Army introduces four new mountaineering, climbing kits

By Doug GrahamFebruary 26, 2014

New Mountaineering Kits
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Staff Sgt. Bradley Cormier, a supply sergeant with the Army Mountain Warfare School inventories the newly received Army Mountaineering Kits (AMKs) at the Ethan Allen Firing Range, Jericho, Vt., Feb. 19, 2014. The AMK, which was developed to help Sold... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Climbing Higher
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – A Soldier at the Army Mountain Warfare School in Jericho, Vt., works his way up a sheer mountain face. Soldiers there recently received four new versions of the Army Mountaineering Kit, which will all them to traverse cliffs and mountain faces as wel... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

JERICHO, Vt. (Army News Service, Feb. 24, 2014) -- Soldiers at the Army Mountain Warfare School here are slated to receive new equipment designed to improve their performance and give them "Spiderman-like" abilities. The equipment is part of the improved Army Mountaineering Kit.

The new kit, developed by Project Manager Soldier Clothing and Individual Equipment, will help Soldiers traverse cliffs and mountain faces, and cross snow and ice. The Army Mountaineering Kit, or AMK, will help Soldiers function more effectively in harsh, high-altitude environments similar to that of the mountains in Afghanistan.

The AMK will be fielded in four kits tailored to meet different mission requirements. These kits will replace the mix of older Army-issued equipment and commercially-available mountain gear currently being used by most units.

"Mountain combat is unforgiving. In addition to fighting a determined enemy, you are dealing with high altitudes, rocky and often dangerous terrain, and extreme temperatures," said Maj. Laverne Stanley, assistant product manager for Nuclear, Biological and Chemical, or NBC, and Load Carriage Equipment. "The AMK gives our Soldiers the equipment they need to take and keep that vital high ground and complete their missions at peak levels of performance.

"The AMK will also provide Soldiers with proven standardized gear which will simplify both training and logistics for units that specialize in mountaineering," Stanley added. "PM SCIE worked closely on this effort with the Army Mountain Warfare School in Jericho."

Former sergeant major and Army Mountain Warfare School chief instructor, Darren Bean, said the new kits for Soldiers contain about 80 percent of the same equipment that the Marine Corps presently uses. The similarity in kits should prove beneficial to joint operations.

Darren Bean, who was heavily involved in the development of the AMK, said the effort began in earnest in 2006. It was then the Army increased operations in the eastern part of Afghanistan. In that part of the country, mountains tower from 10,000 to 14,000 feet and require mountain-climbing expertise.

"You always want to fight from the high ground," said Bean, adding that high vantage points are also necessary for observation points and sniper positions.

"Getting to those locations by helicopter is not always a good idea because of the high altitude, high winds and rocky terrain," Bean noted. "Therefore, Soldiers have to be able to climb.

"We identified a need for a new kit because the old Special Operations Forces Mountaineering Kit that had been supplied to units was outdated. Much of the equipment did not meet the standards set by the UIAA," Bean said.

The UIAA is the Union Internationale des Associations d'Alpinisme. The organization, known in English as the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation, says on its website that its mission is to "promote the growth and protection of mountaineering and climbing worldwide."

Many units began supplementing their Special Operations Forces Mountaineering Kits with rope and equipment purchased from commercial sources. The AMK was developed to meet the needs of these units. It will not only reduce the burden on unit funds, it will ensure Soldiers receive equipment they can trust. Each AMK component had to earn UIAA certification and then pass a rigorous Army evaluation before it was added to the kit.

Stanley said the AMK is also mission-tailorable.

"Users told us that they wanted the mountain kit to be modular," she said.

The AMK consists of four different kits:

-- The High Angle Mountaineering Kit enables a platoon to traverse steep obstacles, such as cliffs.

-- The Assault Climber Team Kit is used by Soldiers who are trained as assault climbers. It provides them with the capability to configure ropes and gear to enable a platoon to traverse difficult and challenging high-altitude terrain.

-- The Snow and Ice Mobility Kit contains the equipment a platoon requires for traversing snow and ice.

-- The Squad Mountain Leader Kit provides Special Operations mountain teams full operational capability. It is essentially a compilation of all of the gear found in the other AMK kits. This kit accommodates 12 Soldiers.

While much of the equipment included in the AMK is available commercially, the Army made some changes.

"Mountaineering equipment usually comes in wild colors," Bean said, noting that the colors found in the AMK are typically more subdued.

For example, the static rope comes in a general digital pattern, while the static rope is black. PM SCIE selected 10mm thick ropes that were as light as possible, easy to manipulate and strong enough to meet UIAA standards.

"In the beginning of the process, we determined the characteristics of each item," Bean said. "We went out and bought 20 brands of everything we thought would be in the kit; 20 different harnesses, 20 different belay devices. We checked with the Army Mountaineering Warfare School to determine what would ultimately be in the kit. Then we would go out and do tests, which included climbing and rappelling in the snow and ice."

PM SCIE tested the AMK at the Natick Soldier Research Development and Engineering Labs in Massachusetts, with more than 100 Soldiers. Additionally, Soldiers serving with the Vermont National Guard's famed mountain unit, the 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry, also evaluated the AMK.

"The key is we had a lot of Soldier input on the kit," Stanley said. "We have conducted extensive user evaluations and saw that the AMK earned solid Soldier approval, even from Soldiers who participate in recreational mountaineering."

The AMK will be fielded first to the training schools, and then to the 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y.

Afterwards, the Army will field the AMK to each infantry brigade combat team, including active and National Guard units. Each brigade will get 15 of the High Angle Mountaineering Kits, eight of the Assault Climber Team Kits, and one Snow and Ice Mobility Kit. Units will no longer be authorized to buy their own mountaineering equipment.

"Everything is standardized, and each component will have a National Stock Number," said Stanley. "If units require a replacement carabiner or rope, they can order a new one through the supply system instead of purchasing it off of the shelf.

"Mountain combat is unforgiving. In addition to fighting a determined enemy, you are dealing with high altitudes, rocky and often dangerous terrain and extreme temperatures," said Stanley. "The AMK gives our Soldiers the equipment they need to take and keep that vital high ground and complete their missions at peak levels of performance."

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