Twenty-five soldiers came to Fort McCoy to build a greater understanding of military operations in a winter environment as students in Cold-Weather Operations Course Class 18-02 during the first two weeks of January.
When they left, many said they not only had a greater understanding but the course also gave them skills needed to survive and operate in a winter-warfare environment.
“This course gave me confidence,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph Chrysler with the 339th Psychological Operations Company of Arden Hills, Minnesota. “It gave me confidence in my cold-weather clothing and gear and helped me (rebuild) skills that are not used every day in today’s Army. ... Also, some of the best parts of this course were learning to build a thermal shelter and (bivouacking) overnight in the elements.”
The course, also known as CWOC, is modeled on the Cold-Weather Leader Course taught by the Army Northern Warfare Training Center 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.
Hamilton said the course is designed to challenge students.
“Our program of instruction includes overnight operations in the field,” Hamilton said. “We teach them a finite set of individual, leader, and small-unit collective tasks within a structured ‘crawl, walk and run’ methodology.”
Tasks taught 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.
“We start off with classroom training for a few days and then it’s training in the field every day until we’re done,” Hamilton said. “In the field, the students spend time ruck marching for dozens of miles, skiing, snowshoeing, building tents and shelters, and more.”
After being exposed to the cold weather in the field, many students said understanding the Army extreme cold-weather clothing system was most helpful. The system, which is issued through the Fort McCoy Central Issue Facility, includes a lightweight undershirt and underwear, midweight shirt and underwear, fleece jacket, wind jacket, soft shell jacket and trousers, extreme cold/wet-weather jacket and trousers and extreme cold-weather parka and trousers.
“You have to have confidence in your gear. ... It’s how you stay alive in extreme conditions,” said Staff Sgt. Anthony Steinhoff with the Wisconsin National Guard in Richland Center. “In this course, they teach you how to properly dress for the cold.”
Hamilton said there is no substitute for using the gear in the cold.
“Practical, hands-on application of using equipment seems to be one of the best ways for students to get familiar with the equipment needed to survive in cold weather,” Hamilton said.
Toward the end of the course, all students participated in cold-water immersion training. Joe Ernst, also a CWOC instructor, said cold-water immersion is critical to the ability to survive and operate in a cold-weather environment.
“The experience of a service member being introduced to water in an extreme-cold environment is a crucial task for waterborne operations and confidence building,” Ernst said. “For a person to fall into water in that environment, the onset of panic generally introduces itself quickly. For our service members who will be operating in an extreme-cold environment, it is a task that, if not trained for, can produce unnecessary casualties.”
Soldiers said the training is difficult but necessary.
“The best parts of this course were learning to build an improvised shelter and the cold-water immersion,” said Sgt. Hunter Carlson with the Wisconsin National Guard’s 1158th Transportation Company at Beloit. “I didn’t enjoy doing either of them, but I realize how important learning those skills are and being able to use them.”
Army ROTC Cadet Molly Brown, who attends the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, said she appreciated all of the training.
“Everything you need to know to succeed in (cold-weather) is taught in this course,” Brown said. “This course significantly prepared me and taught me the skills needed to (operate) and survive in a cold-weather environment.