The bivouac was where they used all of the skills they'd learned together and set up shelters, as well."

Michelena said one of the most valuable parts of the course is the equipment familiarization.

"We were learning what all of the Army cold-weather equipment is and how it works together," he said. "A lot of times you might be issued something and you have to figure out what it is. In this case with cold-weather equipment, we now know more about it."

Another student, Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Schlesser with 1st Battalion, 337th Brigade Support Battalion, said other Soldiers will learn from his experience in the course.

"All of this will help us if it's needed in the future," Schlesser said. "Just the experience itself, and being out here and doing it in the (cold) weather, has been a great experience."

After this first course was completed, Hamilton said they took feedback from the students to improve the course.

"We'll keep on refining the course and making it even better than it is," Hamilton said. "At the end of the first course, the students spent a half a day giving us feedback on everything."

A second course begins in late February, Hamilton said, and other units are "lining up" for the training in March, as well.

"This is a growth business at Fort McCoy," Hamilton said.

"As long as there's snow on the ground, we'll be out there providing the training."

For more information about Fort McCoy training capabilities and opportunities, call the DPTMS Training Division at 608-388-5038.

Students practice handling skis during the Cold-Weather Operations Course on Jan. 27 at Whitetail Ridge Ski Area.
Students practice handling skis during the Cold-Weather Operations Course on Jan. 27 at Whitetail Ridge Ski
Area.
Photo by Scott T. Sturkol


Soldiers construct an improvised shelter during the Cold-Weather Operations Course on Jan. 30 at Fort McCoy.
Soldiers construct an improvised shelter during the Cold-Weather Operations Course on Jan. 30 at Fort McCoy.
Photo by Jamal Wilson