FORT McCOY, Wis. –
Twenty-seven Soldiers, Airmen, and ROTC cadets completed training in 2022’s first session of the Fort McCoy Cold-Weather Operations Course (CWOC) after graduating from 14 days of training with class 22-02.
The class was the first of the 2021-22 training season to experience typical Wisconsin winter weather as during most of their 14 days of training there was either snow showers or extreme cold temperatures.
Lead Instructor Hunter Heard coordinates the CWOC training with fellow instructors Manny Ortiz, Brian Semann, and Joe Ernst. All are with contractor Veterans Range Solutions, which works with Fort McCoy’s Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization, and Security (DPTMS) to complete the training.
Heard said the class did well.
“Class 22-02 did great,” Heard said. “They had quite a few days of below-zero weather during their class. Their first day in the field, they only saw 3 degrees for a high. It was cold for sure.
“And even with the cold, the students consistently maintained a high level of motivation throughout the entire course,” Heard said. “We had Army Reservists, ROTC cadets, as well as Air Force personnel, and they all worked very well together. Having the cold temperatures along with the good snow coverage really makes the course that much more realistic and relevant to the students too.”
During the course, CWOC students are trained on a variety of cold-weather subjects in the course, including snowshoe training and skiing and how to use ahkio sleds and other gear. 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.
Additionally, the CWOC is modeled after the Cold-Weather Leader Course taught by the Army Northern Warfare Training Center at Black Rapids, Alaska. For each class, students start off with classroom training and then move into various aspects of field training.
Cadet Wyatt Groves with Missouri State University, was like many students who enjoyed learning about the latest version of the Extended Cold-Weather Clothing System (ECWCS).
According to the Army, the ECWCS is based on clothing used by mountaineering professionals. It provides service members with a survivability advantage while operating in multiple cold weather climates and activities.
“This course showed me how the seven-layer ECWCS works and how to properly wear it,” said Groves, who plans to take the clothing system skills learned and teach it to others.
Spc. Jacob Ball with the Army Reserve’s 652nd Engineer Company of Ellsworth, Wisconsin, said learning about the ECWCS was also important for him along with learning about improvised shelter building and participating in the cold-water immersion event at the end of the course.
“I will be teaching my fellow Soldiers how to properly use and layer the ECWCS system,” Ball said. “All the other training was educational and needed. … The instructors really helped and gave us all the information we needed to succeed.”
Getting a better understanding of cold-weather equipment was especially useful for Staff Sgt. Mark Andrew Magness, operations noncommissioned officer (NCO) with the Fort McCoy NCO Academy, a tenant institutional training organization on post.
“This course has given me a better understanding of how to use the equipment the Army provides to protect its Soldiers in any environment,” Magness said. “I will try to bring back some of the skills learned in this course — not only are they Army related but can be applied in real life.”
Capt. Rafael Polo with the 1st Battalion, 291st Brigade Support Battalion of the 181st Multi-Functional Training Brigade, which is also a Fort McCoy tenant organization, said he was able to build up a wide variety of skills from the course.
“This course taught me to be a lot more patient and understanding, especially in austere environments,” Polo said. “The cold can make a Soldier lose focus and discipline, but this course has ingrained in me to trust my training.
“The best part about the course is its broad spectrum of training regarding cold-weather operations,” Polo said. “This includes fire building, shelters, skiing, and utilization of different equipment.”
For Air Force Master Sgt. Brendan Uhlir with the 910th Security Forces Squadron of Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio, participating in CWOC allowed for a unique training opportunity.
“All the parts of this course were beneficial, since I have never participated in anything like this,” Uhlir said. “The best parts for me were all the hands-on training portions. Learning in a classroom is great but getting out there and actually doing the skills training is so much more educational. … I will bring back everything I learned to my unit. I have never skied before and hopefully never have to again, but it was still a lot of fun.”
Army ROTC Cadet Stuart Tolsma with Michigan Tech University said he too enjoyed learning about the ECWCS and cold-weather fieldcraft. Tolsma’s school is in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and generally experiences more snowfall and cold than Fort McCoy. He said that’s where the fieldcraft training will be helpful.
“Just getting to interact with (service members) of different ranks and from all over the country, too, was a good learning experience,” Tolsma said.
Class 22-02 was the first of the training season’s classes to practice skiing and a wide variety of snowshoeing and land navigation in the field while in actual snow. Plus they were the first 14-day course of the season. Class 22-01 was a set of four, short training tracks in early and mid-December that trained 148 Marines. Overall, five 14-day CWOC classes will be completed by the end of March.
Overall, the course has already trained students from three services — Army, Marines, and Air Force. More of that is planned.
Fort McCoy’s motto is to be the “Total Force Training Center.” 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 nearly every year since 1984.
Learn more about Fort McCoy online at https://home.army.mil/mccoy, on the Defense Visual Information Distribution System at https://www.dvidshub.net/fmpao, on Facebook by searching “ftmccoy,” and on Twitter by searching “usagmccoy.”
Also try downloading the Digital Garrison app to your smartphone and set “Fort McCoy” or another installation as your preferred base.