Making winter warriors

By Staff Sgt. Felix Fimbres | U.S. Army Reserve Command | Dec. 13, 2018

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FORT McCOY, Wis. — In the extreme cold and snowy terrain of Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers are taking part in the physically and mentally challenging Cold-Weather Operations Training, which began Dec. 3.  

Open to all services, students are placed in cold-weather environments to learn effective methods of conducting operations. Special equipment is used to navigate rough terrain, and students are required to accomplish numerous tasks specific to the environment, such as skiing and building fires, throughout the 14 days of training.  

The Soldiers from different Army Reserve units have been working as a team despite mostly never having met before the training.  Most recently, as part of the training, the group worked together to drag a 250-pound ahkio sled for 10 miles. The sled tugged on the Soldiers’ hips as they drove their feet into the snow-covered ground until they reached their objective.

“Being physically prepared for this course is important; it’s pretty strenuous,” said 2nd Lt. David Stringer, 452nd Combat Support Hospital, 330th Medical Brigade, 807th Medical Command (Deployment Support), Fort Snelling, Minnesota.  “We’re really capable of doing much more than we think we can — it’s about having the mental capacity to push forward.” 

Stringer is one of 30 students participating in the course.  As a civilian, he is a registered nurse at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota — decidedly an indoor occupation, but for the next couple of weeks, he will be leading a team through harsh winter climates.

The team dug their ski poles into the ground to provide a boost as they dragged the sled.  While they marched on, they passed an area, which was heavily covered with snow, only to reach ground covered in ice.

Stringer says some students told him that seeing their newfound teammates pushing through the difficult task alongside them was what kept them going.  He also said he knew that stopping wasn’t an option during their challenging trek. Their body temperatures had already risen significantly, and it was many degrees below freezing outside.

“A lot of people think they’re tough in the cold, but once you’re out here sleeping in the tents and doing the grunt work it changes,” said Stringer. “It’s a good learning opportunity — we made mistakes yesterday, but it’s something we’ll never forget.”

The Soldiers hiked through subfreezing temperatures carrying 70 pounds of equipment on their backs, up and down hills.  They relied heavily on each other and the training they received from their instructors.  

“The course isn’t just about being outside and suffering in the cold; there’s a lot of leadership to be learned and gained,” said Hunter Heard, a CWOT instructor. “They really learn about themselves, as well, and how to be mentally resilient in that type of environment.” 

Heard said a Soldier should want to attend this type of training if they know they are going to a cold-weather environment.  He also said leaders will benefit from attending the training and adding the skills to their repertoire.

“Locations like Afghanistan, Northern Iraq, Korea, and Germany are just several of the locations the Army sends Soldiers,” Heard said. “Having this type of training can help them understand the impact of cold weather on their gear and themselves.”

Stringer says Soldiers should attend the training if they are looking to strengthen team dynamics.  He also said he had to figure out tough situations while keeping his team focused on the end goal. 

“It’s important to sharpen your skills, not only for yourself, but also for your team,” Stringer said.  “I have to make sure they’re taken care of … and that’s a learned trait.”