Fort McCoy News Jan. 12, 2018

Students say McCoy an ideal place

for cold-weather training, course is 'challenging'

STORY & PHOTOS BY SCOTT T. STURKOL
Public Affairs Staff

Going into the Cold-Weather Operations Course 18-01, many of the 49 students had never experienced any type of cold-weather training. Some students — all of whom were Marines — even said they never experienced cold weather.

But after 12 days of training in early to mid-December at Fort McCoy, many of those same Marines said they were transformed and thought Fort McCoy was an ideal place to conduct the course, which is also known as CWOC. All students were with units associated with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing.

"It's a great course," said Cpl. Abraham Westerman with the Marine Wing Support Squadron 274 at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C. "It was a gut check — both mentally and physically."

A Marine associated with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., plunges into an ice-covered Big Sandy Lake under the watchful eye of instructor Joe Ernst 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., plunges into an ice-covered Big Sandy Lake
under the watchful eye of instructor Joe Ernst as part of cold-water
immersion training for the Cold-Weather Operations Course on Dec. 13 at
Fort McCoy.



Fort McCoy Cold-Weather Operations Course 18-01 students march to a training area on South Post as part of course operations Dec. 13.
Fort McCoy Cold-Weather Operations Course 18-01 students march to a
training area on South Post as part of course operations Dec. 13.

The winter of 2017-2018 is the second season of the course at Fort McCoy. The course is coordinated by a staff of five instructors with contractor Veterans Range Solutions, which supports the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, or DPTMS.

During training, students learn on a variety of cold-weather subjects, including skiing and snowshoe training as well as how to use ahkio sleds and the Arctic 10-person cold-weather tent, said Course Instructor Joe Ernst. Training also focuses 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.

Capt. Andrew Fabre, who served as student leader from Marine Air Control Group 28, which also is at Cherry Point, said he and the other Marines enjoyed what Fort McCoy offered.

"Fort McCoy is a top-notch training facility and base, and the CWOC staff were a joy to work with," Fabre said. "I would highly recommend this training for Marines of all grades."

Fabre said he believes all who attended are ready to tackle operations in a cold-weather climate.

"Our mission cannot be completed without our Marines operating at a high level," Fabre said. "This training allows us to prepare for any environment with cold extremes, also allowing us to remain focused on the threat and the mission instead of the environment."

The first few days of training are classroom-based as well as time allotted for equipment issue. Then the rest of the 12-day course has students in the field ruck marching for dozens of miles, skiing, snowshoeing, building tents and shelters, and more.

"We want them in the field as soon as possible because that's where most of the learning takes place," said Bill Hamilton, also a course instructor. "Practical, hands-on application of using the equipment seems to be one of the best ways for students to get familiar with the equipment you have to have to survive in cold-weather."

The field training included having the Marines bivouac in various locations on North Post and South Post. In between bivouacking, the students would march from one point to another bringing all of their equipment with them. They also had to build improvised shelters using evergreen boughs and whatever resources they had available.

"I would say the best part of this course was building the shelters," said Lance Cpl. Rafael Diazdutari with Marine Wing Communications Squadron 28, also at Cherry Point. "Building a shelter out in the cold after a long hike is a challenge, therefore a very realistic scenario. I also liked the fact that we had only a few tools to use to survive on and that you had to find other resources to survive. This course is very realistic and it was a reality check for most of us."

Gunny Sgt. Kevin Haunschild with Marine Air Control Squadron 2 at Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., said cold-weather training is something every Marine may see in the future. He added the Fort McCoy CWOC also helped him build his skills.

"This course is an eye-opener toward the climate and direction today's fighting force is headed," Haunschild said. "Whatever I believed my limitations to be prior to this course were tested daily and expanded, and I now have complete faith and trust in gear and equipment that is provided to every individual Marine."

For Lance Cpl. Levi Ellis with Marine Air Support Squadron 1 at Cherry Point he said he learned that in a cold-weather-survival situation, rank doesn't matter as much as what is done as a team to help each other survive.

"This course gave me a lot of confidence as a Marine," Ellis said. "I've only been in the military for a little while, so it was great to complete this training with noncommissioned officers (NCOs), senior NCOs, and officers. Because of how we all worked together, I have a better grasp and more confidence in my gear, … and really all the skills taught were great."

Five more sessions of the course will take place between January and March 2018. Hamilton said each class helps the next one as the course continues to improve with each session. "We'll keep on refining the course and making it even better than it is as we continue to get feedback," he said.