Fort McCoy News Feb. 10, 2017

Return of cold-weather training
resonates with installation's past

BY SCOTT T. STURKOL
Public Affairs Staff

For two years, Fort McCoy training planners have worked hard to return the installation to its roots as a primary cold-weather operations training installation — an effort that harkens back to the World War II era.

Officials with the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, or DPTMS, and other installation organizations have worked together to build a battalion-sized, cold-weather training equipment package. The first Cold-Weather Operations Course coordinated by DPTMS concluded Feb. 6, and more classes are planned for late February and March.

A search through the installation's historical archives shows cold-weather operations training has been part of Fort McCoy's framework in one way or another for more than 70 years. For example, one photo from the winter of 1942-43 shows Soldiers camped out in the Fort McCoy woods with a Soldier wearing skis talking to another Soldier next to a cold-weather tent while another Soldier is seen inside the tent communicating on a radio.

Service members conduct cold-weather training at Whitetail Ridge Ski Area in 1989.
Service members conduct cold-weather training at Whitetail Ridge Ski
Area in 1989.
File photo

Jump ahead to 1989 and a photo of service members on skis pulling sleds of gear at Whitetail Ridge Ski Area can be found. Historically, the post has been a great place for service members to build those skills to survive and operate in cold weather climates, said DPTMS Training Division Chief Ed Carns.

"The post has hosted cold-weather training as early as 1943, when it was one of five designated training sites used to prepare Soldiers for the extreme cold-weather locations," Carns said.

DPTMS Director Brad Stewart said cold-weather-focused training largely took a break at the installation after the events of 9/11 because the military was focused on training for desert environments. Now, the military's and Fort McCoy's training mindset have changed.

"Units were on a constant deployment going to the Middle East and Southwest Asia for their rotations," Stewart said. "Up until there was a drawdown in forces in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, cold-weather operations was not thought about.

"As Mr. Carns and I were talking about this a few years ago, we realized that we need to be able to be prepared to fight in any kind of environment," Stewart said. "And since we were so focused on the desert environment (in the past), we believed … that if any unit was to go to Europe … or if anything happens in the Baltics … there will be an in-strike fielding or rapid fielding initiative of cold-weather equipment and gear that our leaders and Soldiers may not know how to use when they need it."

From those ideas by Stewart, Carns, and others came the re-emergence of cold-weather operations training at Fort McCoy, and units have started to take notice.

In late-February 2015, 20 Marines with Marine Air Control Group 48 of Great Lakes, Ill., participated in a four-day cold-weather training exercise at Fort McCoy. Among them was Gunnery Sgt. Jorge Sanchez, the supply and fiscal chief for the unit, who recalled his first time completing cold-weather training at Fort McCoy.

"I completed that training as an active-duty Marine right here at Fort McCoy back in '92," Sanchez said. "We went from here to the Marine Warfare Training Center (MWTC), and then to Norway."

Soldiers participate in winter training at a woodsy area at then-Camp McCoy during the winter of 1942-43.
Soldiers participate in winter training at a
woodsy area at then-Camp McCoy during the
winter of 1942-43.
File photo

Sanchez's instructor in that course, Gunnery Sgt. Marshall Cleveland of the MWTC at Bridgeport, Calif., said Fort McCoy is ideal for the training. "I would recommend to other instructors at the Mountain Warfare Training Center to come (to Fort McCoy) to do this same type of training in the future."

During Fort McCoy's recently completed Cold-Weather Operations Course, Capt. Travis Michelena was among 11 students with the 181st Multi-Functional Training Brigade who participated. He said he enjoyed the course and that he believes Fort McCoy's cold-weather training capacity will continue to grow.

"I'm really glad to see Fort McCoy have this (training)," Michelena said. "Fort McCoy has excellent training areas — they spent the money wisely to have that. Then they have a great staff, and the post is open to bringing people in. I know for the 181st that we are happy to have had people participate in the first course here this year. It's part of being a good tenant and helping out.

Michelena's team of 181st Soldiers in the Cold-Weather Operations Course were set up much like the Soldiers from 1943 when they bivouacked on post for several nights, moved around on skis, and learned to survive and operate in cold weather.

"This is the fun stuff," he said. "Soldiers like doing Soldier stuff, and this is good training to have."

Perhaps the saying, "history repeats itself," holds true in the case of cold-weather operations training at Fort McCoy. Stewart said he hopes it continues to stay for a long time.

"People have this perception that you can't operate in cold weather," Stewart said. "Yes, you can, and we can train you. We've got the resources and capability, we've built it, and now they will come so we can help (our service members) increase their readiness."

Service members train in the snow at Fort McCoy during winter 1986.
Service members train in the snow at Fort McCoy during winter 1986. File photo


Service members build a defensive fighting position at Fort McCoy during winter 1989.
Service members build a defensive fighting position at Fort McCoy during winter 1989. File photo