FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska (Feb. 11, 2015) -- Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno met with leaders from across U.S. Army Alaska, or USARAK, during his first trip to Fort Wainwright, Feb. 10.

During his visit, Odierno observed training sites within the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, discussed USARAK's partnerships and its ability to rapidly deploy across the Pacific, observed training at the Northern Warfare Training Center, or NWTC, spoke to leaders from 11 nations at the inaugural Cold Regions/Military Mountaineering Collaborative Training Event, and shared his vision for training and readiness with USARAK leaders.

"This is about you having a unique capability of mountaineering in a harsh environment," Odierno told Service members attending the cold regions training event. "It's important we develop these capabilities together. Want to make sure whoever our adversaries are that they understand; no matter where you are or how harsh it is, we can get there."

Soldiers assigned to USARAK at the NWTC train units and leaders to fight and operate in the mountainous arctic environment, which USARAK calls home.

"Here we encounter some very different leadership challenges," Odierno said.

When training in extreme cold-weather environments, attention to detail can be the difference between life, death or serious injury, Odierno said. In these environments, failure to perform correct equipment checks or not packing the correct gear for a mission can lead to injuries like frostbite.

Maj. Gen. Michael Shields, USARAK commanding officer, said the most common cause of frostbite they see in Soldiers is when they don't follow the standard operating procedure of pulling their balaclava mask over their cheek and nose during marksmanship training.

Touching exposed skin to a weapon in sub-zero temperatures can quickly lead to frostbite on the cheek or nose, Shields said.

Odierno said attention to detail required in situations like this when operating in Alaska's conditions can help develop young Soldiers and serve them well throughout their career.

While USARAK is the Army's northernmost command and its Soldiers are known for being
"Arctic Tough," the command also specializes in partnerships and rapid deployment across the Pacific and boasts the Army's premier high-altitude, extreme-cold-weather capability.

U.S. Army Alaska maintains partnerships with Japan, Nepal, Mongolia, Bangladesh, India and Canada. These partnerships are continuously built upon through training exercises including North Wind, a two-week bilateral field training and command-post exercise underway in Japan. USARAK Soldiers also recently returned from climbing schools in Nepal and India.

An NWTC Soldier recently attended a training event in Norway that included being submersed in water in sub-zero temperatures to test his ability to recover himself and his gear and complete the mission.

"That's good, you had the will power," Odierno told him.

Battling cold and conquering mountains is what USARAK Soldiers are known for but, like every unit in the Army, they must remain ready to serve the country wherever they are called to.

U.S. Army Alaska's forces are simultaneously validating readiness at Fort Irwin's National Training Center and preparing for the largest Arctic Circle airborne mission since before the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

These "Arctic Tough" warriors continue to stand ready to deploy, engage and destroy the enemy whether in the Arctic or the desert.