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NEWS | Feb. 27, 2020

17 students graduate from Cold-Weather Operations Course at Fort McCoy

By Scott Sturkol Fort McCoy Public Affairs Office

Seventeen Army Reserve Soldiers and Marines completed 14 days of training that included improvised shelter building, skiing, snowshoeing and more in Fort McCoy Cold-Weather Operations Course (CWOC) Class 20-03 from late January to early February.

Even though the class was smaller than originally planned as some Soldiers who were supposed to attend were called on an emergency deployment, it didn’t slow the intensity of the training, said CWOC Instructor Hunter Heard.

“Class 20-03 did very well throughout the course,” Heard said. “The class got to experience varying temperatures, from 40 degrees the first day in the field to sub-zero temps a few mornings in the field.

“And because this class also happened to be a smaller class, it allowed for more overall class cohesion,” Heard said. “One of the things all of the instructors were impressed with was the pace they set starting on their first day in the field. It was a moderate, but consistent pace, and they held that pace throughout the field exercise.”

Students completed nearly 40 kilometers of marching with snowshoes during training and held skiing training at Whitetail Ridge Ski Area. They also learned how to pack and use ahkio sleds to carry and move gear, and they practiced extensively in building the Arctic 10-person cold-weather tent as well as improvised shelters.

Lance Cpl. Laine Derkson with the 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines (2nd, 24th), which is a Marine Corps Reserve infantry battalion consisting of approximately 1,000 Marines and Sailors, said that as a student, he enjoyed the snowshoeing, pulling an ahkio sled, cold-water immersion training, and shelter building. The class included many Marines with 2nd, 24th. The battalion falls under the 23rd Marine Regiment and the 4th Marine Division.

“This course has showed me how to use my environment to combat cold-weather conditions,” Derkson said. “Fort McCoy is the perfect place to hold this training, especially this time of year with the cold and snow.”

Course objectives include focusing on terrain and weather analysis, risk management, proper cold-weather clothing wear, developing winter fighting positions, camouflage and concealment in a cold-weather environment, cold-water immersion reaction and treatment, and injury prevention.

Staff Sgt. Jared T. Embury, a U.S. Army Reserve platoon leader with the 309th Engineer Company of Brainerd, Minn., 367th Engineer Battalion, 372nd Engineer Brigade, 416th Theater Engineer Command, said, “this is the best course” he’s ever attended.

“I have never trained in cold weather before, and it shed a massive amount of light on how basic operations can be impacted by cold weather,” Embury said. “All of the field time was the best. All of it. Getting hands-on experience is the best. … I can apply a lot of what I learned here to other things as well.”

This was the third class of students to also practice a new cold-water immersion training scenario, Heard said. The scenario includes having one of the squad members go through a cold-water immersion event in the lake, and then other squad members have to take what they learned during the course to help the wet squad member warm up and recover. This includes having the squad member take off most outer clothing and then climb into a sled lined with dry blankets. At the same time, other squad members erect an Arctic cold-weather tent with a heater where the affected squad member then warms up and recovers to prevent injury.

“All training was outstanding,” said student Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Thomas Girgen, assistant operations sergeant with the U.S. Army Reserve’s 457th Transportation Battalion at Fort Snelling, Minn., 644th Regional Support Group, 103rd Sustainment Command, 377th Theater Sustainment Command. Girgen said building shelters, learning fire-starting techniques, and practicing proper cold-weather clothing wear were especially helpful skills he gained.

In addition to Heard, training was also coordinated by fellow instructors Manny Ortiz and Joe Ernst. All are with contractor Veterans Range Solutions, which works with Fort McCoy’s Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization, and Security to complete the training.

“I (now) feel confident in my abilities to conduct cold-weather ops and lead Marines in winter warfare,” said student Sgt. Nathan Benton with the 2nd, 24th. “The instructors are experts in their field, they’re easy to learn from, and they are extremely helpful in all aspects of the course.”

CWOC training for the 2019-20 season continues until late March.

Located in the heart of the upper Midwest, Fort McCoy is the only U.S. Army installation in Wisconsin.

The installation has provided support and facilities for the field and classroom training of more than 100,000 military personnel from all services each year since 1984.

Learn more about Fort McCoy online at, on Facebook by searching “ftmccoy,” and on Twitter by searching “usagmccoy.”