Fort McCoy News Jan. 12, 2018

Marines bolster cold-weather operating skills

at Fort McCoy

STORY & PHOTOS BY SCOTT T. STURKOL
Public Affairs Staff

For many of the 49 Marines who attended Fort McCoy's Cold-Weather Operations Course 18-01, it was their first time learning how to survive and operate in cold-weather conditions and how to operate the equipment that allows them to do so.

They hiked dozens of miles through the wilderness at Fort McCoy, bivouacked in the snow and cold, learned to ski, and more.

"I liked the aspect of all the (training) events and how we were forced to either think critically, communicate, lead, and work as a team or else fail and suffer miserably," said student Sgt. Travis Grzeslo with the Marine Tactical Air Command Squadron 28 of Marine Corps Air Station-Cherry Point, N.C. "You learn the importance of taking advantage of the resources available and to think outside of the box, take initiative, and try things out. We were shown 'a way' to do things by the instructors, but it was up to us to take responsibility and grow from there."

A Marine associated with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., works to get out of the water after plunging into an ice-covered Big Sandy Lake as part of cold-water immersion training for the Cold-Weather Operations Course on Dec. 13 at Fort McCoy.
A Marine associated with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing of Marine Corps
Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., works to get out of the water after plunging
into an ice-covered Big Sandy Lake as part of cold-water immersion
training for the Cold-Weather Operations Course on Dec. 13 at Fort McCoy.



Students in the Fort McCoy Cold-Weather Operations Course 18-01 — all U.S. Marines from units associated with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing in North Carolina — participate in building Arctic 10-person cold-weather tents as part of course operations Dec. 13 at Fort McCoy.
Students in the Fort McCoy Cold-Weather Operations Course 18-01 —
all U.S. Marines from units associated with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing
in North Carolina — participate in building Arctic 10-person cold-weather
tents as part of course operations Dec. 13 at Fort McCoy.

The course, also known as CWOC, is modeled on the Cold-Weather Leader Course taught by the Army Northern Warfare Training Center (NWTC) at Black Rapids, Alaska, said Course Instructor Bill Hamilton, who works for contractor Veterans Range Solutions, which supports the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, or DPTMS. The course curriculum is meant to challenge students at every turn.

"Our program of instruction includes seven days of overnight operations in the field, which teaches a finite set of individual, leader, and small-unit collective tasks within a structured 'crawl, walk, and run' methodology," Hamilton said.

Some of the tasks taught during the course include cold-weather injury identification and treatment, proper ways to wear cold-weather clothing, cold-weather risk management, snowshoeing and skiing, and adverse effects of cold weather on military equipment, Hamilton said. Training also includes developing winter fighting positions in the field, camouflage and concealment, building improvised shelters, and numerous other areas that are important to know in order to survive and operate in a cold-weather environment.

Capt. Andrew Fabre, who served as student leader from Marine Air Control Group 28, which also is at Cherry Point, said all the Marines were pushed outside their comfort zone and came away from the training with some valuable skills.

"You have to trust the equipment and use the equipment properly," Fabre said. "You can't just 'power through' when it's extremely cold outside. … (We) had to rely on training and equipment, building trust in both. We also had to rely on each other overcome challenges posed by the course, cadre, and environment."

The course prepares service members for future deployments to cold-weather regions and assists in the proper planning and execution of missions in those regions. "The result is a greater chance of injury mitigation and overall mission success," Hamilton said.

CWOC also is a "train the trainer" course designed for leaders in the E-5 to O-3 range from all branches and components. Many of the Marines who attended said they will pass on what they learned to fellow Marines at their units, including Sgt. Logan Deatherage with Marine Wing Support Squadron 272.

"This course provides be the ability to train my Marines in the full spectrum of a pure survivalist mindset when thrown into a cold-weather environment," Deatherage said. "Knowing how the (cold-weather) environment affects your capability as a warfighter in a survivalist situation instills trust in your equipment, especially when it comes to the clothing layer system."

One of the new events added to the course curriculum was cold-water immersion. The students, dressed in full clothing, plunged through a pre-made hole in the lake ice at Big Sandy Lake on South Post.

Students prepare lunch using cold-weather rations during a break in training Dec. 12.
Students prepare lunch using cold-weather rations during a break in
training Dec. 12.

The training was completed with all necessary safety gear and with medical staff and heated facilities nearby. And, many Marines said it was one of the most memorable events of the entire course. "Going through the cold-water immersion really helped in understanding and learning to identify and treat cold-weather injuries," said Lance Cpl. Eric Reynolds Jr. with Marine Wing Support Squadron 271.

Including Hamilton, five instructors teach the CWOC. The other instructors are Joe Ernst, Hunter Heard, Mike Nguyen, and Manny Ortiz. Heard, Nguyen, and Ortiz are the newest members of the cadre.

"Hunter brings us experience from his time teaching at NWTC in Alaska, and Mike adds his experience from teaching at the Marine Corps' Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport (Calif.)," Hamilton said. "And Manny brings his extensive senior experience as a medic."

"I share my experience and teach all the ways to prevent cold-weather injuries," Ortiz said. "If you can prevent injuries, especially in a cold-weather environment, then the mission can continue and that's what I think we successfully passed on to these students."

DPTMS Director Brad Stewart said the CWOC contributes to the installation's strategic goal to be that year-round Total Force Training Center.

"Fort McCoy is having a direct impact by helping service members train in a four-season climate," Stewart said. "We have the capability and capacity here to continue to grow that idea."

The next CWOC session takes place in January and will include more Marines from units associated with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. Overall, there will be six sessions of the course during the winter of 2017-2018.