BRIDGEPORT, Calif. (Jan. 29, 2015) -- Paratroopers assigned to Able Company, 3rd Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry, are training in the high reaches of California's Sierra Nevada range with Marines at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, or MCMWTC.

The month-long training rotation is affording approximately 100 Alaska-based paratroopers the chance to go through high-altitude training opportunities, including pre-environmental and mobility training, the Mountain Communication Course and the Scout Skier Course.

The joint training opportunity is part of U.S. Army Alaska's, also known as USARAK, initiative to enhance partnered high-altitude, cold-regions training.

Upon completion of basic mobility training, the members of Able Company will transition from students to the opposing force for the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, or MEU. The Camp Lejeune, North Carolina-based MEU is completing a deployment validation field exercise. This is the first time an Army unit has served as the opposing force, or OPFOR, for a Marine unit at the training center.

Normally a battalion-sized MEU has to give up a company to serve as the OPFOR during an field exercise, or FEX. Having USARAK forces on hand will allow the entire MEU to train as one unit, while giving Able Company valuable experience in fighting a uniformed force in conditions that are familiar to Alaska-based Soldiers.

The FEX is largely unscripted, the scenario updated daily based on real-world news and intelligence events, said Brandon Schroder, an exercise planner at MWTC. For Able Company, this means the freedom to maneuver at will against the 26th MEU within the deployment validation. The outcome of the fight will be based on which unit can out-maneuver and out-fight the other, providing valuable experience to both commands.

Like USARAK's Northern Warfare Training Center in Black Rapids, MWTC provides "turn-key" ease of training, Schroder said. A unit arrives and gets to train immediately.

The instructor-led, pre-environmental and basic mobility training makes graduates Department of Defense level-one mountaineers, another similarity to USARAK's Northern Warfare Training Center, or NWTC. To the paratroopers who are NWTC graduates, the opportunity to conduct similar training at the Marine center adds to their proficiency.

"I think coming from Alaska gave us a leg up for this kind of training; guys knew what to expect." said 1st. Lt. Matthew Ray, Able Company's executive officer. "They're used to the cold temperatures, so there wasn't a shock factor."

The developing partnership between the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in California and the Northern Warfare Training Center in Alaska is extremely important in that both centers provide a range of climate types and expansive terrain for units to train in extreme-cold-weather, high-altitude regions within the DoD footprint.

This partnership effort will continue in February, when senior leaders from MCMWTC join other military leaders from around the world at USARAK's Cold Regions Military Mountaineering Collaborative Training Event at the Northern Warfare Training Center.